I never intended to bedshare with my baby. In fact, it’s probably something I would have been a bit judgemental about before I had a baby.
I really wanted to post about our bedsharing story as I feel it’s something that isn’t really spoken about. I am usually honest with people that Leo sleeps in bed with me, but there are some times that I cannot be bothered with the raised eyebrows or having to justify myself so I’ll just say he sleeps in his cot. And that he sleeps all the way through.
But I’ve gotten a lot better at advocating for myself when it comes to bedsharing and I’ve read many studies about how damaging it is to leave a baby to cry and how a baby needs to be close to its primary caregiver. It makes sense really – we are the only species that has a baby but then wants to keep it separate from us. It also makes sense in regards to my instincts. I want to be near him, too.
I was raised and surrounded by people that believed you should teach a baby to sleep on their own by leaving them to cry in their cot. They would learn eventually, right? Also – don’t hold your baby too much, you will spoil them. So when I was pregnant, I had planned for my baby to sleep in this Chicco Next2me for the first six months of his life and then transition him into his own room. I hadn’t really thought about how I was going to do it.
The problem is, Leo has never been a good sleeper.
The start of our story
The first night of his life I was in a hospital side room alone as I needed a bit of extra monitoring following my complicated birth. Leo was in one of the little hospital cribs next to me and I would lift him out, feed him and he would drift into a sleepy state. Each time I attempted to put him down, he would wiggle, make noises and then cry.
I spent most of the night with him on me, exhausted from the birth. One midwife told me that I needed to just get on with it, another (nicer midwife) came in after and offered to take Leo for a bit so I could sleep. She took him out of the room between 3:30 am and 5:30 am and I could get a tiny bit of sleep.
We got moved onto a ward and things were pretty much the same. He was attached to me the whole time, either feeding or sleeping on my chest. I loved cuddling him and being close to him, but I was exhausted.
We got home and life was pretty much the same. Leo would cry unless he was being held. We could sometimes put him down while asleep, but most of the time he would wake up. I would feed him, transfer him from my chest to my partner’s chest while he was asleep and then try to go to sleep myself. Though this enabled me to get a few hours here and there, sleeping between 9 pm-1 am and then again 7 am-10 am while being awake all night, wasn’t a good long term plan.
It was really tough. I was tired all the time. I spent all day and all night on the sofa with Leo feeding on me or asleep on me. He was a contact napper and every time I put him down, he woke within five minutes. Then I had to start the whole feeding him to sleep process again.
I almost fell asleep a few times with him asleep on me. Which is can be dangerous when you’re on a sofa or chair, as the baby can slip down the side. Although I was always so sensitive to every move he made, you never know what your body is going to do when you are exhausted.
It was the health visitor that told me to look into safe bed-sharing and decide if I thought it was something that would work for us. Although I had heard about it, it terrified me. I was so afraid of him getting crushed by me or something.
He needs to be close
The health visitor told me that my baby needed to be near me and he thought he was still part of me.
It makes sense really, all Leo knew was me. He had grown inside me for 9 months. He knew my smell, my sounds, my heartbeat. Did you know that the reason we tap a babies bum to get them to sleep is that they’re used to feeling that sensation from feeling our heartbeat? And we shhhhh them as that’s similar to the sound of the placenta? All familiar sounds for the baby.
You’ve got to remember that when a baby is born, it is quite violently pulled from a warm, dark, safe space into a bright, cold world where nothing is familiar. Look up the fourth trimester – this is the 12 weeks after a baby is born when they are adjusting to life outside the womb.
Our sleep journey
Our sleep journey has changed a lot over the last nine months. We went through phases where he would spend a few hours in the Chicco Next2me before coming to bed with me. Sometimes he even went all the way through the night in it. But it was always such a gamble. I had to wait for him to go to sleep on me first, then pick my moment to move him and hope he didn’t wake up.
Now Leo spends the whole night in bed with me. I cuddle him and feed him to sleep in our bed and then I can roll away and go downstairs for a few hours in the evening. He sleeps so much better with me next to him. There are times I’m still awake and I see him open his eyes, look for me, turn into me and then go back to sleep. If I’m downstairs when he does this, he just cries until I come to the room.
When he needs feeding, I can do it straight away. He usually feeds for a short while and goes back to sleep. If I didn’t bed share, I’d have to get up lots in the night to feed him, get him back to sleep and put him down. It’s the only way that I actually get any sleep.
Other people’s opinions
The hardest thing about bedsharing is other peoples opinions on it. Bedsharing isn’t really something that’s spoken about, it’s not until I’ve become a parent who bedshares that I’ve come to learn about it and understand it. It’s actually quite common. When you speak to other parents, they will also say ‘me too’ in a guilty way, like they’re sharing something with you only because you understand.
Because other people wouldn’t.
There does seem to be some stigma attached to it like if you bedshare you’re giving in to your child’s evil plan to sleep in your bed and they’ll never sleep in their own room.
When in reality, by bedsharing you are responding to the need of your child that needs to be close to your to feel safe and secure. Some babies are not good sleepers, some wake frequently and cannot get back to sleep on their own. There are some babies that sleep really well in their own cot from early on. But this isn’t the case for a lot of babies.
They need a bit of extra support and comfort during the night.
Babies cry because it is the only thing they can do to say they need you and get your attention.
