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Sunday, March 20th, 2011

The African Guide to Co-sleeping

The African Guide to Co-sleeping © Shutterstock

Disclaimer: Please note that this article is not about discussing the pros and cons of co-sleeping or to give the myriad forms of evidence that:


(a) A lot more parents co-sleep than admit to it (depending on their societal norms).


(b) Co-sleeping can have lots of health and safety benefits for both parent and child.


This article is to provide practical tips for parents who wish to co-sleep or are already co-sleeping and would like further support for their decision.


1. Just try it: Until you have done it, you don’t know how you or your child will sleep. You might be surprised by the outcome.


2. Do not co-sleep if you are under the influence of alcohol or any sleep-inducing medication.


3. Remember that parenting is a 24 hour job: Co-sleeping is a great way to connect with your children at night.


4. Naptime co-sleeping: Get children who are difficult to sleep to do so in a sling or backpack style carrier as you go about your daily chores. Remember co-sleeping doesn’t always mean that you have to be asleep too.


5. Co-sleeping and breastfeeding go hand in hand: Children develop confidence to sleep on their own by not associating sleep with the distress of being separated from their primary caregiver. Breastfeeding children to sleep, does not mean that they will later have problems falling asleep on their own. It also means that you can get children to fall asleep anywhere which is useful for traveling and a lifelong skill.


6. Co-sleeping is time efficient: It actually takes less time to get your children comfortably asleep beside you than it does to leave them before they are ready, come back every time they cry and repeat the cycle again.


7. Co-sleeping takes into consideration natural night waking: Up until children are toddlers (for some children until the ages of 4-5) it is normal for them to wake at least once at night. It is easier to soothe and get them to return to sleep without distress for either party if they are in the family bed.


8. Use bolsters and pillows not for your child’s head but to ensure that he or she does not fall out of the bed. Alternatively just place the mattress directly on the floor.


9. Co-sleeping speeds up nighttime dryness: If you are co-sleeping it is much easier to tell when your child is waking to go to the toilet thus preventing accidents and re-enforcing potty training with minimal effort.


10. Transition slowly: Enjoy the time you co-sleep as children will be ready to “graduate” to their own bed much sooner than you think. You can have a cot-bed or mattress in the family sleeping room that you transition your children to when you feel they are ready, before the switch to their own sleeping room. It is much less arduous to transition children who are already sleeping through the night so you don’t have to keep waking up to go and check up on them.


Remember that it is totally normal in many societies around the world for families to share a sleeping room. It is still possible to create private spaces for your children with a bit of imagination. Your child’s play room doesn’t have to be his or her sleeping room for example.

© 2011 – 2013, JC Niala. All rights reserved.

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JC Niala is a mother, writer and creative who enjoys exploring the differences that thankfully still exist between various cultures around the world. She was born in Kenya and grew up in Kenya, Cote d'Ivoire and the UK. She has worked and lived on three continents and has visited at least one new country every year since she was 12 years old. Her favorite travel companions are her mother and daughter whose stories and interest in others bring her to engage with the world in ways she would have never imagined. She is the author of Beyond Motherhood: A guide to being a great working mother while living your dream.

Leave us a comment!

  1. CommentsGinger Baker   |  Monday, 21 March 2011 at 9:01 am

    Oh, #6. So, SO true. Now that my kids are older (5 and 7) they have their own beds (well, hammocks, actually,and they generally prefer to share one), but every once in a while they ask to sleep in my bed. Or, if it has been a crazy day or they seem impossible to settle, *I* ask them to! On a difficult night, getting them to sleep is a chore. Same difficult night, all together in the bed? Ten minutes, tops. (N.B. The vast majority of nights they sleep perfectly well on their own. :-D )

  2. CommentsHelena   |  Wednesday, 23 March 2011 at 11:40 am

    We love co- sleeping too! Thanks for your article, I would have loved to know more specifically about the African culture as implied in the heading.

  3. CommentsSimone   |  Wednesday, 23 March 2011 at 7:02 pm

    We co-sleep since the boys were born. Definitely, co-sleeping while breastfeeding was essential to me. Kids usually kick off the blankets even in cold weather so being next to them makes me sure they are warm. I will know immediately if they have health problems like breathing with difficulty or stuffy nose, cough, mosquito bites, etc… The older one is almost 7, going to elementary school this year so we have started putting them in their own beds though both my husband and me go to bed with them and move away after they fall asleep. When daddy goes away on a business trip both kids come to my bed. I love the way we do it and would not mind doing it a little bit more but my husband complains that the king-size bed is getting too small for all 4 of us as the kids are getting bigger.

  4. Commentsclaire niala   |  Friday, 25 March 2011 at 7:32 pm

    @ helena: all of the tips i gave in the article are from an african perspective if they seem the same as anywhere else in the world i think that’s a great thing as it shows the universality in what i see as this wonderful practice.

    @ simone & ginger: thank you for sharing your lovely experiences.

