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Our Life Before Co-Sleeping
Sleep. The magical thing our bodies need to survive. Its a wonder new parents ever survive. My husband and I didn’t think we would survive until we tried co-sleeping. We were scared to try it because of the social stigma associated with co-sleeping and the fear that comes with it. We were uneducated and let other people’s uneducated fears prevent us from doing what is natural and beneficial to mom and baby.
My first month of adjusting to life with baby was awful for sleep. I had no problem following the advice of anyone who suggested “sleep when baby sleeps!” Yeah, but what if he doesn’t?
My family started off with trying to get baby to sleep in a crib in our room. We had cute swaddles, sleep sacks, and a sound machine that had multiple options. We had a beautiful set up including a special two-sided organic mattress and adorably printed organic cotton bed sheets. That didn’t matter to baby! He would NOT sleep unless he was in my or my husband’s arms.
First, we tried taking turns being awake and holding him or calling on family members to help us catch a few hours. It was exhausting. It was even scarier for me when my husband went back to work after three weeks and could no longer share night time responsibility. I clearly remember a point where I was crying holding crying baby and my husband half-woke up and in auto-pilot mode started cradling and shushing a pillow. We had hit a low point.
After a month of serious sleep deprivation I knew something had to change. At that point I was still uneducated under the impression co-sleeping was the most dangerous thing I could do. It was pretty clear baby wasn’t going to be suddenly okay with sleeping by himself though so I started looking into co-sleeping.
Type “Co-sleeping” into google and your results page is suddenly populated with words like “SIDS” and “suffocation”. Its enough to scare a new mom into not even clicking any of the links and just giving up on research. I don’t want that to happen to you.
As glorious as the internet can be it can also need a lot of filtering. I wanted research. I started reading academic publications with studies of SIDS and co-sleeping but I was still getting mixed information. Then I came across an article called “Why the Conflicting Results on Bedsharing Risk?” that examines the mix-up. Essentially, this article clarified what I already suspected: none of the studies were using the same definition of co-sleeping, definition of bed sharing, nor similarly taking into account whether the death incidents had other factors. For example, one study would include deaths on couches in deaths on adult beds while others included unsafe practices of drug and alcohol use in their numbers of deaths while co-sleeping.
The frustrating part is the American academy of Pediatrics (AAP) uses a study that focuses on all infant deaths in relation to sleep positions because of the “Back to Sleep” initiative. The study does not define co-sleeping bed sharing as on an adult bed with safe practices only. The deaths in their study include couches and chairs and didn’t take out any deaths that had other unsafe factors like drugs and alcohol.
I wanted to find a study that focused on whether only using specified safe practices led to cases of suffocation or death. I finally came across studies done by Dr. James McKenna. (You can read all his articles here.) After I read several of his articles I knew I had found what I had been looking for. In my findings, I validated that my desire – or even instinct – to sleep with my baby was not bad or dangerous if I practiced specific guidelines.
From there I endlessly researched more safety guidelines to bed share with my baby and shared my findings with my husband. We decided to give it a try. We prepped our bed and started with a supervised sleep – where I slept with baby for a nap while husband watched over us and checked in. You might find that silly but its hard to ease the fear and stigma associated with bed sharing. After our first nap went well we decided to try it for a night.
Me, baby, and husband all slept together on our adult bed and all abiding by the safety guidelines. We actually slept more than an hour at a time! In fact, would you believe we slept for four hours straight?! Does it sound too dramatic to say that night forever changed us?
From that point we agreed that co-sleeping by bed sharing was the right choice for our family. Since then we actually sleep at night. Usually 4-6 hours at a time. Our most recent growth spurt week left us with 1-2 hours between wake ups but only for that week. I can also tell you feeding baby every two hours during a growth spurt is a helluvah lot easier when they just pop on and off while mostly asleep. Its called “Breastsleeping” – a term coined by Dr. McKenna – and its a big perk of bed sharing.
I could go on and on about how it changed how we sleep and therefore how we function on a daily basis. Its the best option for my family. But is it for yours? I can’t say.
I think Dr. James McKenna says it best:
“I do not recommend to any parents any particular type of sleeping arrangement since I do not know the circumstances within which particular parents live. What I do recommend is to consider all of the possible choices and to become as informed as is possible matching what you learn with what you think can work the best for you and your family.”
Do your research. Don’t let yourself make choices on uneducated fear but especially don’t make choices without making sure your circumstances are safe. I’ve put together some information for you but I (probably) don’t know you and your situation. Bed sharing works wonders for me but you need to know a lot of safety rules.
So if you’re wondering “What is Co-sleeping?” Or “Are you sure you can bed share safely?!”
Here is what I’m going to cover.
- What is cosleeping?
- What are different variations of cosleeping?
- What are the pros and cons of bed sharing?
- What are the safety rules of bed sharing?
- What my family uses for bed sharing
What is Co-sleeping?
One evening I was explaining to friends how mom life got so much easier after we started co-sleeping with baby. One of my friends said ” What is that?”
