Before my first child was born, I swore off having my baby sleep in bed with me and my husband. I was told that bedsharing and co-sleeping were just too dangerous–that it could cause him to die. There was absolutely nothing that I was going to do to intentionally harm my precious baby so, I didn’t even consider bedsharing as an option.
But, after I birthed my firstborn in my own bed, everything I had heard about baby sleep so far had led me to believe that the safest place for him to sleep was in a container. Because we’re told that babies are to sleep in cribs, right? Instinctively, that just didn’t feel right for me.
I lasted one night (mainly because we had a plastic liner on my bed from our home birth set up) before I brought my son back into our bed to sleep. The bassinet in the corner of the room turned into a nice, full-time laundry holder doubling as a cloth diaper sorter.
the shame surrounding bedsharing with your newborn baby
The problem is that no one really talks about bedsharing. Parents are lying to their healthcare providers out of shame when asked “where is your baby sleeping?” When did a baby sleeping next to its own mother become so controversial?
There are so many fears and myths that have been tagged with bringing your baby into bed with you. Bedsharing can be unsafe–but it doesn’t have to be. You just need to be prepared mentally and physically to safely bedshare with your newborn baby.
The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly advises against bedsharing. But, many moms end up doing it anyway. The best way to keep your baby safe–especially in the middle of the night when you are SO tired–is to be prepared.
co-sleeping is not bedsharing but bedsharing is co-sleeping
Both of these terms seem very taboo these days. When I mention to people that my children sleep in bed with me and my husband, I get looks as if I have three heads. And then the comments about them never leaving our bed start pouring out.
Bedsharing and co-sleeping are often used interchangeably but they actually have a little bit different meanings. This can be a little confusing but let’s break it down simply:
Co-sleeping refers to your baby sleeping in proximity to you in the same bedroom. Baby is usually kept at arm’s length in a bassinet or sidecar. This allows moms to bring their baby into bed to nurse or snuggle and then lay them down in a separate area for sleeping.
Bedsharing is when a baby sleeps on the same surface as the parent–usually referring to a bed. Some families even have more than one child in bed with them.
making the decision to bedshare with your newborn baby
The decision to bedshare with a baby sometimes starts out as a methodical, well-researched decision. But it’s often a desperate, sleep-deprived resolve that’s made at 2 AM when the baby won’t settle anywhere other than mama’s arms.
Many moms also feel at ease bedsharing with their newborn if they are exclusively breastfeeding. The biological relationship between a mother and her newborn baby goes deep in terms of breastfeeding and co-regulation. Many moms who bedshare say they and their babies get much more quality sleep. This is something I can personally attest to.
Whatever the reasoning may be, more mothers are bringing their babies to sleep in bed with them. But how can something so biologically natural be so controversial? There’s a lot of fear surrounding the safety of bedsharing. Not many people are talking about it. Therefore, many moms–especially new mothers don’t know how to safely bedshare with their newborn baby.
The decision to bedshare with your baby is between you and your family. Although it is a normal practice around most of the world, I acknowledge that it’s not right for every family.
As you’re considering to bedshare with your baby or not, ask yourself: Is it something that you and your spouse want to do? Does it feel safe considering your current environment and your sleep habits? Do you, your spouse or your baby have any conditions that may make bedsharing a risk factor?
bedsharing is quickly becoming the norm for families behind closed doors
In pretty much all other countries besides the United States, if you were to mention bedsharing or co-sleeping, no one would know what you were talking about. Bedsharing and co-sleeping are just called… sleeping. It’s so commonplace for babies to sleep alongside their mothers until they’re ready to move to their own beds.
Most families today, when they find out they’re having a baby, they start planning out a nursery.
They select a room in the house–sometimes a room on a different floor from their own bedroom.
A crib is set up with a rocker or glider in the corner of the room.
Baby is finally born and waking up sometimes 6-10 times per night to nurse.
Mom is waking up responding to baby, walking to the nursery and feeding and comforting baby until he is back to sleep.
Mom heads back to bed to try to fall asleep herself only to be woken up 15 minutes later to do it all over again.
After doing these 3 times, she decide to bring her baby into bed with her and nurse him to sleep. Mom and baby both get a nice long stretch of sleep before he wakes again briefly to nurse as they both drift off to sleep together again.
At baby’s check up your pediatrician asks how he’s sleeping. Mom is handed a pamphlet explaining how baby is to only sleep on his back, in a crib, alone. Otherwise, he could die.
Now mom is fearful of letting her baby sleep with her even though she’s finally starting to feel rested.
Instead of pumping fear into moms that are already sleep deprived and have their minds filled with other worries. My hope is to encourage them to step out of the fear of doing something that is so biologically normal.
