Morning cuddles with my baby son are undoubtedly the highlight of my day – I love nothing more. But I'm in a bit of a dilemma.

At eight months old, George happily settles in his cot after a nightly bath and bed routine at 7pm, then has a night feed at 10pm.

Despite having three good meals and healthy snacks during the day, he wakes up crying, without fail, every night in the early hours, writes Katie Nicholl for the Daily Mail.

With my five-year-old daughter Matilda sleeping in the next room and my husband Chris asleep next to me, I'm reluctant to let him 'cry it out' and, to be perfectly honest, I'm still half asleep myself at three in the morning.


So for the past five months, I've been doing something every night which I'm rather nervous to admit to: I co-sleep with my baby.

If I'm really honest; we've been sharing a bed, on and off, since he was three months old.

The minute George begins to wail, rather than spend goodness knows how long trying to soothe him, I bring him upstairs and into bed next to me, placing him in a baby sleeping bag, and we both drift off again.

It was meant to be a temporary thing, but he's still in the bed and, while I'm hopeful it won't be for much longer, I can't seem to stop him crying in the night if we're apart.

Some might lambast me for irresponsibly flouting clear NHS guidelines that a baby should sleep in a cot next to its parents' bed for the first six months – at least – due to the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

But I'd like to point out that I would never have slept with George or Matilda when they were newborns for fear of rolling on to them.

There are too many heartbreaking stories of babies who have suffocated after their parents have accidentally fallen asleep and smothered them. I would never, ever have taken the risk.

By three months, however, George was a big and robust baby with a loud cry so I felt confident sleeping next to him in the bed, even though some organisations including SIDS charity, The Lullaby Trust, The National Childbirth Trust and the NHS, would still say this was dangerous.

But co-sleeping has worked for both of us and thousands of others. Indeed, the National Childbirth Trust (NCT), the UK's largest charity for parents, although not an advocate of the habit, estimates that half of all mums in the UK co-sleep at some time in the first few months after birth.

The organisation says some parents co-sleep with their baby for part of the night or during the day to get more rest, while others may breastfeed their baby while dozing.

Another survey, by the website Gentle Parenting, found that up to 50 per cent of parents co-sleep but don't admit it to health workers for fear of being judged.

There are, however, plenty of celebrities happy to raise their hands in praise of co-sleeping, from Adele and Gwen Stefani to supermodel Heidi Klum and Kourtney Kardashian (and it would hardly be a surprise if Angelina Jolie and her brood was on the list).

In Asia and Latin America, mothers consider co-sleeping completely normal, while in Japan, parents co-sleep yet their infant mortality rate is one of the lowest in the world.

My own story began in a way that many other mothers will find familiar – out of necessity.

Both my children were treated identically from birth and slept in a cot next to me and I expected George to follow his sister by sleeping in his own room at four months.

While Matilda sleeps from 7am to 7pm, and always has done, George can't seem to make it through the night yet.

At three months old, George became extremely poorly with a respiratory virus called bronchiolitis, croup and an ear infection.

As he coughed, wheezed and cried his way through the night, I felt utterly helpless. At times his breathing was so laboured that I stayed awake, terrified that something might happen.

When he finally fell silent, I would jolt upright to check that he was still breathing. Morning after morning, I woke up completely shattered until I did what maternal instinct told me to do and brought George into bed with me.

I moved the pillows out of the way, pulled the duvet down so it couldn't rise over his head and slept with George in the crook of my arm, my body curled around his, one hand on his tummy so that I could feel his chest rising and falling, the other behind his back so that he could not roll out of bed.

During the night, George would find his way on to my breast and take a feed, barely disturbing me.

For the first time in weeks I slept and woke up feeling more like myself, which was a relief. I had barely any maternity leave as I was finishing my latest book and working pretty much full-time.

Having George in the bed meant we all slept and so a pattern started. The benefits were also felt by Chris, who was in the bed on my left side while George was on my right.

