This is probably one of the most personal blog posts I have ever written. That might sound strange considering how I share a little bit of myself in every post. And how I have talked about other deeply personal topics in the past, like discovering I carry the breast cancer gene. But this post feels particularly personal because it is such a controversial subject. In fact, some people will respond negatively, and I’m okay with that.
What is bed-sharing?
Many people use the words co-sleeping and bed-sharing interchangeably, and while co-sleeping is always bed-sharing, bed-sharing does not always necessarily mean co-sleeping. Co-sleeping is sleeping in the same room as your little one. Parents often do this during the first couple of months of their child’s life and utilize a bassinet, pack-n-play, or co-sleeper.
Bed-sharing, on the other hand, is where you literally sleep in the same bed together.
Why we started bed-sharing
I want to start out by saying that I had 0.00% intention of ever bed-sharing with my child. In fact, I was always adamantly against it. That’s because, when I was a little girl, my maternal grandmother, had told me a story about one of her sisters. I had always thought this particular great-aunt was childless, but it turns out that she’d had a baby that passed away in infancy. No one ever figured out for certain why the baby had died, but people thought it was because either my great-aunt or her husband had rolled on top of the baby in their sleep. Agh! That story haunted me for forever. There was no way I was going to end up doing something like that!
But then our daughter, J, was born. If you have read our birth story, then you know that she was born in a hospital. After she had skin-to-skin time with both me and Erik, and they had rolled us to a recovery room, we held her for several more hours. I was exhausted from labor (44 hours, people!), so we decided to go to bed early. We placed her in the hospital crib next to me. At some point in the night, I remember rolling over and looking at her. She was completely content, but that crib looked so cold and sterile. I just knew she belonged in my arms, so I scooped her up and held her. And eventually, I fell back asleep. When I woke up, I realized what had happened. I had slept with my daughter throughout the night, and I hadn’t crushed her. In fact, it had just felt right!
Something else significant also happened that night. Some time after I had woken, picked her up, and fallen back asleep, I had woken up again. This time from the sound of talking. It was the night nurse, explaining to us that J’s bilirubin levels were high and that some doctor was suggesting that we put her in the nursery in order to start phototherapy. He also wanted to start giving her formula. I was very confused by the whole thing. I felt like I had woken up in the middle of a conversation; in my stupor, it took me a while to process what all was being said. But once I began comprehending, I was still very confused. I couldn’t figure out why she needed formula (believe it or not, my milk had already come in, and she had a good latch), and I also had no idea who this doctor was! I finally managed to ask the nurse who Dr. So-So was, and she said, “The pediatrician.”
I responded, “But what does J’s pediatrician say?”
“That is her pediatrician.”
To make a very long story short, the nurse had called the wrong doctor, and because it took her a while to straighten everything out, J got to stay with me and nurse. Eventually, our pediatrician arrived and by that time J’s bilirubin levels were back to normal. But the whole thing was so bizarre and confusing! Call me an overly protective mama, but I had a sneaky suspicion that if I hadn’t been holding her in my arms, the nurse might have just taken her to the nursery and proceeded to give her formula. Bed-sharing suddenly felt not only right but also necessarily protective!
The controversy behind bed-sharing
But despite all of that happening, I was still torn over whether or not bed-sharing was the safe thing to do. We tried having J sleep in different places (a co-sleeper, a bassinet, a rock-n-play), and she wouldn’t have any of it. She wanted to be held, in a Moby wrap, or right next to me.
I was overwhelmed. I researched and researched and researched for what felt like forever. Some studies, like this one, said that bed-sharing was known to cause an increase in SIDS. Other studies and doctors, like Dr. Sears, said that bed-sharing was an integral part of a child’s emotional development. And still, other studies, like this one, showed that bed-sharing, when done appropriately actually reduced SIDS. All the while, I was a wreck. I felt like I should be bed-sharing but was also deathly afraid that I was putting my child in unnecessary danger.
