Trying to figure out whether co-sleeping is right for you or if you want to bed-share?
So, if you’re here, then you’re probably a momma or will be one soon and you are serious and looking for answers about co-sleeping with your baby.
I am here to help provide you with the pros & cons so that you can make an informed decision on whether co-sleeping or bed-sharing is a good fit for you.
What is co-sleeping?
Co-sleeping, by definition, is sleeping in the same room with your baby, toddler or young child. It is essentially sleeping close enough that one can sense the other’s presence.
As defined by McKenna, “The term co-sleeping refers to any situation in which a committed adult caregiver, usually the mother, sleeps within close enough proximity to her infant so that each, the mother and infant, can respond to each other’s sensory signals and cues. “
There are so many terms (co-sleeping, bed-sharing, room-sharing) that it gets confusing.
Co-sleeping is really just an umbrella term for everything related to sleeping near or with your baby, toddler or small child.
How to Bed-share Safely
Bed-sharing, meaning you share the same sleep surface as your baby.
This is the one to be most vigilant about and mommas be sure and do this the right way…follow the guidelines. Because out of all the ways to co-sleep this is the one where you need to be most careful.
First & foremost, be sure to Only bed-share if you are breastfeeding.
McKenna says this “My own physiological studies suggest that breastfeeding mother-infant pairs exhibit increased sensitivities and responses to each other while sleeping, and those sensitivities offers the infant protection from overlay. However, if bottle feeding, infants should lie alongside the mother in a crib or bassinet, but not in the same bed.”
(James J. McKenna Ph.D., is known for establishing the “Mother-infant sleep laboratory”, where he and his team from the University of CA spearheaded the first studies of the behavior & physiology of mothers and infants sleeping together & apart, using physiological & behavioral recording devices.)
Go here for more in-depth info: https://cosleeping.nd.edu/safe-co-sleeping-guidelines/
Breastfeeding is super important AND goes hand-in-hand with Bed-sharing:
Breastfeeding works as a safety mechanism, one of the best safety measures “built right in”. Studies show that breastfed babies are healthier babies….everything they need is right there in their momma’s milk.
Breastfed babies need to eat more often, so this helps to ensure that they do not go into long, deep periods of sleep (which helps to prevent SIDS), like formula-fed babies or babies that are placed to sleep in a room alone.
More on breastfeeding here, https://www.breastfeeding.asn.au/bfinfo/breastfeeding-and-co-sleeping
When it comes to bed-sharing, if you smoked while pregnant “DON’T” do it….( bed-share that is)!
McKenna, explains…… “Smoking during a pregnancy diminishes the capacities of infants to arouse to protect their breathing, smoking mothers should have their infants sleep alongside them on a different surface but not in the same bed.”
When it comes to bringing the baby into your bed, be sure and make it a safe environment. You can start by removing your bedframe and dropping your mattress to the floor so that if baby falls off, it’s only inches down. Be sure and pull the mattress away from the wall and other furniture so that there is not a crevice for the baby to roll into and suffocate or become trapped. Put away your pillowy comforter and multiple pillows (if you have them).
And make sure YOUR mattress is FIRM! (you keep hearing everyone say make sure the baby’s mattress is firm, but when bed-sharing, you need to make sure the Adult mattress is just as firm). There should be no indention where the baby is lying.
There should only be a tightly fitted sheet, one pillow per person and light sheets to cover with (this will work fine, by you dressing warm to not need heavy blankets).
And momma’s if your hair is long, pull it back.
Be sure you have plenty of room, queen size mattress at a minimum and if dad is in the bed a king is recommended. Go here to view bed sizes, https://www.sleepadvisor.org/mattress-size-chart/
From one mom to another I can’t write loudly enough to the importance of safety when it comes to co-sleeping or to be clear “bed-sharing.”
Start reading, learning and preparing early because you never know what is going to happen.
Don’t do what I did. I waited. I waited and found myself having my baby 2 months early and unprepared.
Here are more Co-sleeping Methods Commonly Used
(And how to do them safely)
The “Side-car” method, which is safely attaching a separate sleep surface (for baby) to your bed, which is most often a crib or a specifically made co-sleeper.
A crib is a good choice because the baby won’t grow out of it for some time…toddler years. Here you would remove the front side and securely attach it to your bed. Make sure to fill in the gap where your bed and crib come together.
I started using this method when my little was about 18 months old and because, at this time, I stopped breastfeeding and sharing the same sleep surface became unsafe at this point.
I pushed the crib up against the wall and then my bed against the crib so that nothing was budging. It works well, it frees up your bed for you and your partner and allows your baby to be right there but have their own safe space at the same time.
It allows you the freedom to move around without waking the baby so that you can get comfortable (but believe me, there was a lot of snuggling, a lot of legs, feet, and arms on me pretty much constantly).
This site provides good instruction on how to do this, http://naturalparentsnetwork.com/how-to-side-car-your-crib/
Same Room & Separate Space, this could mean the crib, for instance, is on its own but usually within arms-reach of mom. This could also be a toddler bed or mattress on the floor for older children. You could also use a crib or bassinette, maybe next to your bed or across the room.
This allows for you and baby to each have your independent sleep area. But most importantly, you and baby are close enough to sense each other, close enough to where you can hear and respond to baby’s needs.
This is the method I started with (for the first few months anyway while he was needing formula every 3 hours, I, unfortunately, did not produce enough milk). I had his crib about a foot or two away from me so that all I had to do was open my eyes and I could see his face and touch him.
I had to constantly check to make sure he was breathing.
My baby was a preemie so I was extra nervous about…..well most everything.
I kept nothing in the crib but the mattress and a tightly fitted sheet. I (actually my husband did) hung the safety rules on the wall above him so that if I was ever tempted to put a stuffed animal in, for example, that sign was staring me in the face.
