Sharing a bed with your toddler can have some painful repercussions for you

There’s been a lot of talk in the West of late about the benefits of ‘co-sleeping’, that is, sleeping in the same room or same bed with your baby or toddler. Indian parents, of course, just call it sleeping. It’s always been the default arrangement. A lot of parents don’t buy a cradle or a crib at all, opting to have their baby snuggle next to them on the bed from day one. There’s a lot that’s good about it — the bonding between mom and baby, the warmth and reassurance for the little one. Unfortunately, it also guaranteed that — to turn Canadian comic Russell Peters’ quote on its head — “Somebody gonna get hurt real bad,” and that somebody is mommy. Or daddy. Or both.

You know those idyllic pictures you saw in parenting books and websites and cooed over in your pre-parenting life, the ones where mom and baby sleep curled up next to each other, their faces the picture of peace and tranquillity? Yeah, that’s not happening. Not for more than a few seconds at a time anyway. The more likely scenario is what I woke up to this morning: me pushed right to the edge of my bed, my neck stiff from being unable to turn, and my sleeping daughter’s head jammed somewhere in the vicinity of my left kidney, her body angled diagonally across the rest of the bed.

It didn’t begin this way. Initially, I bought a cradle for her since I was terrified to have my tiny newborn next to me on the bed… what if I put an arm or leg over her accidentally and hurt her?? (Oh, the irony). So, for the first few months, her cradle was stationed near my bed and that worked out fine (except, of course, for the crying-all-night and desperate-sleep-deprivation part). Then, I moved her to a larger crib, near my bed, and that was fine too, until one fateful night, when she was around a year old, when I first put her between my husband and me on our double bed. It was 3 a.m., I was desperately sleepy, I had no idea what was bothering her, and magically, this soothed her.

From then on, she generally spent at least half the night between us, and the injuries began. If you’re thinking to yourself, “how much can an 18-month-old possibly hurt a full-grown adult?”, then you never been biffed in the face by a sturdy little toddler foot at 4.30 a.m., when you’re most deeply asleep. It hurts. It hurts bad. To adults used to sleeping with their head by the headboard and feet at the bottom of the bed, it can be truly miraculous to see just how many different ways a human body can be angled in a two- foot wide space. Complete 360 degree rotations are routine. Daddy’s neck can be a leg-rest one moment and a pillow the next, and you realise that those bony little elbows and knees are seriously lethal weapons. I don’t understand why American footballer-style safety gear isn’t standard issue for parents attempting to co-sleep with a toddler.

Little over a year later, we’ve given up the pretence that my daughter actually sleeps in her crib at all, and she now sleeps in a bed adjoining mine. This means my husband, at any rate, is no longer assaulted on a regular basis. I know, it’s a sacrifice worthy of the most devoted Pativrata… what’s a jab or two to my ribs or a head butt in the small of my back, as long as my Pati Devata is getting a good night’s sleep? (She does manage to jolt him awake now and again by loudly counting to 10 or reciting nursery rhymes loudly in her sleep though).

Of course, the sacrifice is not without its rewards. There are those moments, late at night, when my daughter is lying warm against me, her curls tickling my nose, or in the mornings, when I watch her wake up and we have our cuddle time that the arrangement feels utterly worthwhile, bruises and all.

Maybe those parenting magazines didn’t get it totally wrong after all.

TIPS

1. Strategically placed pillows can help minimise the damage

2. American footballer-style safety gear – worth a shot!

3. They do eventually move into their own rooms. Right?

Divya Kumar is a freelance journalist and stay-at-home mom. When she's not hanging out with her two-year-old daughter, she can usually be found writing and posting about her online.