I’ve learned as a first-time parent, I’ve fielded many unwarranted pieces of advice from family and friends over my parenting choices. One of the most controversial ones — our decision to bed-share. Turns out, the debate over co-sleeping and bed-sharing is a heated one. Its controversial nature has left many families second-guessing what they feel in their gut to be right.
Here’s insight from some parents who’ve chosen the co-sleeping and bed-sharing route.
Is it right or wrong to bed-share?
Although the terms are often used interchangeably, co-sleeping and bed-sharing aren’t synonymous. Co-sleeping is sleeping close enough for your baby to see, hear, touch or smell you (but not necessarily on the same surface), while bed-sharing is the act of sleeping together in the same bed.
Bed-sharing was never something my family intended to do. When I was expecting my daughter, we did our research and asked for an expensive, technologically-advanced bassinet for our baby shower. I envisioned how easy it would be when she arrived: she’d breastfeed, I’d safely place her back in the bedside bassinet and then we’d both fall asleep.
What I didn’t envision — a colicky baby who struggled with breastfeeding and couldn’t sleep on her own. Fast forward 10 months and she’s still only comfortable sandwiched between us. We tried crib training, and the amount of tears shed [from all parties] left us emotionally defeated, exhausted and back in our own bed, baby in tow.
After talking with countless moms and co-sleeping experts, I know my story is far from unique.
How families find themselves in the same bed
“My decision [to bed-share] was born of necessity – my son wouldn’t sleep in his crib from day one,” Layla Earls, single mom of a six-year-old, tells Parentology. “He wanted to be near mom and only mom, and this was the only way we could get him to sleep. We tried many times to move him to the crib and sleep train him, but it never worked and we gave up.”
Like Layla, most moms don’t set out to bed-share, it’s usually the result of a desperate need for both mom and baby to sleep better and longer.
Not only have there been ample studies discussing the harms of bed-sharing,
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends infants be placed on their backs by themselves in a safe sleeping environment (whether that be a crib or bassinet) in parents’ bedroom until at least six months. Problem is, not every child is the same. Many parents have learned firsthand, a newborn doesn’t always make it easy to stick to the guidelines set out by a medical board. Especially breastfeeding babies.
The Breastfeeding Factor
Breastfed babies tend to wake up more throughout the night to feed versus those who are
Shana Bolt, an Indianapolis-based mother of two, tells Parentology, “While I was nursing my eldest son, I found out it was much easier to pull him into bed with me and nurse while lying on my side rather than get up, take him into the next room, sit in the rocking chair and try to get us both comfortable in the middle of the night.”
For me, even past the point of breastfeeding, I found so much comfort in knowing my daughter was sleeping beside me. Not only did she sleep better, so did we.
According to Dr. Lina Velikova, Sleep Expert from disturbmenot.co, research suggests co-sleeping can reduce anxiety and help kids stay asleep for longer periods of time. Also, the close proximity helps both parents and children feel secure and calm.
“It [the choice to co-sleep] was more a realization than a choice,” Lauren Grove, a mother of two based in Pensacola, FL, shares with Parentology. “I noticed as my daughter got older, it became harder to put her to sleep. She’d be asleep in my arms, yet wake up as soon as I put her down in her crib. I didn’t want to lose too much of my own sleep trying to get her back to sleep. Putting her in my bed with me was the only way we’d both get back to sleep.”
Although there are plenty of advocates for co-sleeping, just as many parents are against it. And they have plenty of valid reasons, too.
Fatality is a major reason pediatricians and many moms refuse to bed-share. According to a 2014 study by the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics), 69 percent of babies who died of a sleep fatality were bed-sharing at the time of their death.
Although that’s reason enough for many parents to avoid bringing their babies into bed with them, others are driven by the sheer fact that it actually leads to more sleep disruptions than crib-training or putting their baby to sleep in another room.
According to a study published in the November 2015 issue of the Journal of Sleep Medicine, co-sleeping infants had more reported night-wakings than solitary sleeping infants. Not surprisingly, the study also found co-sleeping mothers had more fragmented sleep than mothers who slept alone. Not only that, mothers who co-slept (and more who actually shared a bed), found the habit of sleeping together harder and harder to break, especially as the kids got older.
Aging up and out of bed-sharing
“Even though I’m an advocate for co-sleeping and bed-sharing, I have to admit that it’s a very hard habit to break,” Earls says. “My son is six now and still finds his way into my bed, primary because of our history of co-sleeping.”
Earls’ advice, “Make sure it’s something you really want to commit to because it is a hard habit for both of you to break.”
Bolt is still working to get her kids — they’re seven and five now — out of her bed. She recommends parents try other avenues before bed-sharing, primarily for safety, as well as good habits. “There was a lot of concern I wouldn’t hear my baby,” she says. “Bringing them into my room in their own bed helped us get comfortable with hearing the baby’s noises and understanding their sleep patterns while they were in a safe place.“
When it comes to the topic of bed-sharing or co-sleeping in general, there’s no right or wrong answer. Both sides have equally as respected and valid opinions, making the decision sometimes even more difficult for new moms.
As for my family, with our daughter nearing her first birthday and no sign of our bed-sharing coming to an end, I’ve fully committed to the fact we’ll probably not get our bed back until she’s 12. Which is equally stressful and comforting. Will it be nice to wake up without a squishy foot in my face and actually sleep past 4:30am? Of course. But I’ll miss it just as much.
Co-Sleeping and Bed-Sharing: The Great Debate — Sources
American Academy of Pediatrics: Bed Sharing Remains Biggest Risk for Sleep-Related Infant Deaths
Dr. Lina Velikova, Sleep Expert from disturbmenot.co
Journal of Sleep Medicine, November 2015