Co-Sleeping is sleeping together. There are different ways to do this.
What are the Different Variations of Co-sleeping?
There are three different ways to co-sleep:
- Bed Share: Baby sleeps in the same bed as parent(s). When people say “co-sleeping” this is generally what is meant. This is also sometimes called “Family bed”
- Same room: Baby sleeps in the same room as parent(s) but not in the same bed.
- Side car: having the baby/toddler bed right up against the adult bed. This could be a crib or bassinet specifically made to do this safely.
Why Would Someone Want or Not Want to Bed Share Co-Sleep?
There is a lot to consider when thinking about bed sharing. Most of it is beneficial to both mom and baby but there are some negatives as well. Below is my take on the pros and cons of bed sharing.
- Safety: There are many safety guidelines for bed sharing (see below). It is imperative to follow all of them. If you can’t follow all of them, bed sharing is not for you. In other safety terms, I think baby is safer from say a house fire or break in if you practice bed sharing since you wouldn’t have baby on the other side of the house alone in their own room.
- Sleep quantity: The biggest pro in my opinion: You don’t have to get baby to sleep just to dread putting them down and having them wake up again! They stay in the same spot they fell asleep in. Your baby will feel safer and therefore likely sleep longer. This means you will sleep longer! Cue the cheers and applause.
- Sleep quality: As mom, your brain is wired to sleep in a lighter state of sleep when sleeping together so you can be aroused by baby. Your sleep position is limited to the protective C cradle with one arm above babies head to block them from from getting to one pillow you have left for your head. Switching sides helps but you really can’t switch up your position. You also can’t sleep with things you may have been used to sleeping with that are not safe for baby. Think: pets, fluffy duvets, 10 pillows. I seriously miss snuggling my fur babies all night.
- Emotional health: Baby will know that you are close by and feel safe. Baby will cry less and bond with Mom more. Baby doesn’t have to go to distress crying to signal hunger or to attempt to draw Mom to them for any reason; you’re already right there.
- Brain development: Co-sleeping bed sharing allows baby to easily eat as frequently as needed through the night for optimal brain growth. This is especially handy during growth spurts.
- Partner Intimacy: Lets face it, partner intimacy in bed is either not happening or has very limited occurrence while bed-sharing. Unless you’re excellent at making up for it in other places, this is one of the biggest drawbacks in my eyes.
(The above is not an exhaustive list of pros and cons of bed sharing, just what I can speak of.)
What are the Safety Rules of Bed Sharing?
Because I am not an expert and safety is a BIG deal, I’m linking you to Safe Co-Sleeping Guidelines from Dr. James McKenna so you can read them from a qualified website.
Some basics to keep in mind for bed sharing are NONE of the following:
- second hand smoke exposure
- bottlefed babies
- soft bedding
- fluffy materials
- heavy blankets
- gaps/crevices (headboards, bed frames, rails, etc)
- parents under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
- really long hair on Mom
- babies placed next to someone other than mom
- adults with conflicting beliefs on bed sharing
- other children
- tummy sleeping or side sleeping
I suggest reading guidelines written by the experts to help you decide how to bed share safely with more details.
How Do You Prepare to Bed Share?
I feel comfortable bed sharing because we make sure we are practicing safety every night. Here is what my family does.
We have a queen size bed that has a waterproof mattress pad, a tight fitting bed sheet, one lightweight thin quilt that only goes on my husband, and two pillows. We also have a mesh railing on the side that baby sleeps on so he can’t fall off the bed. We feel comfortable using the mesh railing even though its against guidelines because we check for gaps daily. Putting our mattress on the floor wasn’t an option for us because frankly we need the storage underneath!
I wear pajamas that are breastfeeding friendly and allow me not to need blankets. Its easier since we live in Florida but usually its something like a short sleeve button down pajama shirt, lightweight pajama pants, and socks. I also wear my favorite super comfortable wireless nursing sleep bra because I need to wear nursing pads. I also always braid or tie my hair back since I have long hair.
I get anxiety about the rare possibility that baby will stop breathing no matter where he is sleeping: my arms, his crib, in bed with me, you name it. To put my anxiety at ease and to help monitor him we chose to buy a Snuza Hero Baby Movement Monitor. It monitors breathing movement and will vibrate and alarm to alert about any issue. In the description it says its not suitable for co-sleeping because its a very sensitive monitor and could pick up your movements as baby breathing movements but my family chooses to wear it anyway. I feel a thousand times better when he wears it and am a very still sleeper on a very movement absorbent bed. We’ve had a false alarm before but we’ve also had it alarm and had no reason to think it wasn’t a true alert.
If this post helps even just one family decide whether or not any of the co-sleeping forms is right for them, I would feel so happy! I love bed sharing with my family and I hope you get to experience it – but only if you think its for you and you can practice it safely!
McKenna, J. J., Ph.D. (n.d.). Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved February 18, 2018, from http://cosleeping.nd.edu/frequently-asked-questions/