Bedsharing: Co-Sleeping and its benefits.
Disclaimer: there are a lot of misinformation when it comes to bedsharing/ co-sleeping. Yes, babies need to sleep in a safe environment and there is a way to do that while bedsharing/ co-sleeping which I’ll share in this article. There’s also a lot of different “sleep training” methods out there that parents can try and I am not judging any parents who decide to go this route. It all depends on what works for your baby. For me it just happens to be co-sleeping and bedsharing.
Full disclosure, when I first had my son, I wasn’t expecting to bedshare. I wasn’t even expecting to co-sleep (sleep with him in the same room) past the three month mark.
So let me drop a little of my story before I dive into how to bedshare/ co-sleep safely.
When he was first born, we noticed he didn’t like being in his hospital bassinet. He hated being swaddled and would rather be on us skin-to-skin while he slept. My husband and I didn’t object to that since we both knew the benefits of skin-to-skin was crucial for the first few days of his life and for a successful breastfeeding journey. So we took turns having him nap on either me or my husband while the other one takes their nap as well. We were told many times that the person holding the baby was NOT ALLOWED to sleep while the baby was sleeping. So, we took turns keeping each other in check and making sure the baby holder was awake when the nurses walked in.
When it was time to come home, we tried the bassinet we got from our baby shower. I made sure the room was warm and the mattress pad was warm, we rubbed our clothes on it to make him still smell us while he slept. Unfortunately, he hated it. He would wake up instantly after he was set down. So, my husband, valuing his sleep, would take him and lay down on the bed and had him sleep on his chest like we did at the hospital. It worked. So, we decided bedsharing was the best way for us.
I had to do a ton of research to make sure we were doing it right. My anxiety wouldn’t let me sleep at night because I was too worried that we might roll over, he might roll over, or the dog might forget we had a tiny human on the bed and lie down on top of him. I found out having him fall asleep on our chest wasn’t safe and that we needed to find a way to have him sleep on the bed instead.
We took care of the dog situation by training her to sleep at the foot of the bed. We also took care of our rolling over situation by making sure we slept in what is called the “C-Curl” position. I made sure we followed the Safe Sleep 7 rule which I’ll explain later.
Like in the image above, you make sure to have your arm out and sleep on your side with your legs curled up so your body makes a “C” shape. Both my husband and I slept like this with our son in between us, so it ended up us looking like a giant “O”.
We did try to transition him to his own bed at around 5/6 months. He did well with one or two wake ups a night until he got sick at 7 months and we brought him into our bed again. Ever since, we couldn’t get him to go back into his own crib. He is 15 months and we’re still co-sleeping, we have his crib next to us and he is mainly sleeping on that instead of in between us. We are slowly transitioning him to fall asleep on his own as well so that we can have him sleep in his own room by 2 years old.
Safe Sleep 7
- No smoking. There is an association of SIDS with smoking exposure. The risk of SIDS is increased by 10 times if the infant is sleeping with a parent who smokes, even if they don’t smoke indoors. So to play it safe, if either parent smokes, best choice is to have the baby sleep in a place far from the parent who smokes and only bring to the bed when nursing/feeding to sleep. This is where Co-sleeping comes in handy. Have a crib set up in the same room so that you are close to the baby enough so they don’t feel alone, but keeping their smoke exposure to a minimum.
- Sober parents. No going to bed while inebriated — even by medication. I have suffered through some nasty colds and allergies so I don’t have to take any drowsy medications. It’s been a real struggle, but it’s better to play it safe than sorry.
- Breastfeeding mother. Bedsharing does make it easier to continue exclusively breastfeeding your baby since they are close by and you’re able to feed on demand easily. Your baby changes the position they lie to easily access boobs. I don’t know the scientific aspect of this, but we’ve had better sleep than him being in the crib his room.
- Healthy baby. It is recommended that you only bedshare with your infant if he/she was born full-term and is healthy.
- Baby on back. Just like the ABCs of Sleep baby must sleep on their backs until they are able to roll on their own.
- No swaddle. If your baby likes to be swaddled — this might not be for you. Swaddles serves two purposes, to help their moro reflex and to keep them warm. The parents are creating a natural heat source and by sleeping near them, the babies are warm enough. Adding the swaddle blankets will cause the babies to overheat! If you’re worried about them being cold add a light blanket (see next rule). If you’re worried about the moro reflex, keep a hand on the belly while they sleep, it works!
