A sudden shove. A poke in the eye. A kick in the ribs. What a lovely way to shatter a perfectly beautiful dream.
No, this isn’t war I am describing. Only, just another day in my bed that I share with my child.
Yes! I co-sleep and bed-share. And it isn’t a bed of roses (pun fully intended)!
What is co-sleeping?
Co-sleeping is, simply put, sleeping near the child.
You can co-sleep by
- Bed-sharing – sleeping on the same bed as the baby.
- Crib/cot/bed in the same room – Sleeping in the same room as the baby, on different beds.
- Side-car arrangement – Baby sleeps on crib, but one side of the crib is lowered so that it can be placed alongside the bed.
- Child led co-sleeping – Child sleeps in separate room, but parents welcoming child into the parents’ bed whenever child wants to co-sleep.
- The primary benefit of bed-sharing is to promote extended breastfeeding. Breastfeeding parents have to pull themselves out of bed on numerous occasions throughout the night and try to stay awake while their infant feeds; doing this night after night can be exhausting, causing many parents to give up breastfeeding altogether. This is why many parents see bed-sharing as a viable option; the baby can feed while the mother can get more sleep.
- The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine supports bed-sharing when it comes to breastfeeding. And last year, a study published in JAMA Pediatrics suggested that mothers who regularly bed-share with their infants are more likely to breastfeed for longer. Numerous other studies have reached the same conclusion.
- Pediatrician Dr. William Sears is possibly the most famous advocate for bed-sharing, after openly supporting the practice in The Baby Bookin 1993. "Put yourself behind the eyes of your baby," Dr. Sears told The Huffington Post in 2011. "Ask, 'If I were baby Johnny or baby Suzy, where would I rather sleep?' In a dark lonely room behind bars, or nestled next to my favorite person in the world, inches away from my favorite cuisine?" Indeed, your child develops a secure attachment, with immediate hunger satiation and lesser crying.
- Diana West, of La Leche League International - a nonprofit organization that promotes breastfeeding - says:
"Bed-sharing works so well because breastfeeding mothers and babies are hardwired to be together during vulnerable sleep periods. When they bed-share, the baby's happier and doesn't have to cry to get the mother's attention, and she doesn't have to get out of bed - she just latches the baby on and maybe even falls back to sleep."
How can you make sleep time safe for your baby?
The rise in incidence of SIDS cases have cast a spotlight on baby sleeping arrangements in recent times. There then arises the question – how can baby sleep be made safer?
Let us address this first.
- Babies should sleep on their back, always.
- The sleeping surface should be firm, tightly pulled and devoid of pillows, and loose bedding or blankets.
- Use of bumpers, and soft toys should be avoided in the cot or sleeping area.
- If the baby is sleeping near the wall, ensure there are no gaps between wall and mattress.
- Baby should always be sleeping on a flat surface, and not on couches or recliners and similar furnitures.
- No swaddles, or restrictive clothing and blankets must be used.
How can you bed-share safely?
For bed-sharing to be considered safe, the following have to be kept in mind.
- The parent/care-giver who co-sleeps should not be a smoker or have smoked during pregnancy, since this increases risk to baby’s life.
- Do not bed-share with the baby if you are over-tired, drunk, or are under the influence of sedatives or drugs – potentially any situation where you are less aware of the baby.
- Very small or premature babies may fare better sleeping in the same room on a separate surface.
- Baby is safest when sleeping near the breastfeeding parent.
- Older babies should sleep away from babies lesser than a year old.
- Do not swaddle your baby, it causes overheating and prevents baby from being able to move his arms and legs to call for attention.
- Care-givers who are obese and less aware during sleep, or those who sleep very deeply should avoid bed sharing.
- Some authorities specifically recommend co-sleeping without bed-sharing, since they feel that not bed-sharing is the easiest way to eliminate any risks of bed-sharing. For example, the American Academy of Pediatrics says, “Room-sharing without bed sharing is recommended— there is evidence that this arrangement decreases the risk of SIDS by as much as 50%.”
How do you transition from bed-sharing to child’s own bed?
- Shift a single bed to the floor, to avoid child falling out of bed.
- If you choose a bed, use bed rails and ensure the mattress is a correct fit for the bed.
- Keep the bed and the area around it clear of soft items that may pose a suffocation risk.
- Keep telling your child how proud you are, of their big move and keep them involved in all the related planning.
- Involve your child in setting up the new bed – take them shopping to buy the bed and bedding, and involve them while you set up their new sleep area. Your child is readier to make the move when they feel that they have been part of the decision making.
- Throw a party maybe, to celebrate the move? It is all about making it fun!
- Wait until you sense that the child is ready. Some children are ready by 2 and others ready by as late as 6. It depends entirely on the child and as a parent, the sense of independence you instill in them.
- Fret not, if they initially shift to their own bed/room, but still want to crawl into your bed at times. Allow it, and it will stop soon enough.
If your child is going to start sleeping in their own room, these are a few additional points you need to keep in mind.
- Safety locks on windows that do not have grills
- Power cords tucked away safely.
- Plug point covers to prevent electrocution.
- Attaching furniture to the walls to prevent furniture tipping over.
- Choking hazards, medicines and cleaning fluids to be kept out of the room, out of reach.
- Removing any ladders or chairs from the bedroom that child could climb on.
- Safety gates for stairs.
- Consider investing in a baby monitor so that you can hear your child if they awaken in the middle of their sleep and have trouble going back to sleep.
We hope these tips help you transition your child to their own bed soonish!
Finally, as for my 4.5 year old, he emphatically declared a couple of days back that he does not want to ever sleep alone, and that he is going to breastfeed until he can reach up to touch the fan.
Oh well, all babies will grow up someday, I suppose! And so we continue to wait, on our bed of thorns.