Before she was born
When I was pregnant with my daughter, I started researching where our little chickpea should sleep. The local authority on childcare in Flanders is Kind & Gezin. They monitor all children’s health in Flanders from when they are a baby until when they start going to school at 2,5 years. They have an important role in guiding parents, as they are the primary source of information for many parents. Their official recommendation states that a baby should sleep in the same room as the parents for at least the first 6 months and preferably the first year. The baby should sleep close to the parents but in its own bed. Bedsharing is discouraged as it is considered unsafe due to the increased risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).
Other organizations give the same recommendations:
- the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics): https://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/safe-sleep/Pages/Safe-Sleep-Recommendations.aspx
- the NHS: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/reducing-risk-cot-death/
Even though my husband was very excited about having her sleep in the same bed with us, the thought of SIDS terrified me. No way we would ever sleep in the same bed with her as a baby. As I am writing this, our daughter is 13 weeks and has been sleeping with us for 8 weeks.
So what changed?
In the beginning, it was complicated to get her to sleep after breastfeeding. Every time we would put her in her own bed, she would wake up crying after 5 minutes. One night, my husband got her to sleep in his arms and didn’t want to risk waking her up by putting her in her own bed. So he sat down on the sofa and stayed awake for hours with her sleeping on top of him. If he had fallen asleep, that could have been a dangerous situation.
It didn’t make any sense to me. Babies need sleep. Parents need sleep. Especially mothers need rest, to stimulate milk production. But every time we put our baby down to sleep, she woke up. We must be doing something wrong.
How does this work in nature? Do monkey parents get exhausted, trying to get there babies to sleep?
She clearly didn’t have a problem sleeping; she slept when we were carrying her. She just didn’t sleep when she was alone in her bed on her back.
When I was preparing for the birth of my daughter, I started reading some pregnancy books. They reminded me of how complex and smart nature is. The whole process of birth and breastfeeding is so advanced that scientists don’t even fully understand it. But once you start meddling with nature (for example, with medical interventions during a birth), the system doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do anymore.
So if I apply that to sleep, what does that mean? What is the natural thing for us to do? How did nature intend us to sleep?
Probably not separated from our baby. Sleeping in a nest with your baby sounds very natural, though. So if this is the natural way for us to sleep, how can it be dangerous?
So I decided to dig further into the topic of bedsharing and understand what the dangers are. The more I read, the more confident I became that this was the right option for us. Bedsharing can be dangerous, but it is very safe if you follow the clearly listed recommendations.
There is a lot of information about bedsharing online. Here I’m sharing the two sources that I liked and trusted most.
Dr. James McKenna
One source that seems to be the reference on bedsharing is Dr. James McKenna.
If you’re interested in bedsharing, I recommend reading his book ‘Safe Infant Sleep’. It’s an easy read and made me feel very confident in my choice, as it is very research-based and contains all the practical guidance to start bedsharing.
La Leche League
Another source that I trust is La Leche League. They also share information about safe bedsharing.
How we bedshare
To be clear, I’m not a bedsharing expert. I did my research, and I will explain how we’re doing this, based on this information.
First of all, there are pre-conditions to bedsharing. An essential condition is that you’re breastfeeding your baby. Dr. James McKenna even coined the term breastsleeping to refer to the combination of breastfeeding and bedsharing. Furthermore, other conditions, such as smoking, alcohol, the weight of mother and baby, etc. have an impact on the safety of bedsharing. Be sure to check the resources I mentioned above!
Risks of bedsharing
If you respect all the pre-conditions of bedsharing, it’s time to look at some bedsharing risks you will want to eliminate:
- a mattress that is too soft
- your baby getting trapped under sheets or pillows (so your baby can’t breathe or overheats)
- overheating your baby in general (by sleeping close to you, your baby will be warmer than sleeping by itself)
- your baby getting stuck in a gap, e.g., between:
- the bed and the wall
- the bed and other furniture
- the mattress and the bed frame
- other elements of the bed, such as the footboard or headboard
Creating our safe bedsharing setup
- We tested if our mattress was firm enough with the method in this video (recommended in the Safe Infant Sleep book).
