An unapologetic confession: I bed share

You would think we give birth to aliens judging by how complex our society reacts to infant sleep. We approach it as this foreign concept that requires books, strict training regimens and varying coaching methods … for sleep. 

It starts during our pregnancies as we fill the four walls of our freshly painted nurseries with fancy cribs. As we shop for bedding to go with it, this is our first introduction to infant sleep as we read about what constitutes a safe sleep environment. Firm mattress. Crib slats no wider than 2 and 3/8 inches. Tight, fitted sheet. No pillows. No blankets. No bumper pads, but if you must, the breathable ones.

The best crib is basically a glorified box – and for good reason. This eliminates suffocation hazards. Should a blanket, pillow or stuffed animal fall over a baby’s face, they are too young to be able to effectively move in a way that frees them.

Add to the suffocation hazards the worry of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) – a mysterious medical condition that still stumps medical professionals. It is separate from suffocation, even though we often get inundated with messaging that blurs the two. SIDS is an unexplained natural death due to medical abnormality. It is not environmental, preventable or accidental like suffocation is.

On that note, meet “Back is Best.” This is the new recommendation, which will make any grandma and grandpa today roll their eyes as they recall just the opposite  when they raised us. “We put you on your tummy and you turned out just fine, didn’t ya!”

We did. But “Back is Best” is plastered on posters all over the doctors’ offices. It is even embroidered in my swaddle blankets. And rightfully so, as this recommendation is backed by plenty of research.

Phew! Are you stressed yet? Before the baby is even here, the idea of bedtime with a baby sounds as terrifying as swimming with sharks. It’s no wonder I called the labor and delivery nurses in to our recovery room at 1 a.m. to have them double check that my baby’s inclination to sleep on his side was okay. It’s no wonder I bawled my eyes out the first night home with him because I felt like bedtime was a tragedy waiting to happen. It’s no wonder my anxiety shot through the roof in those early weeks as I sacrificed my own sleep to ensure that his chest was rising up and down throughout the night.

It’s no wonder I started bed sharing … *Gasp!* 

I started this type of co-sleeping (sleeping with, next to or in the same room as baby) before I even understood it as a valid arrangement, not because it was convenient, but because it was the most instinctive. It just felt right, especially with how often he needed to nurse.

But it is a taboo topic, and so I kept this arrangement “under the covers” at first.

But I’m a horrible liar, clearly. I’m tired of checking off the little box at his monthly well checks obliging to crib sleeping, when in reality his crib is currently serving as a giant laundry basket. I’m tired of answering to friends and family that we’re “only doing it temporarily because of breastfeeding,” when in reality there is no end in sight because it is the best arrangement we have found. I’m tired of talking to other moms who do the same thing, but also feel the need to lie to avoid the irrational judgment from others who haven’t done the research on it.

And there is plenty of research on it. Fascinating facts that shed light on how distorted our society has it when it comes to infant sleep. For starters, a well-adapted infant actually does not always sleep through the night, nor does sleeping in isolation constitute a “good baby.” 

So I’m speaking out, even though my reach will be minimal. I’m just your average work-from-home mommy learning my baby one day at a time. But here it goes:

We bed share. Not because we are lazy. Just the opposite, actually. How easy would it be to cultivate our baby to independence from day 1, keeping our adult bedrooms a sacred space free of evidence that we are now parents? But part of becoming a parent is sacrificing your wants for their needs, and because we now know that babies are incapable of having wants due to how underdeveloped their brains are at birth, we know that such bedtime cries are calls for basic needs to be met –  basic needs for nourishment and nurturing, which co-sleeping fulfills.

This is not about convincing every family to conform to co-sleeping. Every baby is different and I encourage parents to find their own way. This is about giving validity to co-sleeping as a safe option – because it is a safe option, and it is not discussed fairly.

Take  it from James McKenna,  the world’s leading authority on mother-infant co-sleeping in relationship to breastfeeding and SIDS.

Humans evolved to have the largest brains of any primate, so with this change, infants needed to be born ‘earlier’—partly due to the need to fit through the birth canal and partly due to the placenta’s inability to sustain such huge brain growth. The result is that human neonates are by far the most helpless at birth of any animal and require constant nourishment and care …

Until recent history (in Western industrialized societies), no human (primate) ancestral or modern infant ever slept separated from its caregiver. “

Sleeping with your baby is not new. It is the most longstanding arrangement. And with this, comes tangible benefits. Co-sleeping actually reduces the risk of SIDS. A mother’s heartbeat regulates her baby’s heartbeat, and her body temperature regulates that of her baby’s. A mother’s milk also provides vital nourishment during those mid-night wakings.

Much of Western sleep research is flawed because it uses a cultural construct as its base and focuses on infant sleep consolidation (i.e., “sleeping through the night”) at the expense of breastfeeding—both of which (fewer arousals and artificial baby milk feeding) are risk factors for SIDS.”

And when it comes to suffocation hazards, co-sleeping is no more dangerous than a crib so long as you approach it the same: no extra pillows or blankets near the baby and a firm mattress. The only additional safety measure is on the parents: Those who smoke or drink alcohol should not co-sleep. 

Fancy research aside, you want to know how it really works? Like magic, I tell you.

It is peaceful. It is rejuvenating. It is natural. It is restful. It is motherhood at its raw roots. It is nothing to hide.

 

 

 

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7 thoughts on “An unapologetic confession: I bed share

  1. Those are very sweet photos! And yes to all the night sleep paranoia! I was a nervous wreck about it! We bed shared too, and I know a lot of people who did as well. It’s not really a thing in my world and I have never hesitated to tell anyone about my experience and I never got any slack for it. If anything, I have more friends who have said they wish they could have but their babies preferred to sleep in their cribs. We only coslept for four months and probably would have longer if he wasn’t such a little gremlin. People don’t tell you how noisy babies are!!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. And the transition to the crib wasn’t as bad as I had expected. My midwife did warn me to do it before 4 months as it gets harder after that, and I believe it! I know people who still cosleep with their 2 year olds and we did not want that, but to each their own!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m not a fan of getting out of bed several times a night, or even once! Bed sharing happens for us every night after the first waking. I was terrified I’d accidentally smother him, then terrified I was creating bad habits. Now my only regret is worrying so much!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Same here! The fear over it is from so much lack of support out there. Imagine a country where parents didn’t have to lie about it at the doctors offices, and we could actually be given education on safe co-sleeping measures just as much as crib safety. It’s not like this in other countries! It’s a shame because there are too many misperceptions out there instead – that we just do this because we are lazy. We do this because it is a valid parenting approach to sleeping that we believe is best. Sigh :/

      Liked by 1 person

  3. We bed shared for the first couple of months and then realized that he sleeps longer and better in his crib. He is 3 months old and sleeps 7-8 hours straight every night (then another 2-3 after feeding). He must be a light sleeper because us moving around were waking him up. We figured this out on our trip to TN where we put him in a travel bassinet thing and he slept 5 hours long compared to the 3 hours. Then when we got home we tried his crib and 7 hours! I miss him sleeping right beside me but decided not to be selfish and let him get his best sleep which just happens to be without me. (Though during the day he usually falls asleep on me for naps)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is the best thing we can do as parents – just listen to our little ones! There’s no right way to approach the whole sleep thing! I dream of a day, though, where co-sleeping isn’t such a taboo option for families in our country. I’m curious to see how my little guy’s preferences change over time! We just turned three months!

      Like

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