Why We Share Our Bed With Baby

Sleeping with your baby is the norm in many cultures.

I’m already on my fourth cup of coffee this morning, and I still can’t wake up. Coffee no longer works. But I guess that’s what happens when you go eleven months without a decent night’s sleep.

When I first told people I was pregnant, half the responses were, “Get a good night’s sleep now that you can.” I’d roll my eyes and think, how bad can it be? I’ve gone through periods of life with little sleep before — university, travelling, starting a new job.

I was wrong.  I’ve never felt so exhausted. No amount of all nighters, writing essays or parties could prepare me for the battle of “Baby vs Sleep.”

When we brought our bundle home from the hospital we placed him in his adorable striped bassinet with hopes he would doze off and make the basket his bed.  He looked up at us with his wide eyes and began to cry as if to say, “What are you doing? I’m meant to sleep with you.”

Related: These 5 Tips Will Help You Co-Sleep Safely

From then on, every basket attempt failed and ended with baby in bed snuggled in between his parents or on their chests.

Worried about him in our bed, neither my husband nor I got a sound night’s sleep. Baby would wake up every three hours for a snack anyways. On the occasion he did manage to sleep past three hours, I would wake up frantic and check his breathing.

We would tell ourselves each month we would move him out of our bed. For a few days we would put him to sleep in his crib and after a few sleepless nights he would find his way back into our bed. At least in our bed we would get a few hours of sleep at a time.

At 2 a.m. feeds I would start googling- How to get my baby to sleep.

My husband and I desperately tried different “methods” to get a full night’s sleep. One month we moved his crib closer to us. When that didn’t work the next month we moved it further from us.  We tried to put him into his crib awake and then tried to put him into his crib asleep.

We stuck to a strict routine. Dad put him to bed. Mom put him to bed. We tried to stretch out feedings for an extra hour of sleep. We used white noise and then no noise. And we tried to introduce a security object – a fluffy purple hippo — but it was obvious I was already his security object.

None of it seemed to give us the extra hours of rest we needed. Exhausted, we talked about the Ferber method but decided neither one of us had the stomach to let him cry it out.

At my end I ordered a handful of books on how to solve baby sleep problems. I studied them from front to back, took notes and made plans. I learned all the things I was doing wrong. I had become my baby’s sleep crutch letting him fall asleep on my chest for the last six months.

I decided to try the Pick Up/Put Down method. When the baby cries you pick him up and comfort him, when he stops you put him back down in his crib.  You do this continuously until he’s asleep in his bed.

Related: On Sex and Co-Sleeping

Over an hour later of picking him up and putting down over 50 times my back was aching and my baby was wide-awake and screaming. I then did supposedly the worst thing; I gave up.  I took my sobbing baby into my bed and cried with him until we both fell asleep.

From then on I started to read about bed-sharing, sleep-sharing, co-sleeping, the family bed (whatever you want to call it).

Bed-sharing in the West is often looked down on.  But more people seem to be doing it than you might realize. With a new baby, the question “how are the nights?” always comes up.   I’d explain that he is still in our bed and often they respond their baby slept with them too. Not to worry.

Sleeping with your baby is the norm in many cultures. Yet the research is split on bed-sharing. Some say it creates more independent and confident children while others say it makes babies too dependent on parents. Experts say it’s too dangerous while others say it’s safe as long as it’s done properly.

Most new parents I know, no matter their sleep approach, are tired and not sure how to get their baby to sleep through the night.  Babies who are in their own room don’t sleep through the nights.  Babies in their own cribs but in their parents’ room don’t sleep through the night. And babies in their parent’s bed don’t sleep through the night.

Of course there are parents who do have that unicorn baby that sleeps from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.  I applaud them. And I’m a little jealous.  I often quiz them on how they do it, hoping to steal their secrets.  But what the one thing I’ve learned as a new mom, each infant is different; what works for one might not for another.

I’ve let go of the expectation my baby will sleep through the night anytime soon. As a new parent sleep becomes a luxury and coffee your best friend. On Sundays, my husband takes Baby and I sleep in. I treasure those couple extra hours.

Before I became a mother I could have been a professional sleeper.  Seven hours of sleep wasn’t enough for me to function, and I could easily sleep in until lunch. But it is amazing how well you adapt to constantly having little sleep as a parent.

Of course there are days I’m a mommy zombie and daydream about sleep. Those mornings where you pretend to be asleep when your baby wakes up hoping he’ll fall back asleep. And when he doesn’t, quietly negotiating with him for just fifteen more minutes of shut eye.

Or nights when your baby has already woken up three times and it’s not even midnight and all you want to do is cry from tiredness.

My husband and I would play a game at night called what would you give up for a full night’s sleep. The stakes got high as we were willing to give up chocolate, pizza and even phones.

I’m now an expert on how to get a baby to sleep through the night. I’ve read all the books and blogs, tried various methods and listened to ample advice. Yet I still can’t get my baby to sleep in his bed or sleep through the night.

Our king sized bed has become somewhat of a crib, surrounded by pillows in case baby gets past his sleeping parents at night.  I wake up at least once a night with a foot in my eye or on the edge of the bed ready to fall off.

But somehow the joys of waking up and seeing his sleeping face at night beside me; or when he climbs on me in the middle of night for cuddles; or his morning smiles, kisses and giggles — all make me feel a little less tired.


4 thoughts on “Why We Share Our Bed With Baby”

  1. I talked to a LeLache League leader when my third child was hard to put to sleep. She is the one who told me about “The Family Bed” by Tine Thevinin and how this worked so well with her third child as well. She talked to me for over an hour. She was wonderful. So I began taking our daughter into our bed. Was wonderful. There were times when I would nurse her half awake myself. We all got more sleep. I was confident with her between us or later with her next to me with a side railing put up. I think you develop a closer bond and everyone is happier. I would highly recommend it. Baby is within us and hears the heartbeat and so feels the closeness now out of utero. It’s hard to have that comfort in utero and then out into the world and sleep by themselves? Sharing a bed, which has been done for ages, comforts everyone. It is only now that society thinks baby should be separate. Ashley Montague states that human babies are born early just because of their size. Many mammals have a long gestation period but we can’t do that because of size. He suggests that for many months after birth, baby should be very close to parents. This is also baby wearing which I also found immensely useful.

  2. While bedsharing is the biological norm, North American parents need to know how to bedshare safely.

    Google “Safe Sleep Seven” and / or “James McKenna cosleeping guidelines”

  3. I am 48 and have embraced and relished co-sleeping with all three of my children. Please include articles for co-sleeping with older children. Other cultures embrace co-sleeping in to the teen age years. The American culture deems this as psychologically damaging. The information would be worthwhile to include in your publishing!.

  4. I could have written this article myself as it’s almost my exact story. I’m repeating it all again with baby #2. It’s hard work having a baby who doesn’t sleep well but I know I’ll never look back and say “I wish I hadn’t held/sept with/nursed my baby so much”

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