I’m never pushing the decision to bedshare on anyone. I just want to equip other mamas with the knowledge to proactively set up their sleep space safely.
safe sleep seven–guidelines to follow to create a safe sleeping environment for mom and baby
If you’ve looked into bedsharing at all, you’ve probably come across the Safe Sleep Seven. This is a series of guidelines created to make bed sharing safer for a baby and their parents. Promoted often by the La Leche League (LLL), the Safe Sleep Seven is geared toward nursing moms. Following these guidelines greatly reduces the risk of any infant sleep related deaths.
NO SMOKING If you’re bedsharing with your baby, your home needs to be smoke free. The scent of smoke needs to be absent from the home, clothing and bed sheets.
SOBER PARENTS Don’t bring your baby to bed with you if you have consumed alcohol or have taken any medications with drowsiness as a side affect. Many of the bed-sharing related deaths have been caused by parents who smoke, those who have been drinking alcohol, or have taken medicine causing drowsiness.
NURSING MOTHER Breastfeeding mothers essentially become one with their babies. Aside from the hormones in breastmilk training a baby’s internal clock, breastsleeping more frequent arousals from sleep; therefore, reducing the risk of aids.
HEALTHY BABY Baby needs to be full term, thriving, with no known complications that could cause risks in bedsharing
BABY ON BACK Baby should be positioned to sleep on his back if he is under 12 months of age. If your baby is prone to roll over, reposition him if he flips onto his back during naps. If you are in bed with baby, you should be sleeping in the cuddle-curl position, preventing him from rolling over onto his belly.
LIGHTLY DRESSED Dress baby in breathable fabrics, not many layers so they won’t overheat
SAFE SURFACE: firm mattress, no extra pillows, no extra toys, no heavy covers. Clear of strings and chords. Pack the crack: use rolled towels or blankets.
A fun and easy way to remember these rules is to sing the following lines along to the tune of “Row, Row, Row your Boat.”
No smoke, sober mom,
baby at your breast.
Healthy baby on his back,
keep him lightly dressed.
Not too soft a bed,
watch the cords and gaps.
Keep the covers off his head,
for your nights and naps.
other safe practices to ensure safely bedsharing with your newborn
no sleeping with pets animals are not conscious of where they are laying or who they are laying on. It can be extremely dangerous to have a pet sleep in bed where a newborn is sleeping
avoid using a comforter it’s too risky taking the chance of the comforter covering the baby (before they are 1 year old)
no bedsharing when you are exhausted this lessens your ability to be aroused and respond to baby
no bedsharing on couch or sofa baby can fall in gaps in the sofa or roll off the side. a couch or chair is not a properly prepared sleep space for mom and baby.
minimal fragrances strong scents especially artificial fragrances found in many beauty products, deodorants, laundry detergents etc can easily irritate baby’s nasal passages. They can also hinder baby’s ability to detect his mother’s natural scent and find her breast when needing to nurse.
The bottom line is to routinely assess your sleep space. And if you see anything that has potential to cause harm or hinder the mother-baby dyad while sleeping, eliminate it.
using a co-sleeper to safely bedshare with your newborn
If you’re new to bedsharing, you may feel more comfortable setting up a co-sleeper or side sleeper for your baby next to your bed.
A co-sleeper is essentially an extension of your bed, allowing you to set baby aside in a separate space but also maintain nearness while sleeping.
I personally have the babybay bassinet. I really love how compact this side sleeper is. It is constructed with natural and sustainable materials and it looks so nice beside the bed.
Since we have mostly used a floor bed, I had such a hard time finding a co-sleeper that adjusted low enough to use with a floor bed. The babybay is fully adjustable and has transitioned nicely once we decided to start using a bed frame.
We didn’t use a side sleeper with our first baby, but I purchased the babybay for our second baby since our toddler would also be in bed with us. I wanted a safe place to place my newborn when I needed to.
She didn’t end up sleeping in it at all (of course lol) but it comforted me when I had to put her down in a separate space for a few moments.
There are so many side sleepers on the market today that can allow you to dip your toes into bedsharing but also provide an extension to your bed to safely begin bedsharing with your newborn.
final thoughts on safely bedsharing with your newborn
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it over and over again: Bedsharing CAN be unsafe but it doesn’t HAVE to be. A lot of it comes down to common sense but there are many areas that moms might not think about–especially when they’re sleep deprived and not thinking straight.
This is why I stress the importance of educating yourself before you find yourself in a desperate situation, low energy and end up falling asleep with your baby in a potentially unsafe environment.
You never know when you may need to quickly improvise in a situation to be able to safely bedshare with your newborn–even if it’s not a temporary set up for your family.