Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Sleep my sweet baby...

Yes, I have read the Adam Mansbach book "Go the Fuck to Sleep," which looks like a cute little children's book from the cover, but slowly dissolves into verbal diarrhea with each passing page. And yes, I giggled quite a bit, as I'm sure we've all said a version of this sentence (in our heads!) to our children when bedtimes become frustrating.

Sleep is probably one of the biggest concerns that parents have about their children. You'd think we would worry more about character development, physical activity and healthy eating. But no, it is sleep. How long, where, when and with whom.

I have written about this a few times (see this post, and follow-up post), but have been prompted to write again by a good friend and an interesting blog I have recently discovered.

Specifically, I wish to address co-sleeping, or what we are now calling "bed sharing." Co-sleeping means having your baby in the same room, but in their own bassinet/crib/bed. Bed sharing is when your baby/toddler sleeps in the same bed as you do. This post is not meant to convince you to bed share. I have complete respect for parents who choose their own path, and I hope that they have the same respect for me. The aim of this post is to dispel some myths, and try to open the lines of communication on a popular practice that seems to be condemned by media and many parenting "experts."

Bed sharing or co-sleeping is a hot-button topic. Most public health agencies are against bed sharing, but support co-sleeping (see the City of Ottawa website: "it is unsafe for your baby to sleep with you or anyone else, at any time") In a 2010 segment on CBC's The Current, Richard Haber, the Director of the Pediatric Consultation Centre at the Montreal Children's Hospital, claimed that bed sharing is dangerous - he compared it to driving without your seat belt on. I answered quickly with a letter to the CBC, which was later read on air. I don't have a copy of it, but I vaguely remember writing something like "I wish so-called experts would stop trying to tell me how to parent my child."

Let's take a poll right now (leave your reply in a comment below) - how many of you have shared a bed with your infant, even just once? I'll bet a million bucks that most of you will say you have shared a bed, even for just part of a night. And so, if it's so dangerous, why is everyone doing it and why aren't more babies dying as a result?

Let's take a look at some of the arguments against bed sharing:

1) It's dangerous, as we heard from Dr. Haber. The CBC piece was done in response to the second of three inquests into the deaths of infants who died when they were sleeping with their parents.

2) Your sex life will dwindle away to nothing

3) Your child will forever be dependent on you to go to sleep and stay asleep

4) Your infant will grow up to be spoiled and needy

Let's address these arguments one by one (and I encourage everyone to add anything they think I've missed). Is it truly dangerous? When we look at the deaths that have occurred with babies in bed, we tend to find specific reasons for the unsafe situation. These include alcohol/drugs, smoking, water beds, too much bedding, or sleeping on soft surfaces such as a couch. And as devastating as this situation must be for parents, we also know that babies can die from SIDS, tucked away nicely in their cribs.

Second argument: sex. First of all, in the early days, you will probably not be having very much sex. You will be sore, tired and most likely not very interested! As time goes on, perhaps you will become more interested in relations with your hubby. So after you put your sweet sleeping baby into your bed, then what?  Go somewhere else! I'm sure you have a guest bedroom, and if you don't, there's always the couch. Finding a different location took all of about two seconds of creative thinking, didn't it? You probably need ways to spice up your sex life at this point, so there you go (maybe even the kitchen table??)

Third argument: dependency. Yes, your child depends on you. And just because night has come, this dependency doesn't go away. Babies who share a bed with their parents usually have the same needs as babies who sleep alone in their own room - they want their parents around to help them fall asleep and stay asleep. And parents who decide to share a bed do not end up in a lifelong battle for sleep with their children - at some point down the road, you WILL be able to gently help your child wean from your arms, then from your bed (if they don't just do it by themselves, which many children do). You will know when that time comes, and you can respectfully support your child in becoming more independent.

Finally, there is a myth that children who share a bed with their parents are spoiled and needy. There is a lot of research out there showing otherwise (check it out here), and in fact, bed sharing infants seem to become well adjusted adults, with higher self esteems and a better ability to handle stress.

If you are considering a bed sharing arrangement, I would get your hands on some quality information about how to practice "safe sleep." There are countless articles, books and websites out there for you to read. The basics are:

- never sleep with your child if you are taking drugs or drinking alcohol. Your ability to sense your child's movements in bed will be significantly impaired.

- if your hubby is a heavy sleeper, have your baby in between you and the wall (or you and a mesh bed rail).

