Cosleeping is a natural thing, and you see it in cultures all over the world. A lot of families cosleep: it’s what works for them. But I think most parents are ashamed or embarrassed to admit this. Why? There are lots of reasons to bedshare, lots of benefits to all family members, and lots of ways to do it safely. Let’s get rid of the stigma that bedsharing is dangerous or crazy, and teach parents the truth: it can be pretty damn awesome.
First let’s define a few terms: cosleeping is a general term for having your child sleep in your room. This usually implies that they’re in their own crib or bed, and you’re in yours. Bedsharing is more specific, and means that your kid is in your bed with you. So the two terms are similar but not the same.
Now I will tell you about how this came to pass in our house. We did not plan to have our kids in our bed. When our first child was born, we had a baby room all set up and a crib in our room for the first few weeks. But once he was in my arms, there was no way in hell I was going to sleep if I couldn’t see him! I had read enough about SIDS to be leery of leaving him alone. So my husband and I used our Snuggle Nest between us. It was fantastic: we all had our own space, but I could see and touch my son. My mind was able to relax, and we all slept great! And we moved that big bulky crib to storage.
Here are some of the reasons I think that bedsharing is so wonderful:
- You need less space/furniture
- Easy to see Baby and check on them
- It’s what our ancestors did
- It’s what we are programmed to do
- Family bonding
- Stabilizes Baby’s body temperature
- In-tune with your child (you know when they’re getting sick, restless, etc.)
- Essential for on-demand breastfeeding
- Helps keep up milk supply (especially if you pump during the day)
So how do we do it? This is what’s worked for us: we did bedshare from day one, but we used the Snuggle Nest with our newborns. Before babies are able to control their head and roll over on their own, it is really best to give them their own protected space. (I’ll admit though, that my second child preferred to sleep on my chest. So I propped myself up and made a barrier next to me. It was a bit difficult and I didn’t sleep well but she did. And it was all very, very temporary.)
Depending on your family situation, your child can sleep in between the parents, or on the outside of the bed on Mom’s side. The latter works particularly well if the bed is up against a wall (as long as there is absolutely no gap for Baby to fall/get stuck!). My husband has always been great about staying on his side of the bed; it’s so strange, like his body instinctively knew to not stray too far towards the middle. Over three years of bedsharing and we’ve not had any close calls.
I mentioned this earlier, but I want to explicitly point out that you really need to look into bedsharing if you’re breastfeeding. First of all, you really need to breastfeed “on demand” anyway; it’s not beneficial for the child if you only allow them to eat on a schedule. So that means feedings throughout the night. When you bedshare, you literally just pop out a boob. The baby can scoot to the nipple and go back to sleep, “dream feeding” without even fully waking up. (That means they just start to stir and don’t get to a full-blown cry before they’re satisfied.) This also means Mom doesn’t have to turn on a light, get in the rocker, or even really wake up! Everyone gets what they need: milk, a sleeping baby, and more sleep.
I can’t tell you how often I suggest this to moms who are looking for help on Facebook groups and online forums. There is so much misinformation out there about bedsharing and cosleeping (like “sleep studies” done by crib manufacturers… ummm biased much?!) that I want to jump up to help families get safe, well-deserved rest.
If you have a newborn you should not bedshare… yet. A newborn can be in something like the Snuggle Nest, or in a cosleeper. But they need to have their own space until they can lift their head and can roll over (front to back, and back to front).
Bedsharing is not safe if any of these conditions are going on:
- The baby can not yet support their own head, roll front-to-back, or back-to-front
- Anyone in the bed smokes or drinks
- Anyone in the bed takes medication to help them sleep
- Anyone in the bed is obese
- The bed is a soft, lumpy mattress or a water bed
- There are excess pillows, stuffed animals, or sheets on the top half (head) of the bed
- Animals sleep in the bed
- The room temperature goes above 78F
- The child is formula fed
- Any children are sleeping next to each other
Another wonderful reason to bedshare is because it works really well for families in small spaces. This eliminates the need for a baby room, and a small master bedroom can easily accommodate one bed in lieu of a bed plus a crib. Most single parents I know cosleep in one form or another because it’s convenient, simple, and just makes sense.
I also suggest you get a foam pool noodle and put it under your mattress cover on the edge of the bed. This works as a baby roll-bar and keeps them from falling off the bed! It looks a bit silly but it’s really cheap and effective.
Finally, I do suggest that you have a waterproof mattress pad on your bed. This is just for your mattress’s protection against a leaky diaper, breastmilk, or any other *ahem* bodily fluids which get on your bed in the night. (Sick kids vomiting? Check.) This pad will keep your mattress from getting any liquids or stains on it. I will warn you though, these pads retain heat: so be sure to adjust accordingly. You don’t want your baby to get too hot!
If you don’t feel comfortable (or aren’t able) to actually bedshare, I wholeheartedly recommend cosleeping. Having your baby in your bedroom is such a comfort. I am sure that you will all sleep well, knowing that you’re close for when your baby needs you. We still cosleep with my 3.5 year old son – he’s in his own toddler bed, but our tiny house doesn’t really allow us to put him in his “own room.” He wakes in the morning and climbs into my bed for cuddles before his little sister awakes. If you’re interested in seeing some of the research and gear I’m talking about, the best place to check it out is my Pinterest cosleeping board.
Ultimately, I want you and your family to have the education and support you need to make the best decision for you. What works for one family situation will not be ideal for another, and that is ok. What matters is that you are aware of the different options so that you can pick what works.
All parents need to feel confident and comfortable with their parenting decisions. And that includes how we sleep. If it works, and you’re doing so safely, then do it! We all deserve some peace of mind.
Want to know more about sleep options? Find my ebook, An Introduction to Healthy Baby Sleep: A Real Simple Guide to Help Your Newborn Rest.
And you can see all of my cosleeping and bedsharing articles here.