But previous generations were told to get their babies in their own room as soon as possible. They were taught to leave a baby to cry themselves until they fall to sleep. Often crying until they are exhausted, some even are sick they cry that might. They then give up on the idea of their parent coming to get them and go to sleep.
So often I am told I need to get Leo in his own room and sleeping on his own. They try to give me tips and tricks on how to get him to sleep in his cot.
I was told to wean him early to ‘fill him up’ so he will sleep.
I was told to leave him to cry.
I was told to give him a bottle instead of breastfeeding.
Thing is, I’ve never actually asked for help with our nighttime routine. I’ve always let Leo lead the way. He is a baby, after all. I respond to his needs and adapt around him. But a lot of people are so fixated on getting my baby into a routine and act like I am being soft with him for not enforcing a strict bedtime. Or making him sleep in his own bed.
They don’t take into account that even if I could get Leo to sleep in his own cot, I would have to get up every time he woke up. Rather than putting my boob in his mouth for him to fall back quickly. It would ruin my sleep.
Babies are biologically programmed to wake frequently and seek out their caregivers during the night, it’s how they survived generations ago.
Research changes all the time
I think another thing that people don’t like, is they feel offended when I talk about studies that show the babies who are left to cry struggle to deal with stress and struggle to feel secure in later life. It’s like I’m telling them they were bad parents. But I am not trying to say that those who have left their babies to cry in a cot were bad parents, they were just following the advice that was around at the time. Now we know more about babies and their development, and there have been more studies done – we now know that it’s not the best way.
It’s just like with weaning, it was once advised to wean from 4 months, but now we know a baby’s digestive system isn’t developed enough to cope with food until 6 months and can lead to digestive issues.
Or just like how you should place a baby to sleep on their back to reduce SIDS when years ago parents were told to place them on their front to reduce SIDS.
Things change as we learn more. I’m sure when Leo is an adult and has children, there will be even more information out there!
It’s not a dig at anyone else who has raised their children on outdated advice or has listened to their parents and grandparents’ outdated advice.
It’s about informing parents to make the best choice based on their circumstances and the latest research available.
Benefits of bedsharing.
So, with that in mind, let’s look at some of the benefits of bed-sharing.
Bedsharing allows you to have close emotional and physical bonding time. Also, touch between you both is a survival need.
You get more sleep, as you can feed or cuddle your baby while both are still somewhat not fully awake. This means both of you can get back to sleep faster. It’s easier to latch your baby to your breast and go back to sleep quickly.
Reduction on PPD
As bedsharing means you typically get more sleep, this can reduce the risk of postpartum depression.
Your breathing cycles adjust to being in sync with each other. This offer SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) protection by keeping the baby’s breathing adjusted to yours and preventing deep sleep for babies where they may “forget” to breathe.
Bed-sharing with Dad can allow him to bond with the baby too.
A secure and happy baby
Bed-sharing is great for your babies psychological and emotional health. They become secure children that trust that their needs will be met. This study of 25 four- to ten-month-old babies showed that when sleep trained, the babies’ behaviour quieted but their levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) remained high.
Indepenance and confidence.
Studies show that children that bedshare are often more independent and self-reliant than those that did not. This study showed that children even though children who slept on their own earlier fell to sleep more on their own and sleep more through the night, those who coslept were more likely to problem-solve, entertain themselves and dress themselves
On average, children who bedshare do tend to transition to sleeping independently about a year later than other children, but they may be more independent, self-reliant, and confident in their daily lives than children who did not bedshare.
Should you bedshare?
Bedsharing is your choice and I am not here to tell you what you should do. The point of this blog post is to explain why bedsharing is an option that can be considered and should be respected and accepted by others.
You should sleep in the same room as your baby until they are at least 6 months old (this is advised by the NHS) – whether that’s a sidecar crib, a cot in the room or bedsharing – that is up to you.
Your sleep arrangements should be what works the best for your and your family. Remember, it is not forever. Even though people say things ‘you’ll never get him out of your bed’, it really isn’t forever. I mean, I don’t know many 17-year-olds who sleep in their parent’s bed. Do you?
I have friends whose babies sleep well in a cot in their own room. Leo does not. If he did, then I would put him in his cot to sleep and only bring him into bed with me if he was waking frequently. I expect when we do eventually transition to the cot, it will only be for part of the night if he isn’t sleeping through.
The Safe Seven
Read here about the safe seven and how. to bedshare safely.
The main points are:
- no smoking
- don’t drink alcohol
- remove all covers/pillows
- don’t swaddle the baby
- baby on his back
(some of the photos in this this post do go against safe bedsharing, where he is under covers or there are other things/pillows in the bed – please note these photos were taken during supervised naps, or in the morning when I woke up before him)
I love bedsharing with Leo and I am certain he will be ready to sleep on his own before I am ready for him to sleep in his own room. I love that when I wake up, I see him immediately. I love the smiles and cuddles in the morning, I love the closeness and I love that I don’t have to get up to go to him during the night.
I was afraid of bedsharing to start with, but as he’s gotten older. it is much less scary. I’m longer afraid that I’ll suffocate him! As long as you stick to the safe sleep rules, bed-sharing is a perfectly good option.
Whether you bedshare or not, I hope this blog post has helped you understand that bedsharing is a wonderful option.