- most parents find it easiest to get rid of the bed frame for a while, and just sleep on a mattress on the floor. This reduces the incidence of babies falling out of bed (but don't forget that your infant is not going to be able to roll around much - this becomes more of a worry when they are a few months older)

- never sleep with your child on a water bed, or other cushy surface (e.g. your couch). Your baby's face could get smooshed in a corner and they could suffocate

- make sure your mattress is nice and firm, and that there are minimal blankets and pillows. For a while, you and your hubby should each have a separate blanket, which they should be thin and breathable (or, if you wear warm pajamas, you could even go without blankets). You want to ensure that there won't be any way for your infant to get underneath a blanket

- do not share a bed with your baby if either of you are smokers

There are many more guidelines out there, and it's up to you to get the best possible information. In approaching a parenting decision, remember that YOU are the expert - no one else out there knows your child better than you do. And if you are not yet a parent, try to avoid saying things like "I would never let my child sleep in my bed".....because you most likely will, just as you will probably feed your child sugar, yell at them, let them stay up late, and occasionally let them run wild around the house in their birthday suit. We were all better parents before we became parents :o)


  1. We didn't plan to, actually I think we planned not to, but in the end bed-sharing was what worked for our family and we plan to do it again with this baby. I agree with all your points and from the research we had done, felt this to be a safe practice when the right precautions were taken. I was horrified when the public health nurse reprimanded our choice to bed share and quoted the Ottawa recommendation word for word (among other uncomfortable comments/subtle judgements), without acknowledging our judgement as parents and individuals who had done a lot of research on what would be best/safest for their baby. Especially in those early days, it was reassuring to have Juli next to me so I could hear her breathing, as I was tired jumping out of bed in a panic and standing over the crib and watching her sleep all night. Although I was worried about not waking up if she needed me, or perhaps I would forget she was there and hurt her, I learned quickly to how acute my mom-instinct in being aware of her presence and how I was able to respond best when I had her right there. I think it also helped me nurse (especially lying down) which helped with sleep deprivation and nursing longer. And despite all of us feeling closer as a family and becoming dependent on each other in that first year, it was only in the most positive way of affirming our new relationships - and we all seemed to know when the time was right to transition to the big girl bed in her own room. There were no issues of being spoiled, etc and I'm grateful that we ignored these comments/minor threats as we're all the more happier (and well adjusted, thank you very much) for it.

  2. We did the co sleeping thing where our boy slept in a bassinet right next to me. Now expecting a second baby I will just do what works best for her. I dont like to plan how I will raise or treat my kids ahead of time, since they are all different. Only a couple of times has my son slept in our bed but never over night. Even with him sleeping next to our bed my husband and I would still wake up freaking out cuz we thought we had rolled over the baby. It was all a trick of the sleepless mind! LOL!

  3. We co-sleep and bed share. Now D is in his crib and we spent most of the night co-sleeping in his room on a single mattress right beside the crib! I loved it when he was little and continue to love the opportunities we get now.

    Also, Annie's blog is fantastic! I will introduce you to her sometime when the opportunity arises! You should maybe come out on our next girls night out!

  4. good topic! I'm a big fan of the 'whatever works' way of parenting. Our kids had their beds in our rooms for a year or more, shared our bed for part of that, got their own rooms, moved back again and around and around it goes. Physical dangers aside, I think the emotional satisfaction that comes with doing what works for your child, makes the family happy and the parents well-rested spills over into the rest of the scene. I have also found a great onslaught of advice from folks who parented babies decades ago to be incredibly annoying. They seem to know what works best for me too...funny thing is that the world is ever changing and we learn new things all the time. So many voices, so little time. If only we could trust our own inner voice that tells us what the right thing to do is... great post.

  5. I agree with above - a great topic.

    We have done both - co-sleeping and bed-sharing. We have even done both at the same time with a newborn alongside our bed nestled in a bassinet and a 1 1/2 year old in our bed. I am an advocate for parents choice. If you decide bed-sharing is something you want then both parents (if they are both sleeping in the same bed) need to be open to it. If one parent is nervous or can't sleep with a baby or child in the bed than it will most likely not work. It just worked really well for both my husband and I and our children seem to sleep more peacefully. Of course I agree certain precautions are necessary as you mentioned above re. safe sleep basics.

    On a side note, personally both methods of sleeping really helped with establishing and maintaining breastfeeding.


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