The Hard Decision For Bedsharing

The decision for bedsharing

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.

Related: The Best Bedside Sleepers and Bassinets for Babies

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.

Related: Cosleeping and Breastfeeding: The Perfect Combination

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

21 thoughts on “The Hard Decision For Bedsharing”

  1. I share a bed with my children too during their infant up to their toddler stage. They were breastfed which is the main reason why I opted to co-sleep with them. I just have to place pillows on the sides and bottom of the bed. Everything went fine and safe for us.

  2. Our boy coslept in be until he stopped nursing but continued in his own little toddler bed at the foot of our bed until around 6. It worked for our family. He felt safe and loved and comfortable and so did we. And mom & dad were no worse for the company in case you wonder. He’s 16 now and an ordinary, happy guy!

  3. I co-slept with both of my girls. I worried during the first few months of the older babe, but I too researched the safety of it and it all went fine with both of my darlings who are now ages 14 and 10 years old. Both are confident young women. Both slept in our bed until around age 2 and then moved into their own beds. I spent half the night there and half the night in my own bed for a few years. My youngest used to come into bed with me at around 4am until morning when she was 4 years old. Both girls still like to snuggle with their mother and dad. Neither girl has ever had an ear infection or really been very sick at all, maybe the occasional flu every couple of years. We typically go a full year between well child check ups. I credit breastfeeding on demand for this healthy start.

  4. Co-sleeping sounds like it has worked well for you and your children, but please can you say a bit about how co-sleeping has affected the rest of your family? What is your husband’s point of view on co-sleeping and its affects on his relationship with his children and his relationship with you? I am sincerely interested in the father’s point of view, as I have never heard that side of the story in terms of bedsharing.

    1. Hi N. Crane,
      That is a great question. My husband co slept with his son until I met him and his son was five. We now have a 14 month old and he has co slept with us since he was born. According to my husband he doesn’t mind the feet in the face or the head on the chest. My husband says that he loves it and loves holding our son in his arms. I would definitely talk to your husband about it though. It is definitely a decision to make with your husband.
      Hope this answers your question

    2. We bedshare too. Have a 4yr old and a 7mo old. My husband enjoys having the kids in bed with us. We have had two bed mattresses pushed together for years. You just have to be more creative.

    3. I’m a guy – second marriage. I have a 13 year old from my first marriage, and a 2.75 year old and 6 week old from the second.

      I’ll tell you – the first marriage wasn’t really conducive to co-sleeping (hell *I* barely slept in the same bed with my ex; but every Friday night was movie night where my kid and I would stay up in bed and watch movies).

      With my second: I have to say I love it. YEAH it’s a pain sometimes (I bought a king size bed and I get the edge of it) but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. There was a time when the older boy would start to sleep in his toddler bed and I missed him.

      Look, I miss my wife sometimes — but we meet with our feet under the kids 😛 Yes sometimes I’d like a little more spontaneity in terms of bedroom fun with the Mrs. — but after the 13 year old I’m only more aware how time flies and at some point these kids won’t even want to hang out with me… so until then I’m good.

  5. I could have written this. Our bed sharing started out of necessity, but we are 4+ years into having a family bed and I cannot imagine it any other way (although I do know that someday the kids will want to leave the bed). My son has an awesome room, but still prefers toe sleep with us. He is four and a half. My daughter will be two in October and she has never slept outside of our bed either. We practice safe bed sharing too and we often get weird looks for not having a ‘real bed.’ Ah well, I do not care what anyone thinks. I care that my babies are safe and cozy. We do not have arguments about going to bed because I nurse and snuggle them to sleep every night (well I nurse my daughter).

  6. My son just turned 17 mos and has been a terrible sleeper since he was born. Like you, we started out with a pack-n-play, but I quickly found out he WANTED to be on me all night. We ended up spending the first year cuddled together on the reclining sofa. We continue to co-sleep in the family bed and, as a working mom, it’s the absolute best part of my day. He will grow up fast enough and I’m really treasuring these moments of closeness.

