Bed-Sharing: Not For You to Judge and Not For the Faint of Heart

My daughter has been co-sleeping since she was born.

I was ashamed of this at one time but choose not to be now. I know the safety concerns, the doctor recommendations, all of that. But still, I prefer to co-sleep, though we are, at 16 months old, trying to transition our daughter to her bed.

Why did I start co-sleeping? I suppose for the same reason other parents who co-sleep do it, we’re exhausted, and our babies refuse to sleep alone.

I tried. God knows I tried not co-sleeping. This was not our default decision. We had a nursery set up; we had the baby monitor, we had the crib with only a fitted sheet, a mobile, a nightlight. It was a nursery built for safety and sweet dreams, but our daughter had other opinions.

We then tried a bassinet in the same room but not in the same bed as us. This was also a flat out FAIL. No matter what we tried, and we tried multiple methods for soothing a baby to sleep, she would wake up again and again. To this day she is not a great sleeper, naps are short and sporadic and she usually only sleeps about 9 hours a night. I have spoken to her pediatrician about this but her development is on track, so there is no reason to be concerned.

The only place she felt confident and comfortable to sleep was next to me.

Perhaps I should have prefaced this post with this, but I exclusively breastfed my daughter since birth. Starting out I had to feed her consistently, at least every half hour to an hour. She gained weight well, but I felt like she was nursing nonstop for at least the first six months of her life. Obviously, this further complicated my sleeping habits and arrangements at night.

We tried for about three weeks to adjust our daughter to be able to sleep in her bassinet beside the bed, at the very least, without success before we gave up and began full-time co-sleeping.

The difference in the amount she slept, not to mention how much extra rest I got, was substantial.

I was devastated, but I didn’t know how else to handle the situation.

Two weeks later my husband, National Guard, deployed to the Middle East and would be gone for nearly a year.

Two weeks after that I started a new, full-time job as a Reference Librarian and Instructor at a community college.

I was exhausted all the time from solo-parenting, from working all day, then mom-ing all night. I was also suffering from post-partum depression which I still struggle with, and I was utterly overwhelmed. Co-sleeping and taking away at least one problem was probably the only thing that saved my sanity at the time. I got more sleep, able to just turn over and nurse my daughter back to sleep during her frequent night feedings. Co-sleeping also allowed me peace of mind when I was home alone all those months that in case of an emergency in the night I had ready access to my daughter.

Now, co-sleeping is not for everybody, and it requires some significant adjustments to how you sleep, from getting used to not using blankets, to understanding that you will probably not be able to sleep deeply. I am a naturally light sleeper, and I don’t tend to roll around a lot during my sleep, most nights I would fall asleep in one position and wake up in that same position. This was to my benefit when I came to terms with the fact that I would be co-sleeping. One of the few benefits of my husband deploying during this time is that there were not two adults co-sleeping with an infant, reducing the risk that arises from more bodies in a bed, though my husband is also a lighter sleeper and often slept on his back all night. Neither my husband or myself are overweight which is another factor which raises the risk of SIDS while co-sleeping with parents. Breastfeeding further reduces the risk of SIDS.

We don’t smoke. Our home’s air quality is good. We didn’t have pets at the time. We used a humidifier. We used a pacifier. We even bought a co-sleeper that can be placed directly in the bed which was useful for traveling when we didn’t want to lug her whole Pack ‘N Play w/bassinet attachment. But still didn’t provide the comfort level our daughter demanded when sleeping at night.

I read articles, I studied sleep training methods, but I could not change my daughter’s sleeping preference. Many of the articles I read which were published by major parenting sites like The Bump, WhattoExpect, and Parenting were starkly against bed sharing. But I know many people in the real world who were forced into an identical sleeping arrangement. It is almost like this secret club, shamed into isolation by more successful parents who managed to establish “safer” sleeping habits.

But a 2013 study by Colson, et al. shows that the percentage of co-sleeping parents has risen from 6% in 1993 to 13.5% in 2010, and at least 45% of parents admitted to sharing a bed with their infant “at least some of the time.” It happens, there are situations where it is just something parents do.

Whatever your preference for your child, where the intentions are obviously not malicious, where the parents are not going to bed drunk or high, or in other ways neglecting their child, you should reserve your contrary judgment of the parents who do share a bed with their infants. Bed sharing was a common practice at one point in time; my great grandparents shared a bed with their children when beds were a commodity, and many families were forced to share one bed.

There are obviously other considerations that must be taken into account when discussing infant sleep arrangements like sleeping position, does the infant sleep on their back, side, or stomach? My daughter usually slept on her back in my bed but would roll onto her side the few times she slept in the bassinet or crib.

I feel like there is a lot of online judgment towards bed-sharing parents, like most online bullying, there is a trend towards increased anonymous criticism vs. in-person criticizing. When faced with actual human beings who you can see love their child, want the best for their child, and work their butts off for their child, it is easier to, if not relate, at least sympathize.

I am not posting this to endorse or encourage bed-sharing. I am merely telling my story as a mom who bed-shared and presenting a narrative that I feel is needed in the conversation surrounding infant sleep arrangements. I hope my story makes somebody else out there who bed-shares feel unashamed, supported, and a little less lonely.

Do you bed-share? Share your story in the comments!

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