I was never ever ever going to let my kid sleep in my bed. Even though I slept (occasionally) in my dad’s bed until I was nine because of nightmares. Even though I slept in my grandmother’s bed when I visited her, chattering like girls at a slumber party until we fell asleep, until I was in high school. Even though I loved sleeping next to my husband and rolling over to chat first thing in the morning on the weekends.
Then, when I was pregnant, I read the American Association of Pediatrics recommendations on co-sleeping (which actually means sleeping in the same room). They recommend sharing a room with baby until the infant reaches the age of six months as a measure to prevent SIDS. Like any new mother, I wanted to do everything possible to reduce SIDS risk. So, we bought a second hand co-sleeper that attached to the bed. I figured that was good enough.
Then, my daughter was born. For three weeks, I sat up with her, waking every two hours, sleepily nursing for 45 minutes to an hour, then dutifully putting her back in the co-sleeper to sleep for an hour before we started over.
Then, she was three weeks old and I discovered how to nurse while lying on my side. I could doze while she nursed. Game changer. I realized that I was falling back to sleep without putting her back, my body curled protectively around her, one arm out to keep from rolling on her. And there she slept for six more months.
Then I read an article by James McKenna and found out that almost all nursing mothers take that protective sleeping position. I learned about the biology of bed sharing. Then I learned about safe bed sharing practices. Then I learned that in Japan, most babies bed share and they have the lowest occurrence of SIDS in the world.
Then, at six months old, it didn’t work for us anymore. She wanted to nurse all night and I wasn’t getting sleep at all. We put her in her crib in her own room, and luckily for us, she transitioned without complaint...but in the middle of the night when she woke, I’d gather her into my arms and bring her into the warmth of our bed. And in the morning, she’d reward me with grins and kisses.
Then, her baby brother was born. He was colicky. We set up the co-sleeper, but he started off in our bed right away, with all the safe bed sharing practices I’d learned about. We moved him to the co-sleeper when he started climbing out of bed...and to his own room when he learned how to climb out of the co-sleeper.
Then, we set up a floor bed to sleep safely next to him on nights and days when he needed extra comfort. Then, we added a twin bed so we could bed share comfortably.
Then, last night, my daughter’s feet pitter pattered down the wooden floor of the hallway, and she climbed over my legs, into the middle of the bed, and whispered in my ear. “I was afraid of the dark.” And there she slept, safely nestled between us, knowing that we were there for her any time of the day or night.
The Difference Between Co-sleeping and Bed Sharing
Co-sleeping means sharing a sleeping space. Bed Sharing means sharing a sleeping surface.
Safe Bed Sharing
- Breastfeed. The breastfeeding mother and the baby share a hormone feedback cycle that results in heightened responsiveness.
- Position baby between mom and a bed rail or wall, with no gaps for baby to slip into.
- Baby should sleep on his or her back, regardless of where baby sleeps.
- Avoid bed sharing if smokers live in the house.
- Do not bed share under the effects of medication that makes you sleepy, illegal drugs, or alcohol.
- Use a firm flat mattress with tightly fitted sheets, no more than one pillow per adult, and lightweight bedding.
- Never sleep on a waterbed, recliner, or couch.
- Do not swaddle baby if you plan on bed sharing.
- Certain conditions increase the risk of rolling onto baby such as certain medications or neurological disorders.
If, for any reason, you cannot bed share safely, a co-sleeper next to the bed provides a convenient but separate sleep surface. And, even if you never plan on bed sharing (like me!), if you get sleepy with baby in 3am, the bed is the safest place to sleep, so know how to do it safely.