To Co-Sleep or Not?

8

When my husband and I first started talking about having a family, we had our list of things we would not allow our children to do.

They would not throw tantrums in public.

They would eat what we prepared for them.

They would not back talk.

And they certainly would not sleep in our bed.  After all, that was our space and we did not want children in our bed with us.

It didn’t take long before we realized we had no idea of what it would be like to be parents!

When we made that pledge, we did not know the challenges life would throw at us. We did not know I would wind up pregnant with identical twin girls and be hospitalized three times, the final time for almost five weeks. We did not know that two days after being born, one of our twins would die. We did not know a lot of things before we had children.

As parents do, we adjust to life. Our parenting techniques adjust as the situation requires. And over time, our views on co-sleeping changed.

We did well enforcing the “no sleeping in our bed” with our first child, although we probably would have slept more if we’d just allowed him to crawl into bed with us. He was three and a half before he stopped waking up in the middle of the night.

Our second child was off to a great start. We moved her into a toddler bed at a young 18 months of age to prepare for the arrival of the twins.

And then I went into the hospital. My husband, who spent long days at work and then time with me in the hospital, often got home after the children were asleep. He missed them, and he started bringing our almost two year old daughter into the bed with him, so that he could at least have some time with her.

And there it began. Over two years later, she still comes to get in our bed in the middle of the night every night. We created a monster of habit. (My child is not a monster, she just does not want to get out of our bed!) 🙂

When she was smaller, it was easier to just let her crawl into the bed with us. Rather than getting up and soothing her back to sleep, she would just nuzzle in and fall right to sleep. And we were tired.

So we let her stay. Now she is four. Part of me loves the fact that she crawls in bed, snuggles up to me, kisses me, and loves on me. That is our special time. But by about the fifth time she kicked me, stolen the covers, or nearly edged me off the bed, I start to wonder if perhaps it is time to figure out how to get her back into her own bed. Permanently.

Co-sleeping can have many benefits, but if you are co-sleeping with an infant, make sure you know the associated risks.

The American Pediatrics Association (APA) encourages parents not to co-sleep with infants.  Infants should sleep on their back in their own beds to avoid, the risks of suffocation, accidental death, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) – a condition in which the baby dies without explanation during sleep, and also with suffocation.

The March of Dimes provides the following information:

Why is co-sleeping risky?

During co-sleeping, a baby can be smothered by pillows, suffocated by an adult, or caught someplace where they are unable to breathe.

How is SIDS related to co-sleeping?

About half of all SIDS deaths happen when a baby shares a bed, sofa or sofa chair with another person. To lower your baby’s chances of SIDS, don’t co-sleep if:

  • Your baby is younger than 3 months of age.
  • Your partner or other children sleep in your bed.
  • You smoke, even if you don’t smoke in bed.
  • You’re very tired.
  • You’ve had alcohol, used street drugs or taken certain medicines, like antidepressants. These things can make it hard for you to wake up or respond to your baby.

There are always two sides to each coin, and many groups still advocate for the benefits of co-sleeping with an infant. They provide guidelines for safe co-sleeping. The website Co-Sleeping provides safety tips and guidelines. There are even special infant bed attachments that allow you the benefits of co-sleeping while still providing a safe place for the baby. If you choose to co-sleep with an infant, make sure you understand and follow the safe co-sleeping guidelines.

Image from http://co-sleeping.com/
Image from http://co-sleeping.com/

As with all parenting decisions, do your research, weigh the risks, and determine what is best for your own family.

Do you co-sleep? Why are why not?

