In addition to being in the middle of National Bed Month, we are also in the middle of Safer Sleep Week. In honour of this, we have Tribe Member Fran as our first guest writer, talking about something that Lauren and I have little experience of: Bed Sharing. Often (wrongly) referred to as ‘cosleeping’, bed sharing is when you baby sleeps alongside you, in your bed. It is a divisive subject, largely thanks to misinformation and negativity in the media. We hope this brilliant and informative post by Fran will help dispel some of the myths and put your mind at ease if bed sharing is something you are considering.
Be sure to read our safety tips at the end, and take a look at the pages we’ve added links to.
Over to Fran…
‘My firstborn would not entertain any sleeping contraption at all. I had just managed to establish breastfeeding when she developed the symptoms of infant colic at around 5 weeks. This basically involved a lot of screaming and very little sleep all round. If she did sleep, it would be on me or her Dad.
By week 6 (or rather 5 weeks and one hour!), I was convinced it was something I was doing wrong with feeding and called on a breastfeeding adviser who came to visit me at home. She helped me through a few things with the feeding and also sleeping. I will be forever grateful for her time that afternoon. During her visit she could clearly see I was one sleep deprived broken state! One thing she suggested was that, for night time feeds, I could feed laying down. As a first time mum, completely new to breastfeeding, I’d only just got to grips with the traditional sitting pose to feed. I’d also had a C-section so manoeuvring between lying and sitting wasn’t the most comfortable of things, but by 6 weeks I was well over the worst and this sounded great. She asked if I had tried bed sharing too. I quickly replied, “Well no, that’s dangerous and not recommended… isn’t it?!” She spent the rest of her afternoon dispelling the myths associated with bed sharing and provided me with the facts and statistics behind the latest research. She also directed me to the Infant Sleep Information Service (ISIS) webpage, to read up further.
I spent the rest of the afternoon reading and, that night, we did our feeds lying down in my bed. From then on I totally relaxed about having her in my bed. It was just a total change of mindset. From 11pm onwards she fed/slept in my bed. Of course I must point out here that I followed all the safe sleeping guidelines. This was an absolute lifesaver. My body was in a rested position. I no longer had to sit upright holding/feeding/comforting a baby for most of the night. Not only had I suffered with such dread of the ‘night shift’ and the emotions that went with that, it had also felt like such a physical strain, slowly feeling my back or my legs going numb regardless of how well I thought I’d arranged my million pillows. I also realised that, if I was more rested at night, I would be safer in the day and not falling asleep feeding on a sofa, for example, which is, of course, not recommended.
I must also add I did also have a fleeting worry about what people would think, as bed sharing isn’t very ‘mainstream’ but hey, you do what works for you and your family and no one else. Besides, for our ancestors (and every other mammal) and for many other nations around the world today, this is just normal sleeping behaviour. I’ve since realised that bed sharing is MUCH more common than I’d realised; people just don’t seem to talk about it, possibly because they fear recrimaintations from those who believe it to be dangerous, or because so many believe bedsharing parents are ‘making a rod for their own back’.
By four months the colic had thankfully passed and she did doze a little better in her cot for naps and the first part of the evening. For the 11pm feed I always lay down with her and there we stayed until morning! She slept better. I slept! The difference in my mindset and ability to function was huge.
Fast forward a few months and our late evening and 3am feeds had dropped and we had normal occasional night waking but she had weaned and stopped breastfeeding of her own accord at 10mths. Coincidently we also moved house at this point and aside from needing reassurance at certain times, she slept quite happily in her cot from around this age. This was surprising, given that 10 months is in the thick of a baby’s separation anxiety, but we just followed her lead. It wasn’t an overnight bed hop, it was gradual as feeds reduced and the time in her own bed increased. I also went back to work after 13 months and despite the pros of bed sharing, I now had a wriggly toddler and she did actually seem to sleep better and for longer in a morning, in her own cot. Some nights, with teething or if she was unwell, we reverted (and still do) to keeping her close by.