- We placed our mattress and slatted bed base on the floor, away from any walls or furniture, so she can not get stuck anywhere.
- We attached a bed fence to the slatted bed base, so she can not fall out of the bed (we used this bed fence with the same spacing between bars as recommended in the European Standard EN716).
- I sleep without a cover and with a small pillow, which I place behind my head.
- My husband uses a one-person sheet and a regular pillow.
My sleeping position
I sleep in the so-called “C” position. I sleep on my side, towards my baby with my knees pulled up underneath her (so she can’t move down), and my bottom arm stretched out above her (so she can’t move up). My husband sleeps on my other side, so there is no risk that his sheets or pillow become a danger to her. This position also keeps me from rolling over.
Her sleeping position
One recommendation that is always stressed is that babies must sleep on their backs. When we would put her to sleep on her back, the Moro reflex would wake her up almost every time. The midwife recommended to place her in bed on her side. This approach worked really well for us, no more Moro reflex!
Once she was sleeping, we could roll her on her back. Since she started rolling from her back to her side and back, she always sleeps on her side. There’s no point putting her on her back now as she turns right back to her side.
When she starts fussing while she’s on her side, we tap her back, and she falls asleep again. As I’m lying next to her, this takes no effort.
Her sleeping outfit
I use this Instagram post as a guide to dress her at night based on the temperature in the room. I do take into account that she will be warmer sleeping next to me in bed than sleeping in her own bed.
When I use a sleeping bag, I pay attention that she can freely use her arms, so she can not get stuck in a dangerous position.
Pros and cons of bedsharing
Our daughter is now 13 weeks, and we love sleeping with her. Here are some of the pros and cons we’ve noticed so far.
- Our daughter sleeps waaayyy better. Most nights, we get at least 9 hours of sleep. At this point, she wakes up 2 to 3 times per night to breastfeed. Most times, she drinks about 20 minutes before she goes back asleep.
- I recently started breastfeeding her while lying down in bed (it took me some practice, and it’s not perfect yet). I don’t even need to get out of bed anymore. She lets go when she’s finished and continues sleeping 😴.
- I love how close she is to me. Whenever she makes a noise or moves, I can check right away if she’s ok.
- I recognize her hunger signals and often wake up before she does so that I can nurse her right away.
- Waking up next to her in the morning and seeing her smile at me is the most wonderful feeling ❤️.
- I’m not a fan of sleeping without sheets.
- I have to sleep in the C position all night. I don’t naturally sleep on my side, so after sleeping on my side most of my pregnancy, I was looking forward to sleeping in other positions.
- When she goes to bed, my husband or I need to stay with her.
We don’t know how long we will bedshare. Just like I don’t know how long I will breastfeed. We will see how long it feels right for her and us.
The setup that we have right now might also change when she gets older. I can imagine that we might have to make some adaptions in the room when she starts crawling. And I know that when she gets older, it will also be safe for her to sleep between us (which her dad is very much looking forward to). So I will keep you up-to-date :)
Fear and shame
My frustration with this topic is that I felt so much fear about bedsharing, and once we started doing it, I felt ashamed. As if we’re doing something wrong. I felt like people would judge us. But now I’m ok with it. I’ve done my research, and I feel confident that we’re doing what is best for her.
To be honest, I’m upset that organizations like Kind & Gezin make parents feel bad about bedsharing instead of properly informing them. Tired uninformed parents make decisions in the middle of the night that do lead to dangerous sleeping situations, such as falling asleep in bed or the sofa without following the recommendations for safe bedsharing.
I hope that this post helps not only to inform you but to feel good about it!
This article is not sponsored. Any links to products are products that we liked and paid for ourselves.