The Truth About Co-Sleeping
What is co-sleeping?
Co-sleeping technically just means that you sleep in the same room with your baby; however, most people use this term when referring to bed-sharing! The American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t condone bed-sharing. The suggested way for your child to sleep is in a crib with only a fitted sheet. No hats, no toys, no blankets, no crib bumpers. All of these things pose a suffocation risk.
Why do we co-sleep?
During my pregnancy, I planned on having Alice sleep in her crib in our room. It is, after all, the suggested way for her to sleep. The safest way, according to the AAP. But those first few nights, I would set her in her crib and she would just stare at me through the bars, panting. Her crib is less than 4 feet from me, but she felt so far away. We were together for nine months and then once she was out, I was supposed to put her 4 feet away for an entire night?! She felt so far away. I would wake up to her wanting to nurse and I’d hold her sitting upright on my bed. It was so hard on my back. And my tailbone already hurt from labor. I wasn’t unhappy with our situation, but I was veryyyyy tired.
During our first pediatrician appointment, the lactation consultant said that she wasn’t allowed to tell us to bed-share. But she said, “When you do bed-share, because you will, make sure you do it safely.” After that I realized I could co-sleep in a safe way. If a professional at the doctor’s office basically gave me the green light, I knew I could at least give it a try!
Here are some reminders for safe bed-sharing:
- Use a tight fitted sheet
- No pillows or blankets on baby’s side
- I use two pillows underneath my head and a blanket on my legs. I didn’t use a blanket at first and had a hard time sleeping without one. Now I just make sure it’s wrapped around me and only me.
- No hats on baby
- Do not bed-share if you are overly tired, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or if you are a crazy sleeper
(I lie really still while I sleep. If you know that you are the type of person who ends up upside down on their bed while sleeping, bed-sharing may not be for you. Make a safe choice for your family.)
- Make sure baby lies on their back (Alice sometimes likes lying on her side, so I always make sure to roll her back over to her back)
What about your husband?
My husband works during the night, which has been really helpful for bed-sharing. Alice sleeps on his side of the bed while he is gone. She often pees through her clothes at night, so we lay a pad of some sort down underneath her (diaper changing mat, large burp cloth, or a cloth diaper prefold). That way my husband doesn’t have to lie in her pee or spit up when he does come to bed.
Once he comes to bed, he puts her in her crib and puts his pillows back on the bed. She usually gets restless within an hour. She doesn’t like to be far from me! Sometimes I can nurse her and put her back to sleep for another hour or two, but usually I’ll just take her upstairs and start our day.
This is our co-sleeping setup!
Benefits of bed-sharing:
Bed-sharing is amazing for breastfeeding! The side-lying position is perfect for this. When she wakes up in the night, I just roll over and lift my shirt for her. She nurses for a few minutes, and then I roll back over to my side and roll her back onto her back.
One of the best things about her being right next to me is that she never cries at night. I hear her stir and tend to her needs before crying even happens! I don’t think this would be possible if she were in a crib. I don’t know about you, but crying is the last thing you want to hear in the middle of the night when your ears are sensitive and you’re extra tired. Having her right next to me completely avoids that situation!
So here’s the “truth” part about co-sleeping:
During your entire pregnancy, you will hear that it is unsafe to bed-share and that baby needs to sleep in a crib in your room for at least 6 months. Once your baby arrives, everyone will ask you where the baby sleeps. Seems like an odd question when everyone says that baby needs to sleep in the crib. This is the question I have been asked the most though! I am so surprised by that. Nothing is asked of me more than, “Where does baby sleep?”
So when I say that she sleeps right next to me, instantly the asker will say something along the lines of, “Isn’t it just the best? So easy for breastfeeding!” So the truth is, a lot more people are bed-sharing than you might think.
What about the future?
Alice only just learned to roll from her back to her stomach. I am not sure how our bed-sharing will change as she gets better at this. If she ends up on her stomach, I am not sure that bed-sharing will be safe anymore.
Another note about safety, we don’t/didn’t really swaddle Alice for sleep. We did a few times when she was in the crib. It seems unsafe if she breaks out of it. We have used a zippered swaddle and that felt safer. Do what is right for you. Always be safe and remember that you’re not the only person out there bed-sharing.
This post was originally written when Alice was only a couple of months old. Now she is two, and we have bed-shared every single night of her life since we originally began. I’m getting less sleep than I used to because she seems to be waking more often these days. I love sleeping with her, but I am ready to wean her. After she is weaned, or maybe during the process, I’ll be transferring her to her own bed. She will still sleep in the same room as us, but in her own bed. She is a bit more wiggly while she sleeps now, so we get kicked more than when she was only months old. She also wakes quite easily when we get into the bed, so I believe it is time to transition her to her own bed.
Is your bed-sharing setup the same with a toddler?
Our setup looks a little different now that she is older. Harry sleeps in the bed with us, so Alice sleeps in between us. We make sure not to let the blankets get too close to her face, but we all sleep with multiple blankets on top of us. Alice doesn’t use a pillow but if she rolls on top of my pillow, I don’t worry about it like I would have when she was only months old. She’s old enough to lift herself off the pillow if need be and she is old enough to use blankets.
Well I think that should answer most questions about bed-sharing from newborn to toddlerhood. Please ask me any questions you have. I’m happy to help!