Courtesy of Olivia Hinebaugh

My Pediatrician Told Me Bed Sharing Might Kill My Baby


I can't even tell you how long I agonized over the decision to bed share with my children. I had to weigh the fact that it felt right to me and my baby against the fact that there was so much conflicting information about how safe bed sharing is. The decision to put my 8-week-old baby in my bed was not taken lightly. I had overwhelming instincts to hold and be close to my baby, and before the move to my bed, my son was sleeping very little. What I really needed was someone to talk through the issue with me. My partner and I did what we could, but I wanted to hear what more experienced people thought. We were hungry for information, but when my pediatrician warned bed sharing might kill my baby, we went in search of other answers.

I was part of attachment parenting groups online. A lot of these women had situations similar to my own. We chose unmedicated births outside of the hospital. We practiced babywearing instead of using strollers. We breastfed our babies. And a lot of us slept with our babies in our beds. In one conversation, it came up that these women were lying to their pediatricians about where their babies were sleeping. There's this underlying attitude of women in these groups (myself included) that pediatricians' recommendations have as much to do with covering their butts as they do with research and what works best for families. And I can understand this to a degree. When presented with data, they have to make conservative recommendations. These conservative pediatricians are the same ones that sometimes insist mothers supplement with formula when their babies lose some of their birth weight, or who suggest feeding a 4-month-old cereal to get them to sleep longer at night.

I'm in no way saying that pediatricians are in the wrong, but in general, I readily admit I was prepared to disregard this kind of advice. And when I brought my 2-month-old son in to a new pediatrician, I wanted to talk about our sleep arrangements, because I was still feeling so unsure about my decision.

Courtesy of Olivia Hinebaugh

Before the doctor's visit, we'd just moved to a new state. When I first arrived, I had scrambled to find affordable health insurance. Armed with the new insurance plan, I chose the closest pediatrician to my home. I didn't have a wide network of local mom friends to ask for recommendations. In short, I didn't know anything about this practice I was going to.

And then she said, "You know people roll over and kill their babies, right?"

Our previous pediatrician was friendly and reassuring. Through his thick Italian accent, he remarked at how strong and healthy my son was. He called me right back when I worried about my son's umbilical stump. But this new office was different. The young pediatrician breezed in and looked my son over while going rapid-fire through a list of questions. Inevitably, one of those questions was: Where does the baby sleep? I told her and she stopped short and looked at me for what felt like the first time during the visit. I explained our thought process and the safety precautions we were taking. I asked her about those in-bed bassinets that allow your baby to be close but have a barrier between baby and parents and pillows. She shrugged and said those weren't studied so she wouldn't recommend them.

And then she said, "You know people roll over and kill their babies, right?"

Courtesy of Olivia Hinebaugh
I was hoping she'd have advice, or to help me weigh my options. I was hoping she could talk to me like I was a person and not a potential statistic.

I'm sure my jaw dropped. And I said that, yes, I had heard that, but that I'd also heard that often these instances were coupled with unsafe practices such as smoking, drinking, or sleeping on couches or other unsafe surfaces. Instead of counseling me through this, she just told me again that I might kill my baby. That was the end of that discussion. She moved on to discussing the day's scheduled vaccines.

I'd hate to think I'm someone who would just blatantly disregard medical advice. There's a reason doctors spend so many years in school. But I felt as though this doctor was unwilling to have the conversation with me. And the fact the she had put it so bluntly haunted me. I was hoping she'd have advice, or to help me weigh my options. I was hoping she could talk to me like I was a person and not a potential statistic.

Just like with every parenting decision, I had to make the best decision I could with the information I had. I tried to weigh the thoughts of the pediatrician with what was working for me and with what I had read from a variety of sources, both scholarly and anecdotal. So I did. We decided to bed share. And you know what? It worked for us.

Courtesy of Olivia Hinebaugh

I didn't go back to that pediatrician. My insurance changed yet again, and luckily, this time, I found one that seemed to weigh the same evidence I did. He was fine about delaying solid foods and really encouraging about breastfeeding. When we discussed sleep, he heard me out. I made it clear I understood the risks, but also that no infant sleep situation is totally risk-free, as terrifying as that is.

The difference between the pediatricians was night and day. And even though I had a new pediatrician who assuaged my fears, I still couldn't forget the way that first doctor had scared me and dismissed me. It's not that I think our first pediatrician did anything wrong — I just know that it wasn't a good fit for what me and my baby needed. And I'm so glad I found a better fit for our family.