Shh. Yes we bedshare. I know, I know, we are horrible people. It’s not anything new: bedsharing gets a bad rap in the news and media. But honestly, lots of families do it safely. And there has been more than once when it’s gotten us rest when all else has failed. This is nine times that bedsharing saved our sanity. How many of these sound familiar?
Disclaimer: I know that bedsharing doesn’t work for everyone, and that’s ok! There’s no shaming here. But I think there’s a lot of misinformation about cosleeping, and bedsharing in particular. I’m not offering medical advise; my goal here is to show people what bedsharing is really like, and how it’s really saved our sanity more than once!
Babies nurse on demand. I’m sorry, but you can’t really get a baby to follow a schedule when they’re nursing. (If you send your child to daycare then they have to be on a set feeding schedule, to an extent, but then they’ll make up for lost Mama time when they’re at home!) This “nurse on demand” is for lots of reasons: partly because breastfed babies follow a normal sleep routine, going in and out of REM cycles; partly because breastmilk is more quickly digested than formula; and partly because a baby is programmed to wake throughout the night (for their safety, and for reassurance that they’re not alone).
As both a working mom and then a stay-at-home mom, I find that my supply survives due to night nursing. In the beginning, I nursed my newborn in a rocker or sitting up in bed. But once I felt confident that they were ready to bedshare, next to my boob they stayed. All night.
Now Baby can latch on whenever they want, and neither of us really wake up. Everyone is happy, and well-rested. This is called “dream feeding” and it’s amazing.
If you breastfeed and you don’t bedshare, it’s honestly a hell of a lot more work for you. Either you have to get up to nurse on demand, or if you (or someone else) gives a bottle, then you need to get up and pump. Otherwise you risk losing your supply. Those who nurse and don’t bedshare are just making life more difficult than it needs to be.
This is also how homo sapiens would have slept/breastfed 100,000 years ago. So it makes me feel good to know that bedsharing is in our instincts. My child will stay in our bed until she weans, and then we’ll work with her to fall asleep without nursing.
Damn those teeth. Especially molars. Those bastards take months to come in. And my poor babies were miserable.
There’s only so much that a cold teether, or some pain relief, can really do. Comfort nursing helps ease the pain of teething, which in my experience seems exacerbated when your child is laying down. (Ever notice that your teething baby starts to cry as soon as you put them on a changing table?)
My kids never really woke up in the night with teething pain, because I was right there. And basically, that means that the boob was right there too. They might start to stir, and whimper a little, but then they’d nurse right back to sleep. I can’t imagine the agonizingly long hours with a child in pain without bedsharing.
When Baby is Sick
Whether it’s a cold or a stomach bug, it’s better for everyone if you bedshare when your child isn’t feeling well. They’ll be more restless, and you’ll be more worried, unless you’re together.
Breastmilk has also always been tolerable to my children when they’re sick, even when they’ve had a serious stomach virus. I haven’t given them PediaLyte but have just nursed them instead, which comforted them and helped them relax. It also kept them from getting dehydrated, and I felt comfortable knowing that they were getting sufficient nutrition even if they tapered off eating solids for a few days.
When Multiple Kids Are Sick
I call this the zombie circus: preschooler (his own bed in our room) and toddler (our bed) are both sick with fevers, coughing, you name it. My husband and I went back and forth from child to child, switching as the toddler finished nursing or the preschooler was having a coughing fit.
We were tired as hell, sure. But how much worse would it have been if the kids weren’t in our room?
When my child is sick, I’m so in tune with them and their needs that I can tend to them almost immediately. Like I said earlier, this means that my babies don’t even fully wake up a lot of the time. And I save a lot of time getting up, walking down the hall, turning on a light, etc. We’re all close, and we’re more connected that way.
Nightmares or Night Terrors
This is super fun: your child wakes up crying, and you have no idea why. They’re not sick, they’re not hurt in any way that you can see. Welcome to the fun new world of nightmares and night terrors.