How to safely bed-share
And then, I finally decided that if we were going to bed-share, I needed to read everything I could to make sure that we were at least doing it as safely as possible. And so here they are, all of the must-follow rules that I uncovered through hours of research. Now you can determine for yourself if bed-sharing is right for you.
You must be a breastfeeding mom. I know, I know. That sounds harsh. What about moms that can’t breastfeed or adoptive families or just dads? But that’s the unfortunate reality. A breastfeeding mom has a particular awareness of her child that others don’t have. She can sense when her baby is hungry or should be eating. According to Sears, they even share the same breathing patterns during bed-sharing and this allows for sychronized arousals (meaning mom and baby wake together).
Babies sleep next to moms. Not dads or older siblings. It is not enough to simply be a breast-feeding mom and have your baby in the bed with you. Your baby also needs to be next to you and no one else. This goes back to the previous point of mamas and babies having sychronized arousals. If the baby is snuggled up next to dad, he might not wake up if the baby starts to stir or stops breathing.
No smoking, no drinking, no drugs. Or no bed-sharing. Again, it comes back to synchronized arousals. Smoking and drinking keeps a mom from being fully in tune with her baby. Likewise, smoking and drinking adversely affects sleep patterns, making it less likely for your partner to wake. And if you are a breastfeeding mama, you probably shouldn’t be doing any of those things anyway. Hello?!
Only bed-share in a bed. Bed-sharing anywhere else is not safe. Sofas, daybeds, and other surfaces have crooks and corners. These are unsafe for a baby because he or she might end up in a position where they cannot breathe.
Use a large bed. Everyone needs their own space in the bed. A double sized bed is not going to cut it. When we first started bed-sharing, we had a queen size bed and realized immediately that we needed a king. It is important that your baby is not crammed against other people.
Protect your baby from falls. Many co-sleeping parents have their bed directly on the floor. We did this for a while, and I really loved it. Then, we finally bought a king-sized bed frame for our new mattress, so we went out and bought a bedrail for our bed. So I sleep in the middle, with Erik to one side of me and J to the other. And on J’s other side is the rail. This keeps her from accidentally rolling off the bed in the middle of the night. Another option is to place the bed against the wall to also serve as a guardrail.
No pillows, no blankets, no top sheets. So yes, it took a while for me not to miss those things, but it is incredibly important to forego them. Pillows and other loose materials such as blankets, sheets, and duvets are all suffocation hazards and should be avoided at all costs. I learned that the most comfortable position for me to sleep was on my side, with my bottom arm serving as a pillow. I would also curl my body around J to serve as an additional, protective barrier. Visualize an “S” shape.
Have a serious conversation with your spouse. This a tough one but absolutely necessary. If something was to happen to your little one like it did with my great-aunt’s child, how would you respond? Of course, you would both be grief-stricken, but would one of you secretly blame the other? Would you hold resentment towards one another? If the answer to either one of those questions is yes, then bed-sharing is not for your family.
And so there you have it, the eight rules of bed-sharing. Bear in mind that you can’t pick and choose. They are an all or nothing deal.
But bed-sharing has been an absolutely rewarding experience for our family. Some of the benefits have been:
Excellent sleep for the entire family. This has been true since the first day of J’s life. Once we decided that we were going to bed-share, our daughter has been nothing but content and “slept” through the night.
Excellent night feedings. Once we started bed-sharing, we also started side-lying nursing. This includes my version of dream feeding. If J starts to stir, I simply nurse her back to sleep. Because of this, she has slept through the night since day one.
Emotional balance. Some days are hard. Every parent knows that. Being able to snuggle with my daughter all night long has helped recharge my emotional batteries. People who know me personally always comment on what a patient mother I am. (Just between you and me, though, I am not a naturally patient person at all. Rather, I think that co-sleeping has allowed me to put things in perspective every night and start each day anew.)
And now I want to hear from you! Have you considered bed-sharing? Why or why not?
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