Bedsharing: the answer to our prayers!
Updated: Jan 2, 2019
Before I had my son, I remember saying to a friend of mine that I would never ever let a child sleep in my bed.
So once we came home after he was born, I did as I was told by all the baby books and online sleep training guides, and I put my baby to sleep on his back in his empty crib next to my bed.
And he woke up every single time we put him down.
We had heard that babies need to learn to self-settle. So we followed the endless online advice to put him down drowsy but awake.
We tried waiting 20 minutes rocking him and holding him until he was in a deep sleep before laying him down.
What a waste of 20 minutes that was when he then woke up as soon as we put him down.
We tried white noise, a hot-water bottle, keeping our hand on his chest, putting him down ever so slowly…
We tried keeping quiet, we tried to make noise so he didn’t rely on the silence…
We tried a Moses basket for daytime naps downstairs; we tried the bedside crib every night; we tried the car; we tried a sling; we tried the pram...
It didn’t matter what advice we followed to get him to sleep on his own. He woke up every single time we put him in his crib; most car journeys were horrendous; he hated his carrycot on his pram (he did eventually prefer the more upright seat).
Yet he would always fall asleep when I breastfed him. And he would stay asleep for 3-4 hours laying on my chest. So the only thing I didn’t try was formula before bed because breastfeeding was very effective at getting him to sleep, even if it was on or right next to me.
We stopped trying to put him down in his cot and his Moses basket for a while and read tons about co-sleeping (I’ll use the term bed-sharing though to avoid confusion). Every single Facebook group I joined for breastfeeding or gentle parenting was full with bedsharing parents. Apparently almost every parent I know has bedshared at least once on a bad night. And yet we just don’t tell anyone out of fear of what others will say.... maybe what people like me would have said before I had kids and thought I knew it all!
However, I had found the answer I needed. And suddenly it all made perfect sense: we were in the 4th trimester.
Of course my baby wanted to be close to me! He had spent 9 months with me, being gently rocked in my womb. He was fed on demand and had the soothing sound of my voice all the time.
Breastfeeding helped to provide that comfort and closeness my baby needed when he needed it most. He would fall asleep breastfeeding and he didn’t want to then be put down alone in his crib. He wanted to stay close to us.
So we let him.
We eventually moved to formula overnight when my supply dropped too much after a few months back at work. He STILL didn’t want to sleep on his own. He STILL didn’t sleep for longer periods, proof to the fact that formula does not always equal a longer period of sleep. Some babies just need that closeness more than others, and this is not dependent on how full their tummy is.
I could not let him cry alone when it went against all my natural instincts as a mother; in fact, it has been scientifically proven that a baby’s cry is designed to get us to respond, and yet so many of us feel we have to ignore it, lest we raise a spoiled child who knew they can manipulate us.
We are obsessed with raising independent children - but we are trying to do so before they are ready to be independent. This is often to the detriment of our children and to parents who feel awful letting their baby cry alone because that’s what people say is necessary to get a baby to sleep through the night. We are one of the only cultures who perpetuates the myth that babies must sleep on their own from day dot; co-sleeping is common practice in most countries and this has not increased SIDS figures - quite the opposite in fact.
Being close to a caregiver to sleep has the same benefits as the initial skin to skin that is encouraged. It helps babies to regulate their temperature and breathing - two common issues associated with SIDS. Remember, suffocation is something different so safe sleep guidance about pillows and duvets, smoking adults etc must still be adhered to:
Bedsharing has numerous psychological benefits too for the baby, and attachment is such an important principle.
When he was ready - when he was securely attached and felt safe knowing we would always come when he needed us - he let us put him down in his cot. And he slept. On his own. Sometimes all the night through.
Other times he woke up and let us rock him gently back to sleep before laying him down in his cot again.
Other times he woke up and wanted to be close to us back in our bed, which we allowed him to do without question. These nights usually coincide with new teeth or a developmental leap according to Wonder Weeks.
What we learned was that our baby would communicate when he needed us. He would be in our bed when he needed us. He wasn’t manipulating us. He wouldn’t be in our bed forever. He won’t always need us to stroke his head or rock him to sleep.
But we will always be there for him for those times that he does - luckily with a Superking sized bed!