That’s right, I’m going there. Sleeping arrangements can vary from house to house, family to family, and even child to child. They certainly did around here. But please understand that I am not promoting or condemning any one idea or circumstance so long as safe sleeping habits are practiced with your children.
Let me start with a quote from the American Academy of Pediatrics website about sleeping arrangements:
Our recommendation remains similar to the 2011 statement, “Infants should sleep in parents’ room, close to parents’ bed, but on a separate surface designed for infants. Ideally, for the first year of life, but at least for the first 6 months.”
And honestly, for this reason alone we never co-slept with Sweet Girl. I could never get any sleep with her laying next to me in bed because I was terrified I would roll over on top of her at some point during the night. So with our first, she slept in the bassinet pushed up against my side of the bed. It worked great for us, at least for the first couple months until she was too wiggly for the small space.
This time around, however, having Little Squish in her bassinet, even if it was pushed up next to the bed, just wasn’t going to work. I had so much pelvic pain those first few weeks after the delivery that simply rolling over in bed hurt. There was no way I was going to be able to comfortably sit all the way up, pull her out of bed, sit up and feed her, and then put her back in bed. I honestly spent a good chunk of my day either laying down or moving constantly from laying, sitting, and standing because I couldn’t stay comfortable in one position for too long.
So co-sleeping it was.
I will admit, I did not go into things this time thinking I would co-sleep. I quite enjoy my own bed space and do not like giving it up. I don’t even really like to cuddle in bed, especially while I’m trying to sleep. But I knew that, at least for a little while, co-sleeping would be my only option. Thankfully there are some steps you can take to do so safely. Just keep in mind, millions of people around the world share a bed with their children from birth without so much as a second thought to the safety of anyone involved – it is just how it’s done.
As far as feeding options go, breastfeeding is the best in a co-sleeping situation. From my research – before co-sleeping myself – women who are exclusively breastfeeding (EBF) their babies, not using bottles in any way, are the most likely to share a safe sleeping environment with their infants. The reason being, they are more likely to sleep facing their child, surrounding them with their bodies. This isn’t to say that bottle feeding families are going to roll onto their children, it is simply that breastfeeding mothers who bed share typically use a side sleeping position to breastfeed in so they will not be changing positions once their child is asleep.
Blankets & Pillows
You already know that you want to keep anything that could pose a suffocation risk should be kept away from your baby, regardless of their sleeping arrangements. This can be particularly difficult to manage when sharing your bed with your infant because of where their heads will end up. EBF mothers will sleep with their babies at the level of their breasts or armpits. In this position, their heads will be well enough away from pillows to be an issue. However, the blanket poses a problem. I have found in my own co-sleeping relationship that, though I generally prefer to have the blanket up to my neck, it is easy to remember to keep it down low enough so it is away from my little girl’s face. Yes, even while I’m asleep. Unlike EBF mothers, though, bottle fed babies may end up with their heads around the level of the pillows on the bed. My own experience has taught me that I would never want my baby to be near my pillow because I am constantly changing where it is, flipping it over or moving it side-to-side to find a comfortable position.
Informed Sleeping Partner
I know there are some families that choose co-sleeping where one parent (typically the non-breastfeeding one) will sleep elsewhere. In our house, though, BJ stuck around. I will say, he is opposed to the idea of co-sleeping (for the very reason we didn’t co-sleep with Sweet Girl) but he understood my need during the first few weeks postpartum this time around and respected that need.
It is important to make sure your partner, or whomever you share a bed with, is aware of that sleeping baby. They may not realize it, but subconsciously they are still able to recognize the needs of that tiny person and may restrict their movements slightly while sleeping. I would even say that, because some co-sleeping mothers go to bed early with their little ones, it’s important that your very awake partner knows there’s a baby somewhere in the bed. This is to avoid throwing a blanket or pillow on top of them, or trying to snuggle up close to you with a baby in between you.
It is recommended often that babies be swaddled. This is great for those sleeping in their own bed space, like a bassinet or similar, because it provides that tightness they are used to as well as warmth. However, when they are sleeping in your bed it is important not to restrict their movement so they can adjust their own position relative to yours, either closer or further from your body.
I have noticed that I often fall asleep with Little Squish slightly away from my body – maybe a hands-width from me – but I will wake up to her snuggled right up next to me, touching me with arms, legs, and sometimes her face is resting on my breast.
Hair & Clothing
These two things, in my mind, are probably the second most important things to consider when co-sleeping. If you have long hair you want to make sure you tie it back, so that it is away from your baby. Long hair can easily get into your babies nose or mouth or tangled around tiny finger.
Loose clothing should not be worn while co-sleeping. Like with long hair, loose clothing can easily suffocate your sleeping babe. Keep things fairly close the the chest or, like some breastfeeding moms, sleep with no shirt on. Then you won’t even have to wake up to feed your babe, they’ll take care of it all for you. (I could never do that. The first few weeks there’s a lot of nipple pain and, really, I just don’t like to sleep shirtless.)
Drugs & Alcohol
I wish this didn’t have to be discussed at all, because I feel like if you’re wanting to share your bed with a baby you should know not to take part, but I’ll do it anyway. Do not sleep with your baby if you have used alcohol or any mind- or sleep-altering drugs. This includes illegal and prescription drugs. You do not want to take, for example, some NyQuil and fall asleep with baby in bed. That medication is designed to help you sleep heavier and longer, so it will be much harder to rouse yourself enough to take care of that baby. If you do need to take medication for whatever reason, or you decide to have a few drinks to celebrate, place your baby in their own sleep space. I would even go so far as to say don’t use a side-car sleeping arrangement (a separate sleep space that is connected to your own). Always put the safety of your baby first.
Like I said before, the sleeping arrangements of each family will differ and should be agreed upon by all involved. For us, that means BJ and I need to agree on how things are going to go. Now that I’m having fewer issues with pelvic pain (Little Squish is about 6 weeks) I’ve been placing her in her bassinet to sleep at night. It was great those first few weeks keeping her close but I am so happy to have my bed space back. Hooray for not being cold and being able to spread out!
Please do your research and make the best decision you can for your family. That’s all any parent can do to ensure the safety of our smallest, most precious people.