Why Bed-sharing May Be Safer Than You’ve Been Led to Believe

CW: Infant loss is a highly sensitive, personal topic. I am not a medical professional by any means, so please do not take this as medical advice. Educate yourself, consult your pediatrician, and do what works best for your family.

When I was pregnant with Baby P., I took Little P. to a “big brother training course” at a local hospital to prepare for his new role in the family. It was a fun one-day course; they taught the children to diaper, swaddle… and the teachers were heavy-handed about a few major points: 

  • baby should go to sleep on their back
  • their crib should be bare
  • baby should be alone

These commandments are considered the “ABCs” of safe sleep – Alone, Baby on Back, Bare Crib – and are recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Although teaching a 7-year-old these things felt like a bit much, I didn’t bat an eye at the time. I agreed with these rules; I was going to be The Perfect Mom, after all. I’d never dream of bringing my baby into my bed… how dangerous and foolish that would be! We had already purchased a bassinet and crib, and I even silently judged moms who bed-shared. I couldn’t understand why they would put their babies at risk!

Well, friends, as I write this, my 1-year-old is asleep in my bed beside me.

I know, I know.

Let me tell you why. 

Following the “ABCs” of safe sleep quickly set me up for a motherhood full of shame. In the hospital, I fell asleep several times while holding Baby P. in bed. The sound of nurses entering the room would often wake me, and I’d of course pretend I’d been awake the entire time… but on the inside, I felt awful. Was I failing my baby already? I hadn’t even made it home yet!

The first day home, we put Baby P. in her bassinet. We swaddled her just like we had been taught and put her down to sleep on her back. We could do this! It was easy.

But then she screamed all night.

In my exhaustion, I murmured “she needs to learn to self-soothe” (words I still feel guilty about!) and rolled over and slept through the crying.

Apparently my husband sat up with her for hours that night, unbeknownst to me.

The next night, she spent part of the night in the bassinet, but when the screaming kicked up again, I brought her into our bed to nurse and snuggle. After all, her brother was in the next room! I couldn’t let her cry all night and wake him up.

She and I both fell asleep… and slept for the rest of the night.

When I woke up with her in bed with me, I felt so guilty that I was sick to my stomach. How could I risk her life like that? What was I doing?

But the next day I did it again.

And again.

Finally, I realized this was beginning to become a thing. I still felt terrible about it, but everyone was sleeping so well! Baby P. would wake up briefly during the night, nurse quickly (it’s called ‘dream feeding’ and it’s amazing!) and then go back to sleep.

I started researching my dirty little secret. Was it really that dirty? After all… didn’t some other cultures keep their babies in bed with them? What were the risks?

A “crunchy” mom friend of mine helped me out a bit and pointed out the La Leche League recommended “Safe sleep 7.” The Safe Sleep 7 are:

  • Nonsmoking parents
  • Sober parents
  • Nursing mother
  • Healthy baby (full term, etc.)
  • Baby on back
  • No swaddle
  • Safe surface (no heavy covers, toys, pillows, strips or cords)

This list made me really happy – I was already hitting all of those guidelines! And better still, bed-sharing/co-sleeping was said to help establish a new mother’s milk supply, help regulate babe’s breathing, and more.

As I dug into more research, I found this article that really eased my mind. Now, it’s not the World Health Organization or the American Academy of Pediatrics (they still recommend against bed-sharing) but I found the research to be promising. In short…

  • Existing evidence does not support the conclusion that bedsharing among breastfeeding infants (i.e., breastsleeping) causes sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) in the absence of known hazards
  • Accidental suffocation death is extremely rare among bedsharing breastfeeding infants in the absence of hazardous circumstances

Further, the report recommends that doctors take a more open-ended approach with parents when they counsel them about baby’s sleeping arrangement. They state that bed-sharing is likely to happen – whether intended or not – and parents should be counseled accordingly. Imagine a doctor saying, “We don’t recommend you bring your baby into bed with you, BUT, here’s how to make sure you’re being safe IF you decide to go that route.” That seems much gentler than the current, “She sleeps in a crib, right?” that I’ve been met with thus far.

In the end, you need to make the choices that you feel are right for you and your family… no blog can (or should be) telling you what to do! I can only say that bed-sharing has been amazing for our family. After bringing Baby P. into our bed, she started sleeping for nearly twelve hours straight each night. YES, 12 hours! She’d root around for some milk every 5 hours or so, but neither she or I woke up fully. For a girl like me who loves her sleep? It was awesome. No late night wakeups, no crying, no stumbling around half-asleep to try to rock and feed…

Baby P. never spent a single night – or even a daytime nap – in her crib. I can count the number of times she napped in her bassinet on one hand. (We sold them both to a resale shop; they had become nothing but glorified laundry baskets!)

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