I’ll clarify more in this article here, but be aware that nightmares and night terrors are not the same thing, and should be handled differently.
My daughter, who is over a year old and still in our bed, has started with night terrors. But she seeks me out in the darkness and I can feel her start to relax at my touch. It’s almost like she’s not fully awake, but she can still tell that she’s “home” next to me. She’s safe.
Then – you guessed it – she starts nursing and falls back asleep. The alternative would be disastrous. I don’t even want to think about her getting riled up in her own bed, screaming awake for minutes before I get to her, her heart rate up and adrenaline going. No, the more quickly I can comfort and reassure my child, the better we will all rest.
Going Through A Leap or Milestone
If you’re not familiar with leaps and milestones, I wrote an introductory explanation here. This affects babies up until about a year of age, and it’s not something you ever really get used to.
When your baby is going through a leap, their brain is growing amazingly fast. It’s like a growth spurt for their neurological, intellectual, and psychological systems. And that’s difficult. So oftentimes they will go through a change in sleep, usually meaning that they will not sleep as well for a few days at the beginning of a leap.
Bedsharing has helped us cruise through leaps because, even when I’m dealing with multiple night wakings, I’m getting way more rest than if I was having to get out of bed. These leaps will pass soon enough, and I’m handling it the best way possible.
Getting Back into a Routine
You know how it is when you’re on vacation or staying outside of your house. Your daily routine goes to crap. And this happens whether you stay at home with your kids, or they go to a school or daycare. Suddenly the kids aren’t eating as well, or they’re skipping naps, and the changes really affect them.
I always feel like we need a day or two to recuperate from Christmas break or a long weekend, because everything seems off. And I hate it.
But when it comes to restorative sleep, I feel like bedsharing stabilizes us. It’s a constant no matter where we lay our heads: our house, a beachhouse, a friend’s house for an overnight party.
I can’t imagine having our overtired toddler trying to go to sleep in a room on her own, or putting our wired-up preschooler to sleep and closing the door. It always takes my kids a day or to of “readjustment” before they’re back into their groove. Bedsharing and cosleeping really help expedite that process.
When Daddy is on a Business Trip
My husband’s only been away from us once since our second child’s been born, but it was extremely difficult for me. He was gone for three nights, which meant I didn’t really get a break at all (kudos to you single parents and military spouses!), and bedtime was the hardest. I normally nurse the toddler to sleep on the couch while Hubby puts the preschooler to bed in our room; then I eventually go lay down the toddler in our bed. It’s wacky, I know – but it works for us.
Anyway, when I had to put them both to sleep in our room on my own, I quickly found that it was a challenge to balance both of their needs! Preschooler wanted a story, while toddler wanted quiet darkness and a boob. Luckily, I found a happy medium, by nursing the toddler to sleep in our bed and telling my preschooler a story I made up. Once again, bedsharing (and cosleeping) to the rescue.
I saved the selfish reason for the last.
I personally love bedsharing. It’s definitely changed up a lot of things, including our pre-baby perceptions of how we’d sleep. While I couldn’t have imagined that bedsharing is what we would do in our home, now I don’t see any other way. I wouldn’t have been able to breastfeed nearly as long, I would have been tired and miserable, and my children wouldn’t have gotten as much quality sleep.
When I’m having a bad day, or don’t feel well, or I’ve been away from my children, bedsharing charges my Mom batteries. It doesn’t matter if my kid is already asleep; being close to her gives me peace, and makes me feel complete. Without even thinking about it, our breathing syncs up and she nestles a little closer to me.
Once my daughter weans in her own time, we’ll move her to her own bed. But for now, I cherish every little sigh, each sleepy smile, all the morning stretches, and yes even the feet in my face. Because bedsharing means that she’s here with me, safe and warm. And I’ll take that for as long as I can get it!
Tell me your experiences, comments, and questions in the comments below! And look for more tips and real simple advice in my Cosleeping Bedsharing section of Real Simple Mama.