  7. In reference to N. Crane. We slept with my older daughter till she was about 5 and are youngest is 5 now and still jumps into bed with us at some point in the night. My husband knows that it won’t last forever and says he will really miss her little feet jamming under him someday as she will probably soon decide that she is too old to jump into our bed. My now 10 year old still climbs into our bed a couple of times a year if she has a really bad dream but I think those days will soon be gone and we will miss that too. I imagine most kids are like ours and with a little help can easily transition to sleeping on their own over time, and I too have read McKenna and other doctors research on how healthy it is for kids to co-sleep as they do in all the rest of the animal kingdom and in most other countries. Unless you are extremely obese, a heavy smoker, or under the influence of alcohol or drugs it is very safe to co-sleep. Their are more crib deaths than co-sleeping deaths per year and most new studies have pointed out that in the right conditions co-sleeping is safer than leaving your child in a crib.

  8. I have five kids. We co-slept up until about two months ago, when our youngest, a three year old, graduated into her own bed, in the room she now shares with her sister. With all of my kids’ transitions to sleeping in their own beds, my husband and I have taken turns lying in their beds with them until they fall asleep. It’s like that at first, but then they are fine with stories, a prayer, and a kiss goodnight. Each step is a bittersweet part of growing more independent. One thing is sure, I have NEVER felt guilty about being there for my kids. I have felt imposed upon, at times, when I just want them to go to sleep, already, but for the most part, it is a wonderful part of parenting that I will miss. By the way, having a king sized bed really helps for those nights when there are a couple of kids who need to come in when they’ve had bad dreams.
    As for the bed’s OTHER function, that can take place in any room where the kids are not. I’ve never known anyone to not be able to make the babies, because of co-sleeping.

  9. Our first is due Nov. 1, and I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I’ve come to the conclusion that we’ll just have to figure out what works when we get to that point. One thing I’ve always wondered: how do you still have intimacy with your husband? I think this would be easy when the baby is an infant, but when they get older, how do you make that work?

  10. Stop spoiling your children. My friends son is 7 years old and still sleeps jn bed with his parents because they have spoiled him like that. You have to learn to let them cry it out and eventually they will get used to it.

  11. I’m with Marisa, can we please talk about sex? I’m also 6 months pregnant with my first child, and I want to co-sleep, especially early on. But I do wonder about how our sex life will adapt to this as time goes on.

  12. What about nap time with more than one child? I can’t nAp while my children do, and my 8month old is a climber. I just don’t trust her in a bed without supervision. And my oldest has fallen out of bed a few times when I set up bed rails.

  13. With our second, we sidecarred an Ikea crib onto our queen bed, it’s a hundred times better than with my first, who coslept with us without that protective sidecar there. My 2.5 year old is still in it, my 6.5 year old sleeps in her own space.

    For the first time moms-to-be, neither sleep nor sex is effortless after your first baby for some time. No matter what.

    We have sex less, and it is quicker, than before children. It’s on the couch half the time. In the bedroom, there is a fast asleep baby in the room, which I don’t prefer but my husband is unphased by, and we’ve accepted that. Kids beyond the age of six are the ones that take notice…for real. I think in general husbands are stoked to have sex; cosleeping is no biggie, but no sex is sad. We don’t have very much tender romance, we have making-the-best-of-it much of the time. Our need to make sure our first newborn didn’t die, and to check often that she wasn’t dead, changed us permanently. I’m not being flip; one the hardest transitions for me was knowing the instant my daughter was in my arms that I would not be OK ever again if she died; to be that vulnerable humbled us both. Be OK, be OK we whispered. She slept on our chests many, many times so we could feel her breathe, more important than our own sleep. Cosleeping evolved with care and worry, and fretting over the empty crib in the other room. She helped us find our way.

    I would say, give your future tender new-mother self permission to keep her baby with her all night, if that is what she ends up needing. Leave the possibility out there, be kind to that mama. The kindest avenue I’ve felt in the motherhood transitions I’ve witnessed is buying just a cosleeper, and waiting on the crib.

    The most telling advice I got was at my OBs office as I chatted with the bookkeeper. I told her I had a cosleeper, ‘so the baby and I can each have our space and sleep, but she’ll only be ten inches away’. And she replied: “Ten inches will be too far.”

    And she was right.

    I had to grieve not using that crib, I had to grieve how sex had changed, I had to grieve how sleep had changed, hell, how restaurants-airplanes-road trips-bookstores-cooking-cleaning had changed. The changes were all a shock, it took quite some time to let go. With my second, there was nothing but peace; all the grieving and changes were done and much of the deciding about sleep and everything else.

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