 

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Alexa Bigwarfe is a mother to 3 wildlings who keep her on her toes. She is an advocate, activist, speaker, author & author coach, publisher, and podcaster. Her writing career began after her infant daughter passed away at 2 days old and she turned to writing for healing. Since then, she has used her writing platform for advocacy and activism to support mothers, children, and marginalized voices. She began a nonprofit, Sunshine After the Storm, to provide support, care, healing retreats, and grief recovery to mothers in their most difficult time. She is the creator and co-host of the Lose the Cape podcast, which features moms working to make a difference in their children's lives and has co-authored and published four volumes under the Lose the Cape brand. Her primary business is Write|Publish|Sell, a company dedicated to shepherding authors through the massive process of writing and publishing their books like a pro. She owns her own publishing house, Kat Biggie Press, and a children's book publishing company, Purple Butterfly Press - both dedicated to bringing stories of hope, inspiration, encouragement, and girl-power to the world. Learn more at alexabigwarfe.com.

8 COMMENTS

  1. I absolutely agree bed sharing is a personal choice for each family to make based on ther needs!!

    However, there are some flaws in your information and assumptions.

    First, you use the phrase “create a monster” in reference to your child wanting/needing to be in your bed. I realize this is just a phrase and you don’t actually view your child as a monster- but it is so disheartening to read. Babies and even older kids are biologically wired to sleep with parents- it’s a relatively new phenomenon in human history to have separate rooms or even separate beds! One that biology certainly hasn’t kept up with. So your child isn’t a monster- she’s being HUMAN.

    Second, you claim bed sharing is more dangerous than a separate sleep surface, due to the risk of SIDS. This is wrong in two ways. 1: SIDS is unexplainable and sudden- a parent rolling on a baby is neither inexplicable or sudden anymore than a baby being suffocated by a crib bumper is. Tragic, yes. SIDS- no. 2: when comparing a SAFE bedsharing arrangement with a SAFE crib set up, bed sharing babies are at a lower risk for SIDS- opposite of what you claim (and the AAP tries to imply). You can’t compare an unsafe bedsharing arrangement with a safe crib- that’s apples to oranges. And to suggest parents can’t be educated or understand the guidelines for safe bed sharing is insulting, as well as ironic since “don’t smoke, drink, take beds, use heavy bedding” is as simple to explain and understand as “don’t use crib bumpers, blankets, pillows, or stuffed animals”.

    You did lay out the parameters for safe bed sharing and that is awesome- please don’t take my critique as an all out attack. Like I said, I fully agree it’s a personal choice with much to consider! I just also believe a proper understanding of human biology and an honest representation of the statistics is crucial to making that choice.

    For those interested, here are some sources with great science-based information!

    http://neuroanthropology.net/2008/12/21/cosleeping-and-biological-imperatives-why-human-babies-do-not-and-should-not-sleep-alone/

    http://evolutionaryparenting.com/category/parenting/sleeping/

    • No offense taken. We are all open to our own opinions on this topic. If I implied that babies in a SAFE crib are more at risk, that is not what I meant at all. I was advocating FOR that arrangement should you choose to co-sleep with an infant. I will look at how I phrased that and edit if necessary. The SIDS information is not my opinion, that is what is stated on several websites of experts (as cited.) And the expression “creating a monster” is simply an expression that I use quite regularly. I don’t mean that it’s bad they want to sleep with their parents, I mean it’s hard to break the habit later on. As I am learning with my four year old right now, who regularly donkey kicks me in the head, and I’m ready to transition her out! 🙂
      Thanks for the thoughtful reply!

      • No you didn’t imply safe cribs are riskier than safe bedsharing- that’s what I’m saying! 🙂 I know you cited your info from sources like AAP and didn’t pull it out of thin air, I’m sorry if that’s what was implied!

