Family, Parenthood

Why We Bed-Share – And How to do it Safely

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As an early childhood professional, I was always taught that the only correct way for an infant to sleep is on his or her back, and in his or her crib, with only a fitted sheet. If a blanket is used, it should be made of a light material, tucked in, and come up no father than the child’s chest/nipples. And certainly no toys, pillows, bumpers, or any other item that could potentially hinder an infant’s ability to breathe should be in the crib.

From a professional and/or liability standpoint, I stand by what I was taught. We were flooded with so many stories of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and of children who were suffocated to death because of improper sleeping conditions while with a caretaker. I cannot imagine ever doing anything – intentionally or unintentionally – to harm someone’s child. Not only would the legal ramifications be serious, but the pain, guilt, and sadness of knowing that a child I love and am trusted with was hurt because of my decision-making would be overwhelming.

In my new role as a mother, however, I have found (to my surprise!) that bed-sharing works for our family.

From the night he was born, our son refused to sleep in his bassinet. When the nurses brought him into my recovery room to sleep, they swaddled him and placed him in the bassinet next to us. He screamed. And screamed. And screamed. My husband and I tried everything to keep him happy in that little see-through box, but he wasn’t having it.

He was instantly comforted by being taken out and cuddled. So, for the remainder of our time in the hospital, I allowed him to sleep on my chest and I slept at a semi-upright angle in the hospital bed. This same pattern continued at home. Although we tried placing him in a much more comfortable bassinet that we had previously set up next to our bed, our baby would not sleep there.

It scared me to allow our baby to sleep in my bed. On top of the fear, I felt like a hypocrite, since I have always been an advocate of the “back to sleep” in a crib method. But when in his bassinet, our baby woke up crying every ten minutes. And not only were my husband and I not getting any sleep, but I had to keep getting up (aggravating my C-section incision) to comfort or feed our boy. When I ended up with a blood clot in my lung two weeks after our son’s birth, not only was it painful getting up at night because of my C-section, but now I also had chest pain to deal with. This was not working.

I began to clear a space in our (king-sized) bed for baby to sleep next to me. A bed-sharing advocate friend of mine reminded me that, for thousands of years of human history, mothers have shared sleeping spaces with their children. My mother reminded me that I slept in bed with her until I was 5!

At first baby slept on my chest, and as he got bigger he slept on the mattress next to me with my arm wrapped around him. Now, I barely wrap my arm around him anymore, but he stays close to me and his head is always turned toward me. We often sleep face to face, unless I am feeding him. No matter how deeply asleep I think I am, I always notice and wake up for any of my son’s overnight needs.

I later learned that the scent of my breast milk acts as a something of a “homing beacon” for baby. It keeps him close to me so that he will not toss, turn, or roll into pillows and blankets.

I also learned that baby’s breathing can be regulated by being so close to me, and that he can sync his breathing to mine, in a way.

I learned that there are social, emotional, and mental health benefits for babies who share sleeping spaces with their parents – both immediate and long term.

I learned that (although I am already a light sleeper), mothers who sleep with their babies naturally sleep lighter in order to pick up on any breathing changes, sounds, or movements that their babies might make.

Despite God’s way of designing mother-baby sleep to be such that mothers and babies are in tune with one another overnight, I have also taken extra precautions to make sure baby is safe in bed. These include:

-Never taking any medication that alters my natural sleeping patterns or makes me sleepy (for example, Nyquil or Benadryl).

-Not bringing my covers up past my hips.

-Baby sleeps on his back (or on his side, if he is eating) facing me, when on the mattress.

-Keeping his space clear of pillows and blankets.

-I try not to put baby between my husband and I. When he is between us, I make sure my husband knows it and I extend my arm and legs as a barrier. If hubby rolls over, he will roll onto me first.

-I wake up naturally at intervals to check on our son. I don’t do this on purpose, but it just happens. I open my eyes, check him, go back to sleep.

-We have a nightlight and we keep our blinds open so that the extra light allows us to see our son easily in the middle of the night.

Unless baby is particularly fussy, I get much better sleep each night and baby does too! He generally goes to bed between 830pm and 930pm and wakes up between 7 and 8 each morning. I have come to really enjoy our nights together, as my husband and I generally watch a movie or funny show in bed while baby goes to sleep.

I know he can’t sleep in our bed forever, but for now it’s really nice. Anyone else out there have any bedsharing experiences?

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