Fast forward a year and daughter number two arrives. She’s loved a Moses basket sleep – only baby ever?! Between feeds she happily slept in the Moses when I needed to put her down (baby number 2 meant that was more often than I wanted to, to give time to my other daughter). I still did some night feeds lying down mainly to give my body a rest too (as everything aches in that exhausted mum body kind of a way) but she would resettle. That was until the four month sleep ‘regression’. All change! She wanted me and only me, comfort and reassurance. I had a 2 year old down the corridor whom I didn’t want to wake so I reverted to what I knew and baby number two came to bed with me. Win/win! The baby sleeps, the toddler stays asleep and I sleep.
I have been on a slightly different journey with my second. As is normally the case second time round I was more relaxed about feeding schedules and she has always been breastfed totally on demand. She is now 19mths. She eats well in the day and unlike her sister who weaned totally at ten months, she breastfeeds 2-3 times during the night. She still beds hares from late evening onwards and the two really do go hand in hand.’
Fran’s Top Tips for Successful Bed sharing:
– Invest in a decent pillow to support your back. You will lay on your side a lot, so a long, sausage-type maternity pillow is really useful.
– A regular double bed will be a bit of squeeze with you, your partner and your baby, especially because you need to create a ‘C’ shape around baby and they cannot be too close to the edge of the bed. We luckily had a super king before babies! For us with any sibling nighttime needs (e.g if they are unwell or having nightmares), plus my partner’s sometimes early 4.30am starts, a separate room sometimes works better for us too.
– The need to keep bedding away from baby can mean that you get chilly! Think carefully about what you wear to bed – warm enough without making you too hot, with good breastfeeding access! Avoid dressing gowns with cord ties as these obviously present a danger to baby. I wear a vest top, either with a nursing clip or one that can be pulled down, plus a long sleeved tee shirt. A zip up top would work well, too.
– Communication with your partner is crucial. The decision to bed share needs to be discussed, in order for your partner not to feel sidelined, especially as breastfeeding can often lead to partners feeling like they can’t do much to help. We frequently discuss the dynamics of our arrangement and I am lucky that my partner is hugely supportive of bedsharing, as he sees the benefits for the children. Plus, we know it won’t be forever!
The Safe Sleep Guidelines that MUST be followed when bed sharing. If they are followed, there is no indication that bed sharing increases the risk of SIDS – it is when lapses in judgement happen that fatalities occur:
– Never bed share if you smoke, take drugs (this includes over the counter medicines that can make you drowsy) or drink alcohol. If you smoked at all during pregnancy, this poses an even bigger risk than if you smoke currently.
– Bed sharing must be in a bed and never on a sofa or in a chair. The mattress should be firm and have no sagging areas. It should fit the bed frame snugly and the fitted sheet must be tight, not loose. Keep baby away from pillows, heavy bedding and any gaps between furniture. As with cot sleeping, soft toys are a no-no.
– If your baby was premature or had a low birth weight, bed sharing could be a risk so research this carefully before starting to bed share. Ideally, bed sharing should commence when your baby is over 20 weeks old.
– Baby must not be in between parents, but between you and the edge of the bed. For obvious reasons, however, they should not be too close to the edge.If the bed is against a wall, there should be no gap between the two as babies can become trapped in the smallest of gaps, creating a risk of suffocation.
– Bed sharing babies should be breastfed. According to ISIS, studies show that breastfeeding mothers naturally wake at the same time as their babies, so are immediately responsive. Baby should be on its back, level with its mother’s chest, and she should be curled around them, offering protection from temperature excesses, bedding and sleeping partners who are, naturally, not as responsive.
– If you are not breastfeeding and would still like to bed share, it is recommended that you use a side sleeper crib, such as a Snuzpod or Chicco Next2Me, safely attached to the bed.
Useful Websites (each one is clickable):
Over to you… do you bed share? Or have you done so? Did you want to, but felt discouraged by media scaremongering or poor advice from healthcare professionals?
Jo, The Mother Side xx