  5. CommentsTop Ten International Travel Tips with Children | InCultureParent   |  Wednesday, 04 May 2011 at 4:52 pm

    […] able to sleep anywhere. This is usually easier if you breastfeed and co-sleep. For handy tips see The African Guide to Co-sleeping . 2. Relax: Children are great stress detectors and if you are stressing about the trip it is more […]

  6. CommentsParenting 101: The Family Bed « Mother of Fact   |  Friday, 02 September 2011 at 9:59 am

    […] in my room, and I knew that was better for her than across the hall.  I’d read about all the benefits, like a reduced risk of SIDS, less time getting up and down in the night, etc.  I even went to all […]

  7. CommentsPractical Parenting: The Family Bed « Mother of Fact   |  Monday, 05 December 2011 at 7:35 pm

    […] in my room, and I knew that was better for her than across the hall.  I’d read about all the benefits, like a reduced risk of SIDS, less time getting up and down in the night, etc.  I even went to all […]

  8. CommentsInCultureParent | Why African Babies Don’t Cry   |  Friday, 15 February 2013 at 1:46 pm

    […] […]

  9. CommentsInCultureParent | The West’s Strange Relationship to Babies and Sleep   |  Friday, 15 February 2013 at 9:29 pm

    […] the majority of non-Western societies, babies sleep with their parents–if not in the bed, then in the same room. So do young children. It is only in industrialized […]

  10. Commentstlane_la   |  Tuesday, 26 March 2013 at 10:03 pm

    Thanks for this article. We’ve co-slept since my child has been an infant and it has just felt right. As my child approaches 5 years old, I’m ready for the transition into their own bed. It has been difficult to find information about how to make that transition, so point #10 was helpful.

  11. CommentsSharla   |  Friday, 20 September 2013 at 11:21 pm

    I am Australian and both co-sleep and breastfeed constantly as per another article you have written. It is so refreshing to read something that doesn’t expect us to force our babies into schedules, buy expensive nursery furniture and separate ourselves from our babies when this is just mutually upsetting and exhausting. I had my baby in a cot near the bed for the first two months as she was a small baby. When she was average in size we changed to cosleeping and life was instantly easier. When she was first born she cried when I tried to put her into her cot so I just held her and fed her constantly. It was exhausting but she lost almost no weight in her first few days and the doctors said she was immaculate health wise. I think as westerners we want to over complicate things. I am unusual in my country but very happy we have chosen this path.

  12. CommentsMichelle   |  Wednesday, 19 March 2014 at 7:21 am

    I am a mom of 3 girl’s and recently added my 5 month baby boy. I have been reading your articles and I have to say I am so happy to see that all my efforts and ways I choose to raise my babies are right in another womans eyes. Not just one but a whole culture. I was always advised against so many of my parenting choices by my elders and it was so confusing because of my respect for them. Even in the hospital my baby would be removed from my bed and arms because it was against the rules as being unsafe for my child. This infuriated me so.
    I was told not to sleep with, feed on demand, and ween my baby off of breast at 1year. All I never did because I knew in my heart it wasnt right. I believed in my bond as a mother to my baby I was giving them what they needed.
    My son has been with me everyday by my side. He hasnt cried much and is so happy all the time. I feed him as soon as he makes a fuss and he sleeps with me and is so comforted that I only have to wake to feed him once in the night for a minute before hes sleeping again. I feel I meet all his little needs and he knows he is loved.
    Thank you for your articles. You gave me a great recognition I didnt even know I needed.

  13. CommentsThe West’s Strange Relationship to Babies and Sleep, by Stephanie Meade | The Forever Years   |  Tuesday, 02 June 2015 at 4:55 pm

    […] the majority of non-Western societies, babies sleep with their parents–if not in the bed, then in the same room. So do young children. It is only in industrialized […]

  14. CommentsFail to Crib: Why I Co-Sleep with My Baby   |  Friday, 26 June 2015 at 8:04 pm

    […] the majority of non-Western societies, babies sleep with their parents–if not in the bed, then in the same room. So do young children. It is only in industrialized […]

  15. CommentsHajar   |  Monday, 07 March 2016 at 2:55 pm

    So glad to see all this and looking forward to doing it with our first come Sept, God willing. I am curious though, I see all these cosleeping articles and comments but have yet to find anyone explaining how they kept up, ummm, “grown up time” with their spouse at night with the kids in the bed/room. Could someone comment on this, please?

    Thanks so much!

  16. CommentsLiz   |  Monday, 04 July 2016 at 3:46 pm

    Addressing the “grown up time” someone mentioned earlier…am sure that many people address this differently with what works for their family. However, suffice it to say that when the baby’s in your bed/room, there are usually other bedrooms/other rooms free. For us personally, we put the baby to sleep in a crib in her own room & then bring her into ours with the first middle of the night squeak. Allows us to still have time before bed to talk, and, you know… without waking her up. Whatever floats your boat & whatever makes everyone happy. …And if the baby’s not sleeping, there’s no grown up time anyway, whether co-sleeping or not.

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