- Safe surface. Firm mattress. No pillows. No charging cables near the bed. fill in gaps with towels (or pool noodles!). And if you are using a blanket, make sure it’s lightweight and only covering the legs. Do not bring the blanket up to the baby’s head.
Benefits of Bedsharing
- It promotes bonding with moms and dads. Bedsharing helps the babies regulate their nervous system. Babies are born with the need to be close to their caregiver. They need them to survive. When they wake up the first thing they seek out is the person that makes them feel safe.
- It creates a calming sleep transition. Whenever I used to put my baby into the crib “just drowsy”, he would wake up in a terror and scream and cry that he was going to bed. It was stressful for both him and I. But when we bedshare he is excited to go to bed. He runs to the room saying night-night and sits eagerly in our nursing spot on the bed and happily goes to sleep. This way helps ease both our stress levels and we’re both happy going to bed at night.
- It helps create a better sleeper. We all have natural wake ups in our sleep cycle. When a baby goes through one of those wake ups, having their parents nearby can signal a safe feeling and it can allow them to return to sleep. Sometimes a gentle touch or a little 1–2 minutes comfort nursing is all they’ll need to return to slumber.
- It helps create a healthy and long breastfeeding journey. I’m 15 months in and still going with our journey. I don’t know if it’s just my supply or the fact we bedshare, that helped me keep going, but I’m just happy I can still comfort my little one while he needs it.
- Parents sleep better. Night-feedings can be exhausting. When I started to bedshare I found that we both fell asleep a lot faster than if I were to be on the rocking chair and having to put him down in his crib. It used to take me two hours, but when I switched to the bed, he would fall asleep in ten-fifteen minutes. Needless to say, it didn’t take me long to make the switch.
Risks of Bedsharing
As always, there’s some risks to be had with bedsharing.
One major risk is parental-based. Deep sleepers or sleepers who move a lot pose a risk to baby as you bedshare. If you and your SO are both deep sleepers, consider co-sleeping by having a crib in the same room. You still get benefits of being nearby, and keep the baby safe. Another way is to side-car with the crib, you can see an example of how it looks later.
Another risk is suffocation. Pillows and blankets are nice to have as an adult, but babies do not need them. Make sure that your pillows are either away from baby’s face or you don’t use them until they are strong enough to move their face or head away from potential suffocating objects. Blankets should always be at stomach level if they are using one. My kiddo would kick the blankets off him since he was 6 months, so we don’t use it with him as much. I make sure to dress him warmly for bed, but I do like to keep his blankets nearby just for extra warmth if needed.
What does bedsharing look like?
Bedsharing isn’t a new concept. Some cultures take to bedsharing as a norm for their families.
In Japan their beds are on a firm futon mattress on the floor. This makes it easier to have the babies in bed with them, even when they become mobile as it creates a safe environment for them to roam if they wake up before the parents do.
This is why you see most Western families using “floor beds” as a way to keep their bedsharing journey going.
You can also choose to put a crib next to the bed like the “side-car” you would do with a bassinet when they were little. You take one side off the crib and press the mattresses together. This would still consider being bedsharing, but to me I think it’s more co-sleeping since they are sleeping in their “own space”.
Ideally you’d want to raise the crib so the mattresses are flush against each other and the walls are high enough they can’t climb/fall over. We started out by doing it the way it’s pictured and he got used to sleeping with our mattress on his back that he actually prefers it that way as opposed to flush. He also knows not to climb on the crib and will go to the end of the bed to climb down. We also didn’t do this until he was after a year old. He was strictly in bed with us until then, but he began to move around too much and he would wake himself up by doing it. This also helped ease my anxiety knowing he wasn’t going to crawl off the bed in his sleep.
I love having these contact naps and bedsharing times with my baby. As much as it takes up a lot of my free time, and I cannot write as much as I would like to, I know these moments are just for a short amount of time. We are slowly starting to have longer stretches of sleep without having me be in the same room. It does make me a little sad, but I’m looking forward to being able to write more.
If bedsharing is an option for you, try it! You can always return back to the crib if it doesn’t seem to be working for you. This is one of the many “sleep-training” techniques (But, I wouldn’t call bedsharing/co-sleeping sleep-training) out there. Do what works best for you and your child.
Did I miss some key information? Let me know in the comments!