Our bed-sharing journey started 3.5 years ago when Jack was born, and now all 4 of us all sleep in the same room. We live in a one-bedroom apartment so we didn’t have the option to put Jack in another room. We were given a crib, which fit in our room and I had the intention of having him sleep there, but on the day he was born, I knew right away that I would never use that crib.
My instincts told me to keep him close so we both could get some sleep.
He was just living inside of me for 9 months, so I knew that the sound of my heartbeat would bring him comfort and to feel secure.
At the time, I didn't know there were any safe bed-sharing guidelines, I just knew that it was "bad" and "unsafe" to do it, but my gut told me to not listen to the fear-based advice. Since we were just in a one-bedroom apartment and my partner had to work, we made the decision that I would be in the living room with Jack and my partner would be in the bedroom to get some sleep to go to work the next day.
Our couch was pretty wide, so Jack and I slept on there, for the first few weeks he mostly slept on my chest so it was easier to breastfeed him. I put pillows underneath my arms and held him to sleep. I always woke up whenever he made any sort of noise or movement, so I was pretty alert and attuned with him.
But looking back, it was definitely not the safest position for us to be in.
It is normal for a baby to sleep better on a Mother's chest, but for me to fall asleep with him on top of me was not safe.
I wish at the time I was educated and informed about how to safely bed-share, so I didn't make that mistake of falling asleep on the couch with Jack on top of me. Thankfully, nothing happened during those first few weeks of doing that!
My goal with this blog and as a Baby-Led Sleep Specialist is to educate and inform expecting and new parents about all the sleep options and how to safely bed-share if that is what they choose to do or if that's their only option like for my family.
The following will be safe bed-sharing guidelines from Le Leche League and from 'Safe Infant Sleep' by James McKenna.
The Safe Sleep Seven by Le Leche League:
You and your partner are a non-smoker. Every adult who is sleeping in the bed should be a non-smoker. If either you or your partner smoked during your pregnancy, you should NOT bed-share. The secondhand smoke can damage your baby's arousal mechanisms, which is a risk for SIDS. Instead, practice separate-sleep surface co-sleeping or room-sharing.
You and your partner are sober. Every adult sleeping in the bed should be free from alcohol and any medications/illness/medical condition that may cause drowsiness and affects your awareness of your baby.
You are a Breastfeeding Mother. If you are bottle-feeding whether it's breastmilk or formula, you should not bed-share, instead you can do separate sleep surface co-sleeping or room-sharing. The reason behind this is that the mother won't instinctively sleep with baby in a cuddle curl position, they may place baby higher up (closer to pillows) which is unsafe. Baby also won't have the instincts to migrate towards the breast and may move to the edge of the bed instead. When a mother breastfeeds, they position themselves and baby in a cuddle curl position (see picture below), which is the safest place for a baby and the baby will also instinctively keep their face close to the mothers nipple for easy access.
Full-Term Baby. If your baby was born prematurely, then bed-sharing is not recommended. Instead place baby in the Arms Reach Cosleeper, which will be the safest space for your baby to be. They will still be close to you for easy access, but also in their own space when they are small and fragile.
Baby on Back. Your baby should be placed on their back with their head aligned with your breasts. You will be positioned in the cuddle curl position to prevent baby from inching up to the pillows. Your baby will nurse sidelying, so after they are done breastfeeding just gently lower them onto their back. It may cause some wake-ups and frustrations, just nurse again and repeat the process. The reason for the infant to be on their back is so their lungs can fully expand when they are sleeping, being on their side might hinder that lung expansion.
No sweat. When bed-sharing, babies can over heat from being close to your body, so baby should not be overdressed. Baby should be lightly dressed away from blankets and pillows. Also no swaddling; swaddling will over heat baby and their limbs need to be free to be able to breastfeed. If you have central air, keep the thermostat between 16-20C. If you don't have central air, check how you feel with the amount of layers you have on. For example, if you are hot in your pajamas, then baby is most likely hot as well. If you are sleeping in just underwear, then baby can just be in a diaper.
Safe Surface. According to Le Leche League, you must avoid the following smothering risks:
Anything that dangles or tangles (cords, strings, scarves, ribbons, elastics) - this includes your hair, tie into a bun if you have long hair.
Softness of sagging that rolls your baby against you or keeps them from lifting their head free.
Spaces between the mattress and headboard, side rails, or wall where a baby could get stuck. - if possible, keep bed as close to the floor.
Siblings or pets (at least for your baby's first year). - if you can't be in separate rooms, sleep inbetween the toddler and infant.
A few more guidelines for safe bed-sharing from Dr. James Mckenna:
Make sure you ask your partner if they are comfortable with bed-sharing and willing to share responsiblity for your baby's safety throughout the night.
If possible, have your mattress in the middle of the floor with no bed frame.
Place your baby between the breastfeeding mother and the edge of the bed.
Assess your ability to fully respond to your baby throughout the night.
Do not breastsleep if the mother or the partner are ill or extremely tired.
Never place baby alone in an adult bed. The baby should be supervised at all times when sleeping.
For any further education on how to safely bed-share, I highly recommend reading 'Safe Infant Sleep' by Dr. James McKenna and also 'Sweet Sleep' by Le Leche League.
Remember, bed-sharing should not be a scary option, if it is what works for you and your family then do it safely.
Happy bed-sharing, Mamas!