And lastly, we have where the young child is welcomed into the parent’s bed at some point in time in the night.
Plain and simple, when it comes to any one of the ways to co-sleep, you must follow the guidelines and if, at all possible “have a plan in place”. Go here to view the safety measures for co-sleeping. https://cosleeping.nd.edu/safe-co-sleeping-guidelines/
Benefits to Co-sleeping
- Mom and baby bond with one another
- You are right there to soothe your baby
- You are right there to reassure them and in turn, they know you are there when they need you
- Mom & dad can better sense if something is wrong (safer to have baby close by)
- Baby cries less and is, therefore, less stressed
- Baby is much closer at feeding time
- Feeding times are easier and more frequent (especially if breastfed), which is good for milk production
- Baby feels safer and sleeps better
- Helps to reduce the risks of SIDS by 50%, https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/sleep/Pages/A-Parents-Guide-to-Safe-Sleep.aspx
- Child-spacing effects of breastfeeding – Kelly Mom explains it well here, https://kellymom.com/bf/normal/fertility/
- And of course…last but certainly not least…Happy baby…Happy momma!
Here are the DEFINITE Don’ts!
- Do not abuse alcohol before lying down with your baby
- Do not take any over the counter medication that will make you sleep deeply
- Do not take any type of drug that will impair you in any form or fashion while co-sleeping or bed-sharing with your baby
- Don’t lay down with your baby if you are overly tired or a deep sleeper
- Do not smoke
- Do not bed-share if you smoked while pregnant
- Do not allow other children to sleep next to baby
- Don’t allow your pets in bed while co-sleeping or bed-sharing
- Don’t overdress your baby or lay him/her down on or near loose blankets or pillows
- Don’t lay down with your baby on a couch, recliner or the like (and don’t place baby alone on either of these surfaces)
- Don’t place your baby between you and your partner
- Do not lay baby down on his/her tummy
- Don’t place baby to sleep on a waterbed
- Never cover your baby’s head
- Do not swaddle baby when bedsharing
- Do not bed-share if you are obese
Don’t say “just for one night or just for a little while”, have a plan in place and have a safe sleep space designated before lying down with your baby even if it’s just for a nap.
Momma’s, don’t ruin the ability to safely sleep with your baby by smoking when you’re pregnant. Know that the most important time for you to actively ensure good health for your baby after he/she is born is while they are in utero (your belly).
Smoking is toxic and interferes with how your baby grows.
According to the CDC “Smoking during pregnancy increases the risk of health problems for developing babies, including preterm birth, low birth weight, and birth defects of the mouth and lip. Smoking during and after pregnancy also increases the risk of Sudden Infant death Syndrome SIDS.”
And if you smoked while pregnant, your baby is at higher risk for SIDS.
I could just throw a list of risks at you but that wouldn’t be accurate because it depends on how and where you put your baby to sleep.
The main risks are suffocation, strangulation, and SIDS
No matter if you co-sleep with your baby or not and even if every single safety precaution is met, SIDS is always a risk.
More on SIDS here by the AAP. https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/138/5/e20162938
Firstly, if your baby is under 12 months old then he/she is at risk of SIDS. If you place your baby in a room to sleep alone, even if all the safety measures are taken, there is still a risk.
Since the exact cause of SIDS is unknown, there is no way to completely safeguard against it.
This is why the AAP recommends that babies sleep in a crib in the parent’s room for at least the first year.
If you are a breastfeeding mother and you decide to bed-share then you need to be more diligent about safety.
You need to know yourself……are you a heavy sleeper, do you like to drink a little before bed, do you take sleeping medication….just to name a few…if you answered yes to any of these then bed-sharing may not be a good choice.
Everyone is different, everyone’s home life/environment is different, and this is ok.
But you need to be 100% certain that bed-sharing is right for you and your family!
The Many Co-sleeping Myths
- Baby won’t learn to put himself to sleep
- Baby will not be independent as he gets older
- I’m spoiling my baby
- Kills the romance in a marriage
- I’m a light sleeper, so nothing bad can happen
- I won’t get any sleep with baby in my bed
- Co-sleeping or bed-sharing is perfectly safe
- Co-sleeping or bed-sharing is always dangerous
A Tiny Bit of My Story
I’m an older momma (pregnant at 41) and was exhausted all day every day and kept putting it off. But exhausted or not, picture your birth and your first 6 months post-partum. Have your husband, a relative or a friend read to you, help you.. prepare.
My baby slept in his crib for about a month or so…and not very well. The formula feedings every 3 hours along with the pumping was exhausting ( by the time I finished, pumping, feeding and cleaning everything it was time to do it again…it felt like).
Had I known at the time about preemies and the increased risk of SIDS, I would have never used the crib the way that I did. Knowing what I know now I would have attached it to my bed from the very beginning. I say this because my little did go into some formula-fed, deep periods of sleep and I consider my self lucky that he always woke up.
My instinct was to have him near me, but I didn’t realize my instinct was telling me that so that I could help him to regulate his breathing, heart, and ability to wake.
Only after reading this did I realize that, https://cosleeping.nd.edu/frequently-asked-questions/#Q3
So, Momma’s….stop listening to what everybody else tells you- you should do and instead listen to your instincts and your heart….. “Go with your gut”, be with your baby, snuggle, cuddle your baby….as much as possible.
I truly believe that this is the best medicine for your baby…..it’s just what nature ordered.
So, be smart and do plenty more research…read everything you can….know all sides to it…You need to be informed and sure!
I am not a doctor or a nurse or a co-sleeping expert by any means!
What I have done is researched the topic to provide you with data from reputable sites and of course sharing my experiences as a mother.