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Safe Bedsharing/Co-Sleeping (and how it happened in our house)


“…perhaps no other issue has been so often misrepresented and grossly oversimplified as parent-infant cosleeping.”

-James McKenna, Cultural Influences on Infant Sleep

Awww! Gavin's favorite way to sleep: in someone's arms.

We never planned on bedsharing with our baby. I read about it while I was pregnant, and the idea appealed to me, but the warnings against it were enough to scare me. In fact, I was simply terrified of my newborn sleeping at all! Between the threat of SIDS and the stark warnings against bedsharing, I would have been happy if my newborn was awake all of the time. If I weren’t so exhausted, I  probably would have been awake all of the time making sure that he continued to breathe through his sleep.

Prior to actually having my own baby, I had a very miscontrued idea of how babies sleep. And the person who coined the phrase, “sleep like a baby,” must have been out of his mind. Or he never met a baby like mine, anyways. As far as my son was concerned, “sleep like a baby” meant that he was supposed to wake up every 10 minutes if he wasn’t thisclose to another human being. Sure, the Arm’s Reach Co-Sleeper is great in theory, but in practice, it did nothing for us. Well, it worked nicely as a bedside table, but that was about it. My baby didn’t want to sleep 10 inches away from me. He wanted to sleep on me.

I often found myself falling asleep while nursing him to sleep. I would wake up in a panic and check his breathing. And then I would give myself a mental beat-down about how irresponsible I was for falling asleep while nursing my baby. I did know that I shouldn’t have blankets or pillows near the baby, but I was still unclear about all of the safety information regarding bedsharing. Actually, I didn’t even know such information existed.

I mentioned in previous posts that a friend gave me a copy of The Baby Book by the Sears family when Gavin was a few weeks old. This was the first time I read some clear guidelines about how to bedshare safely. Dr. Sears’s book not only provided information about how to safely share a bed with an infant, but he writes about how it is beneficial. Finally, I had some clear guidelines about how to safely share my bed with my infant. I can’t even tell you how life-changing this information was to me. I know it sounds crazy, but it was the first time I actually had confidence in myself as a parent. And not only that, but I could finally sleep! I wasn’t on edge anymore. In fact, Dr. Sears’s information validated my parenting instincts, and I finally felt like I could handle the whole parenting thing. I now make sure that all of my pregnant friends have information about how to safely share a bed with their baby. From what I hear from other people, it is not a matter of if they they bring their baby into their bed, it is a matter of when and for how long.

This is actually a picture of Gavin crying in his crib. Our photographer wanted to get a picture of him in his crib, but he wasn't going for it. She tried to edit it so it looked like he was sleeping instead of crying. lol I like this picture though because it exemplefies his relationship with that crib.

Since no one shared this bedsharing safety information with me, I thought that I should share it with you. I realize that most of our readers have probably moved on past the co-sleeping newborn stage, but hopefully this information will reach someone who needs it. I could give you the tips myself, but other experts have already written the information so nicely that I will just link you up to the information:

Attachement Parenting International Safe Sleep Guidelines

Dr. Sears Sleep Safety (addresses both co-sleeping and crib sleeping)

James McKenna’s Safe Co-Sleeping documents.

While you are on these sites, be sure to check out the information about the benefits of co-sleeping vs. crib sleeping. James McKenna has some great articles on his website, and Dr. Sears shares his experience and research. We previously recommended Our Babies, Ourselves by Meredith Small, and I’ll recommend it again here because she discusses the biological and evolutionary aspects of co-sleeping.

In our culture in the U.S., it seems like we blame the baby for not sleeping well. A baby who doesn’t sleep well might even be considered a “bad” baby, as if the baby has any control or concept of sleeping well. We point at the baby and say, “it is YOUR fault.” Then we have some pediatricians who ponit at parents and say, “it’s YOUR fault.” But maybe it is neither the baby’s fault, nor the parent’s fault. Maybe it is our culture. Someone, somewhere along the way, told us that babies must sleep in cribs. Someone told us that married couples must sleep in their bed (in their bedroom) alone. Someone designed our houses to have separate sleeping and living quarters for each member of the family. Someone told us that babies should sleep alone…and they should sleep there all night…and they shouldn’t make a peep. Someone told us that if a baby is sleeping in a bed with her parents, the marriage will end in divorce (and it’s all the baby’s fault, of course!). Someone told us that if our babies are not sleeping through the night, they must cry themselves to sleep.

So who told us this and why do we believe them? It is hard to listen to ourselves because these voices of the unknown “someones” out there are so much louder than the quiet voice inside of us. Often, we are not still enough to hear this voice. I think I finally heard my own inner voice, my instincts, in the middle of the night. The house was still, my baby had just fallen asleep, and he was still nursing. I had attempted to move him into his own sleep space several times, waking him each time I moved him. Finally, it hit me. Out loud, I said, “Why am I so stupid!?” I knew he would just wake up if I moved him again. I decided to leave my baby lying next to me and I let him sleep. And I slept. And we’ve been sleeping that way every since.

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Published in Parenting Sleep