        Unfortunately though, even the AAP can’t be trusted 100%… They, as with anyone (myself included no doubt) have an agenda. The truth is the statistics are much less clear than to say one is definitely safer than the other, but a review of the body of research on it suggest that at the very least, safe bed sharing is no riskier than safe crib sleeping in the same bedroom (it’s pretty clear that cribs in a separate room are the riskiest). There is even some data that suggests safe bed sharing is indeed SAFER than safe co-sleeping (which doesn’t always mean bed sharing). This is especially true if you factor in the myriad benefits of bed sharing- such as better success with breastfeeding (and all THOSE benefits!), better regulated temperature and heart rate, etc. Basically, the AAP didnt make their statement based on a wide review of all the research worldwide- by all means, parents should turn to the AAP for guidance, on this issue I certainly don’t think their policy statement is particularly harmful- but there is definitely more to the story. For instance, many countries that primarily bed share (such as Japan) also have much lower SIDS risks than the US. If bedsharing in itself was inherently dangerous, then these statistics wouldn’t exist!

        Anyways, here is a link to a good review on the research that is out there:
        http://evolutionaryparenting.com/bed-sharing-and-co-sleeping-research-overview/

        And just to clarify, I absolutely know what it’s like to get toddler feet in the face or rib cage in the middle of the night!! So I SO know where you’re coming from! And the most important thing- which you did a great job addressing- is how to bed share safely 🙂 one thing you didn’t mention- and perhaps you wanted to avoid that can of worms- is that formula feeding is a risk factor for bed sharing as well. As the link above explains, it seems the nursing couple share a more sensitive connection during the night. That’s not to say formula fed babies never should sleep with their parents, but it’s definitely something that needs to be considered when evaluating risks!!

      • Oh! Also! (Forgive me- it’s a lazy snow day!) I mentioned I was aware you used the term “monster” not literally, but to imply the “habit” that forms- as you just mentioned. The big reason I brought it up at all was not to nit pick your choice of words or imply you were somehow insensitive to your child’s needs… But to initiate a discussion about the broader implication of that perspective. Meaning… If it’s biologically normal for babies (and toddlers, and kids) to want to sleep with mom and dad- then is it really a “habit”? Habits require “breaking” to make a change… What does it mean to use this perspective on our children’s natural behaviors and the way we approach them? I know, and you know, it is a simple phrase to communicate the idea that you are ready for a change in sleeping arrangements (fair enough!)- but when we use phrases like these, we help perpetuate the idea that wanting to sleep with parents is a negative behavior in need of modification. And unavoidably, that leads to ideas like sleep training and other things that diminish the validity of the child’s needs in order to achieve a “good” baby/kid and make life more “normal” for parents. Rather than phrasing it as a habit that needs breaking, what if we looked at it as another developmental milestone? Mom is ready to put some distance at night, and toddlers are more capable of understanding and adapting to a transition. As with walking, milestones are met gradually- so I think people would view the oft-dreaded scenario of a child who won’t move out of moms bed as something that, given some time and patience, WILL happen eventually, and inevitably involve a few regressions from time to time. They might then approach it in less of a hurry, and with more sensitivity. Again- I’m speaking generally about how our seemingly small voice contributes to the national view on things like bed sharing and what is or isn’t normal/acceptable!

        Dude, I know… I’m getting WAY too philosophical, lol. But as this is a forum for discussion, and this is a topic I am quite interested in, I decided to throw this out there!

  2. Great read Alexa! I’ve also Co slept with my last two! I wish I would have been more confident in my mothering skills with my first child to also cater to her need to co sleep. We were also very ready to transition Hailey into her crib at 6 months and so was she as she was not sleeping well with us any longer!

  3. I started co-sleeping when I was nursing my twins… to exhausted to move back to my own bed. Now that they are a little older, they sleep together and with their brother. 🙂

  4. Oh Alexa, I feel you!! I was all about the rules! With my first, she followed all of the rules I laid out for her beautifully. Then came my bouncing baby boy… He has broken any rule I’ve ever had! He sleeps with us, and try as we may to get him to sleep on his own, it just doesn’t happen. I think people focus too much on the right and wrong of this topic (I was that person), but truly it’s just another preference. Just like what type of diaper to use. It’s an important topic for parents, especially new ones or ones that aren’t getting any sleep with their current sleep program to be informed about. For me, it’s very refreshing to hear other mothers feel my struggles with sleeping and strategies that they try.

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