When my first daughter was born, we had no plans to bed share. We had purchased an Arm’s Reach Co-sleeper to have her right next to our bed. She had other ideas. After laboring and birthing her, all I wanted was some sleep on that first night home, so my husband and I took turns with baby duty. It was horrible. We all had terrible, AKA zero sleep.
The next night I brought her into bed with me. She just was NOT going to sleep any other way but on my breast (now I know that is the biological norm and totally ok). I was terrified I was going to smother her. All the “experts” say not to do that.
The next morning I emailed my local La Leche League with a plea for help.
“Is this normal?”
“Can I safely do this?”
“Tell me this is OK!”
I was tired, nervous, worried, and unsure of what to do. (Add a dose of postpartum hormones in here too.)
The LLL was amazing. The leader who returned my email assured me that it was fine and actually beneficial (when done safely). She sent me lots of information to further research bed sharing, including Safe Co-sleeping Guidelines from Dr. James McKenna of the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame and Dr. Sears’ research on co-sleeping.
In my personal research (and experience) I have learned that human babies have a great need to be on their mother’s chest after birth, and for the first few months, really. This is lovingly called “the fourth trimester”. I learned it is TOTALLY NORMAL for the baby to never want to be put down or away from their mother. Babies are not designed to sleep by themselves. After months of shopping for my registry and looking at “baby holding devices” (swings, bassinets that swivel and bob every which way, vibrating seats and cushions, etc.) I realized that all of these contraptions are meant to substitute the mother. My babies are no dummies – they most definitely know the difference if it is me or a machine bobbing them, and they are not having it.
It is not the biological norm for a baby to be set down and left to their own defenses. They feel helpless and in danger, and have a strong need to be held. (Baby wearing is another God-send and helps you be hands-free so you can actually, oh, I don’t know, make a cup of coffee or pee.) If interested, you can learn more about baby wearing from a great local group, Babywearing International of Greater Cincinnati. They even have a lending library so you can try several types of carriers at a meet-up.
After several days of full-on research, we made the decision to bed share. We rearranged the bedroom, took out our box spring so the mattress was closer to the ground, pulled our bed away from the wall and the night stand, tucked our top sheet and thin blanket under the mattress so we couldn’t pull it up further than our mid-bellies, and got rid of extra pillows. We were nervous but felt like it was the right choice for our family and we knew we were doing it safely.
I really feel like you can bed share safely or unsafely.
Just like you can ride a bike safely or unsafely, drive a car safely or unsafely, or play outside safely or unsafely.
Just because a kid has been hit by a car on a bike does not mean I will not let my kid ride a bike.
Just because a some kids have died in car accidents does not mean I won’t take my kids in a car.
And just because a small percentage of kids have been hurt playing at the park does not mean we don’t go to the park.
There has been a lot of media claiming that sleeping with your baby in an adult bed is unsafe and can result in accidental smothering of an infant. One popular research study came out in 1999 from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission that showed 515 cases of accidental infant deaths occurred in an adult bed over an 8-year period between 1990 and 1997. That’s about 65 deaths per year. These deaths were not classified as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), where the cause of death is undetermined. There were actual causes that were verified upon review of the scene and autopsy. Such causes included accidental smothering by an adult, getting trapped between the mattress and headboard or other furniture, and suffocation on a soft waterbed mattress.
The conclusion that the researchers drew from this study of research on SIDS was that sleeping with an infant in an adult bed is dangerous and should never be done. This sounds like a reasonable conclusion, until you consider the epidemic of SIDS as a whole. During the 8-year period of this study, about 34,000 total cases of SIDS occurred in the U.S. (around 4250 per year). If 65 cases of non-SIDS accidental death occurred each year in a bed, and about 4250 cases of actual SIDS occurred overall each year, then the number of accidental deaths in an adult bed is only 1.5% of the total cases of SIDS.
If the incidence of SIDS is dramatically higher in crib versus a parent’s bed, and because the cases of accidental smothering and entrapment are only 1.5% of the total SIDS cases, then sleeping with a baby in your bed would be far safer than putting baby in a crib.
So according to this study, of 4,315 infant sleep deaths per year, only 65 are linked to unsafe bed sharing, while the vast majority (4,250) are linked to unknown causes and crib death (SIDS).
The United States is one of the countries in the world where crib sleeping is the norm. In many other parts of the world it is standard practice and is accepted as a normal baby/family sleeping arrangement. According to WHO, the US also has a higher number of SIDS deaths than most other countries. Based on my personal research, I feel these are strongly correlated. Co-sleeping (having your baby in the same room as you for sleep) actually reduces the risk of SIDS.
To learn more about SIDS rates, check out these articles:
Co-Sleeping Around the World By: James McKenna, PHD
BeBedsharing and SIDS: The Whole Truth
Co-sleeping and SIDS Factsheet
We know that deciding to bed share was absolutely the right choice for our children and our family. As my daughter got older and I went back to work full-time, I really missed her during the day. Bed sharing was a great way for us to still have time together, and her nursing at night helped keep my milk supply going as she remained exclusively breast fed until she started solids. I know bed sharing helped achieve this for us!
4 months ago my second baby was born, and we knew from pregnancy that we were bed sharing. Since we also had a home birth, we went straight into our room, snuggled in, and nursed and slept. Baby was happy, mama could get some much-needed rest after labor and birth, and I knew both of our biological needs were being met. Plus, close skin-to-skin contact builds success for long-term breastfeeding and helps your milk come in.
People always ask new moms “How is the baby sleeping?”
I can honestly say that since day two, my baby has been sleeping at night, with nursings throughout the night that just barely wake me up.
I owe this to bed sharing.