He too was relieved that finally we were all getting a good night's sleep, and supportive of my decision.

I intended the co-sleeping to be temporary until George got better. However, his recovery was prolonged, taking more than ten weeks.

The bronchiolitis meant he frequently coughed during the night, which would wake him up but because he was right there next to me, I could soothe him back to sleep immediately.

I can't tell you the difference it made to all of us and when I confided to friends, I realised I wasn't alone. One friend told me 'needs must and you all need to sleep'.

My family, however, was divided. My father felt that George was getting too attached to me, while my mother suggested settling George in a cot in our bedroom instead.

Katie's own mother advised setting up a cot adjacent to her bed. Photo / Getty Images
Katie's own mother advised setting up a cot adjacent to her bed. Photo / Getty Images

Experts are vehemently divided over co-sleeping. Baby expert Gina Ford, author of The One Week Baby Sleep Solution (Vermillion), is totally against co-sleeping because of the risks of suffocation, but also understands why parents like me, with a sick baby, do it.

She advises that parents with older babies who are sleeping in their own room make a camp bed adjacent to the cot, so that they are at the same level and can comfort the baby in their own bed, rather than co-sleeping.

Birth expert and childcare consultant Jill Benjoya Miller reflects my feelings, saying I'm simply doing what mothers have done throughout time. After all, mothers are physiologically programmed to protect our children.

For the baby, sleeping against their mother's body is the next best place to the womb. Her smell, voice and heartbeat are most familiar, and her warmth helps regulate baby's temperature.

Food is immediate and her body is protective. Health visitors are thankfully starting to recognise that many parents want to co-sleep, according to baby and parenting coach Heidi Skudder, who says they now give advice on how best to do it in a safe way.

This includes avoiding alcohol and placing the baby far from the edge of the bed, and well away from pillows and heavy duvets.

While it has been a wonderful experience and one I would never change, I know my days of co-sleeping with George are numbered. He's growing bigger and stronger every week, and my husband and I would quite like to be the only ones in the marital bed from now on!

I'm confident that George will get there and will soon be sleeping in his own bed through the night. Maybe it will be a case of a bit of tough love.

In any case, I've found I'm in less of a hurry to meet milestones second time round and for now, I am just enjoying every lovely minute.

After all, I'll never get this time back.

Health comment: By Dr Ellie Cannon

As a mother-of-two myself, I know just how exhausting and desperate things can get when babies won't sleep.

But no doctor would ever advocate a mother sleeping with a baby under the age of six months because a wealth of evidence shows that it increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

It's not just that you might roll on the baby – loose bedding is also a big risk.

The Lullaby Trust warns that pillows, sheets and blankets can cover a baby's head, obstructing baby's breathing or causing them to overheat, and this accounts for a high proportion of SIDS deaths.

Bed-sharing is particularly not advised with premature or low-weight babies, or if mothers have been drinking and/or smoking.

All the evidence shows the safest place for a baby to sleep is in their own cot with appropriate bedding but in the same room.

If after six months you want to share – when babies are larger and can roll, which makes it safer – then always put them in a baby sleeping bag to remove the danger of them wriggling under the cover.

Five tips for Katie when she wants her bed back

1. Remove link with sleep and cuddles

Remove the association of cuddling and sleep by replacing yourself with another comforter such as a cuddly toy or blanket. Try using something that smells like you.

2. Make the bedroom familiar

Spend as much time as you can with your baby in the bedroom. This builds a sense of safety and familiarity with the environment so your child will feel secure there.

3. Prepare him for sleep time

Continue the usual bathroom-then-bedroom routine, placing them in their cot instead of your bed. Pat and comfort them, repeating that it is sleep time.

4. Make clear the cot is their spot

Remain by the cot until they lie down and sleep, comforting and placing them back down if they stand up. It is a long process but stick with it – consistency is key.

5. It's tough…but limit comforting

After a few days, remain by the cot but stay silent and refrain from comforting. Repeat everyday – the time to sleep will become shorter.