I remember when it was time to set up my baby registry when I was pregnant with my first son. I was overwhelmed at the options for a sleep space for the baby. We were moving a few weeks after the baby was due so I knew I didn't want to get a crib when a small bassinet would work in that time. I researched. I fretted. I weighed the advice I'd received about safe bed sharing when I took a breastfeeding class with the overwhelming claims that bed sharing was completely unsafe. I finally landed on a play yard with a bassinet. But as soon as my son arrived, I became frustrated with the setup.
I placed the play yard right next to my bed. I could lean over and check on my baby, but I couldn't see him without sitting up. And for the first couple of nights, that was fine. He slept pretty soundly. He'd wake to breastfeed and then I'd change him and lay him back down to sleep. But pretty quickly, he basically refused to sleep in it. I'd breastfeed him in bed and then stand up to rock him back to sleep. Just like all new moms, I was tired. And I have bleary-eyed memories of rocking and rocking him. I'd rock him for 15 minutes after I thought he was fully asleep, and, still, when I laid him down as carefully as I could, he'd start to stir and kick and finally wake back up, furious that he was no longer being held. I'd go back to square one, either rocking him or breastfeeding him back to sleep.
The setup I'd researched and agonized over was clearly not working for me. Each day I was more and more sleep deprived. And I knew why: My son wanted to be near me. He didn't feel safe or happy when he was alone in the play yard bassinet. I don't know if it was my warmth, or my heartbeat, or my smell, or my milk, but something about being close to me and being held is what he needed to sleep. And every instinct of mine was to be close to him. The easiest solution was to bring him into my bed. So I did.
Even though sleeping right next to my baby felt so incredibly right, I was anxious that I was being reckless.
Finally I'd had enough. He wanted to be near me and snuggled in to sleep. So I brought him into my bed. But I didn't get much sleep. I was so worried I'd smother him. When I was considering my options during pregnancy, I had a well-meaning, but overly-assertive family member tell me not to buy any of the products out there to make bed sharing easier. She told me none of them had been proven yet, and that worried me. But at that moment, I was cursing her advice, because I was desperate for sleep and I was convinced that those products would have helped me.
Eventually, I mastered the art of drifting off next to my baby. I'd curl around him, but still leave him plenty of breathing room. I was relieved every time I woke up and found that I hadn't moved. I started to become more confident that I wasn't blissfully unaware of my baby even as I slept. But all those naysayers were still in my brain. Even though sleeping right next to my baby felt so incredibly right, I was anxious that I was being reckless. I agonized over the decision. I was comforted by the accounts I read online of moms who made bed sharing work. But I was shamed by the accounts that said I was being selfish and stupid.
But the more I looked into it, the more sleeping next to my baby just made sense for us. Babies are meant to breastfed throughout the night. And the act of breastfeeding my baby made me highly attuned to him. It even seemed backed up by science. There is a lot of research being done in this field at Notre Dame. And other mammals, particularly ones with low-fat content to their milk (humans have about the lowest), sleep next to their babies and nurse them on demand. The studies about the risk of SIDS when bed sharing is done safely are contradicting and inconclusive. Breastfeeding is a great preventive measure, and bed sharing supports breastfeeding. The act of suckling is also good, which is why pacifiers are shown to decrease the risk of SIDS. And according to the research at Notre Dame, the mother's physiological responses (breathing and pulse) help the baby to regulate his own.
I still had an eye on safety. I learned to sleep without a pillow for the first few months. I'd only bring the blanket up to my waist, below where my baby was lying. I had a very firm mattress on our bed. I didn't drink any alcohol or take any sedatives. After assuring I had done all I could to make my bed as safe an environment as possible, I began to really enjoy sleeping next to my baby. Breastfeeding was going well. I woke just enough to breastfeed or check on my baby and I'd go right back to sleep. More importantly, my son was sleeping great. I knew I was tending to him during the night, but our sleep cycles must have been in sync, because once I made the decision to share my bed, I always felt well-rested and could never remember exactly how many times we had woken up during the night.
Once my second child was born, I was pretty committed to the practice of bed sharing being right for our family. But to make it even more comfortable, we chose to sidecar our crib. Basically, we had a three-sided crib and we attached it very snugly onto our bed and put the mattresses to both on the same level. My daughter had her own sleep space, but when she wanted to breastfeed, I could just shift my upper body into the crib with her. My son was still sleeping with us most nights, and he would sleep between my partner and me. This system worked incredibly well for us. I didn't have any sleepless nights at the beginning like I had with my son. I was confident that we were doing what was best for all of us.
It took a lot of trial and error and research and worrying to get to the solution, but bed sharing was definitely one of the best decisions I made as a new mom, and I'm so glad I did.