Bedsharing. Everyone has an opinion, and everyone has the right to parent the way they feel best for their baby. Here’s one family found worked for them.
I have a pack ‘n play that’s been used a handful of times and that’s it. Before my first was born, I dutifully set it up right next to the queen-sized bed I shared with my husband. I bought five sheets for it. I was doing what I had read was the “best” way to put my baby to sleep. He would be safely in his own space. He would be close to me. We could respond to each other naturally.
Deciding where your baby sleeps is a big deal. The fear of SIDS or smothering is overwhelming. I hated the thought that I would ever be the cause of something so horrible and tragic. What I didn’t count on, though, were my instincts. Because after he was born, they were strong. I wanted to be able to hear him breathe. More so, I wanted to feel him breathe and radiate heat next to me. I wanted to be able to drift off to sleep while we nursed in bed. But I was terribly afraid.
SIDS is the acronym for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Most parents have heard of it, and most new parents have researched it dutifully in order to help prevent it happening to their child. Although in some cases SIDS is completely unpreventable, there are things that research has found that might help prevent SIDS.
SIDS is defined as, “the unexplained death, usually during sleep, of a seemingly healthy baby less than a year old.” Researchers believe that SIDS is caused by a defect in a child’s brain that regulates breathing and arousal patterns, meaning that a baby stops breathing but their brain also does not wake them when this happens.
Just as there are some things that can help prevent SIDS, there are also some things that can put your baby at-risk. Outside of brain defects, which are often not detected in otherwise healthy newborn babies, low birth weight and respiratory infections can put your baby at risk for SIDS.
Your baby’s sleep space is also a place where your child might be more at risk. Loose items in the crib like blankets and pillows are dangerous for any child under one-year-old, and sometimes even older, as it can cause suffocation. Research has also found that placing a baby to sleep on their stomach also can put your child more at risk because it is harder for them to breathe. A soft surface like a soft mattress, waterbed, or fluffy blanket may also block their airways. Keeping your baby asleep in the car seat may also block their airway as they can’t lift their head enough to move. Overheating may be another risk factor.
With that being said, there are also some things you can do to lower your risks of SIDS. A few ways that research has found may help are:
- Breastfeeding may help prevent SIDS
- Putting your child on their back to sleep
- Keeping the crib or sleeping area free from loose items like blankets, pillows, or toys
- Keep your baby cool while they sleep- keep the room at a cool, comfortable temperature and do not wrap them in several layers of clothing and swaddles.
- Let your baby have a pacifier- If you are nursing, make sure there is enough time to help prevent nipple confusion, but otherwise a pacifier is one thing researchers believe may help prevent SIDS.
Keep your baby in your room with you- Bed-sharing is often frowned upon for risk of suffocation or rolling over on your child, but many doctors and researchers have found that parents can safely bed-share if they take the proper precautions like no drinking, no smoking, and have a safe space for their child to sleep in their bed with them.
I kept our room really cool, just as I’d read was the safest. But his little hands and his little nose were always cold, even if I swaddled him. I wanted to keep him warm.
Also, very quickly he decided he wanted to sleep with me. It didn’t matter if I rocked him for a solid twenty minutes, making sure he was limp and deeply asleep, before laying him down in that pack ‘n play; he woke up every time. Sometimes it took a minute, but his little legs would move, and then his arms would reach out and he’d turn his head side to side and then he’d cry. For me. He wanted to be close to me. And my milk let down instantly. Telling me to be close to him.
So I brought him in bed with me. Those first few nights I lay there, afraid to let myself go fully to sleep. And he slept. So well. So soundly. And pretty soon, I slept too. We got really good at side-lying nursing. It got to the point that I couldn’t even tell you how many times he had fed in the night. It also didn’t seem to matter that before he was born, I’d switch from lying on one side to the other and then roll onto my back and kick off the covers. Every time I woke up I was curled around him. My thighs below his feet, my bottom arm stretched out above his head. And we slept.
This doesn’t mean I just gave up worrying about the decision. I worried a lot. But my gut (and my breasts, and my tired brain) told me that he belonged next to me. So I chose to listen to that. I researched the safest way to sleep. We got rid of the pillows. We only pulled the blankets halfway up. We never drank alcohol before bed. But still, every time I read a piece of literature about the dangers of cosleeping, I fretted and felt guilty.
I had a pediatrician (whom we only saw once) ask me: “Where does the baby sleep?” To which I replied, “In bed with us. But we’re very safe. We follow all of the recommendations for safe bedsharing.” There was a sort of stunned pause. “Well, I can’t recommend that. You know people sometimes roll over and kill their babies, right?” “Uh. I don’t think we’re gonna do that.” And I had more than a couple conversations to that effect.
So I read everything I could get my hands on. Dr. Sears and Dr. McKenna were especially reassuring that it could be done safely.
Pretty soon, those nerve-wracking first months were over. My son and I had sleeping down pat. I wasn’t the sleep-deprived mom. Breastfeeding was going really well. My son could roll over and I began to worry less about his face getting trapped by a pillow and more about him rolling off the bed. And then crawling off the bed.
We are still quite happily bedsharing. We are now joined my one-year-old daughter who sleeps in a sidecar crib. (And if you haven’t heard of this, I recommend you look into it. It really is the best of both worlds.) My son sleeps in the middle. Occasionally it’s cramped. Sometimes my kids lie perpendicularly to me and kick me or my husband in the face. Sometimes I wish breastfeeding at night wasn’t quite so accessible. But I don’t worry about my kids. They know I’m there, even as they dream. I know that in an emergency, I don’t have to run down the hall to be with them. Sometimes my son goes to sleep in his own room, but he’s really gotten good about crawling into his space without waking us. The dynamics change, but we’re still enjoying sleeping as a family.
And this may change. It’s okay to change your mind about these things. Or make up your own mind in the first place. Co-sleeping and bedsharing isn’t for everyone, but if you’re on the fence and think you can do it safely, you might end up being glad you gave it a try.
With all the studies and information out there, (noth for and against the practice of bedsharing) it’s both easy to be informed and easy to be frightened. So I say go with your gut. And if you choose to share a bed with your baby, I promise you are not the only person to do so.
Image: Natalia Belay/Shutterstock