One of the sweetest, most peaceful images in the world is that of a sleeping baby. But when people zoom out of that photograph and see the actual setting of where the baby is sleeping, that can cause a cacophony of debate and anger.
Many people have lots of opinions about where a child should sleep, and there are good reasons for that. There are real dangers that the baby could face, and moms have tragically lost their little ones due to sleep-related accidents or issues. Babies are very vulnerable, and that includes when they are sleeping.
But safe sleep can occur in a variety of settings, and parents these days are choosing to return to an old tradition and letting the baby stay in the bed with mom and dad. In many parts of the world, this doesn't have a name — it's just where the baby sleeps — but in the U.S., it's called co-sleeping or bed-sharing. The practice has gotten a bad rap in the past few decades because of tragedies, and the American Academy of Pediatrics frowns on it and instead recommends room-sharing using a bassinet or a co-sleeper crib that attaches to the bed.
But co-sleeping has a lot of benefits, and a lot of families find it to be the best solution for them. Here are 12 things co-sleeping moms want other moms to know.
12 We Know The Statistics
The reason that co-sleeping is frowned upon in some circles is because of statistics and anecdotes of babies dying because they were in suffocated in their parents' bed. For the most part, moms who co-sleep are very aware of those statistics. They have heard the warnings. But they know that there are other parts to those stories.
For example, a study of infant deaths in 24 states between 2004 and 2012 showed that 74 percent of the deaths of babies under age 4 months were related to a sleep situation. But many of those were preventable if the mom and dad practiced safe co-sleeping. All too many involved alcohol or other substances, which impaired the parent's ability to be aware of their surroundings and to safely care for the baby.
The statistics may look bleak on the outside, but they also provide the answers as to how to co-sleep safely, and that is what we will go into in the next section.
11 We Understand The Dangers
For several decades, doctors and scientists have documented the dangers that babies face while they sleep. And their findings have greatly improved the survival of little ones. The Back to Sleep initiative implemented by the US National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in 1994 has reduced the incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome by half. That is certainly a success, and we are grateful for the research. It's saving lives, and giving a fuller picture of the problems than simply dictating that bed-sharing is unsafe and should be avoided.
In addition to encouraging parents to put babies to sleep on their backs, the campaign gives pointers on keeping other suffocation risks away from the baby, including pillows, blankets, crib bumpers and stuffed animals. Those same principles can be applied to safe co-sleeping, and that's exactly what moms who choose to co-sleep do. We understand the dangers and how to avoid them.
10 It's Normal Around The World
While parents in the United States can become very judgy about moms who choose to co-sleep, the practice is common around the world. In fact, it's really a first-world problem to worry about where the baby sleeps. In places like Africa and India, parents have little choice as to what to do with the baby, especially in the poorer and more rural communities. The baby sleeps with the family, often because the entire family sleeps together. There are millions of homes where there is one mattress for the entire family (or even no mattress), and a crib is a luxury that they cannot afford. Even in the more prosperous communities, babies are kept close all day and night, so sharing a bed is no big deal.
In some places in Europe, the idea of bringing baby home in a box to sleep in while in the bed with the mother is catching on. It allows the baby to stay close but claims a protective zone so that the parents won't roll over onto the baby or have to worry about other suffocation risks. It's the same idea of promoting safe co-sleeping, but it still allows the baby to stay in the bed.
9 We Get Cold
As we have mentioned before, most moms who co-sleep are well aware of the risks involved in infant sleep, and they take on special precautions to keep the baby safe. That means that many co-sleeping moms sacrifice a blanket and pillow because of the possibility of suffocation. It's a sacrifice they are willing to make for safer bed sharing, even if that means getting a little cold.
For months after having a baby, many moms experience hot flashes that leave them sweating through the night anyway. Plus, cuddling with their little one can keep them warm enough. Moms who co-sleep are willing to be a little cold to make sure that they are creating as safe a sleep environment as they can while still maintaining their bond. That may mean wearing some extra warm pajamas and making sure that the baby is snuggled up close, but that is safer that risking suffocation from a comforter.
8 We Get More Sleep
Many moms don't start off co-sleeping with the baby. That's usually because of those warnings and statistics we mentioned before. But at some point, keeping all the rules can make it impossible to sleep. Many moms are waking up every hour or so to breastfeed, and they have to cross the house, get the baby, get in a comfortable position to feed and then after the baby falls back asleep, they risk rousing them to get them back in the crib. The entire routine can take more than an hour and then the mom will have to repeat it just as soon as she falls asleep again. That doesn't even count the endless hours that parents spend getting up just to check to make sure the baby is OK.
More than one mom has given in to co-sleeping after nearly dropping the baby in the middle of the night during the tortuous trips to and from the crib. To have the baby close by, that can cut the night-time routine in half or more. Moms who co-sleep report getting significantly more sleep in the baby's first year of life. They are less likely to spend their days feeling like a zombie, and their nights are much more pleasant. It
7 Baby Gets More Sleep
The benefits of co-sleeping are also significant for the baby. While the baby may not sleep through the night, if the mom or dad attends to him right away, the baby can only rouse a little bit to let the parent know he's hungry. He doesn't have to fully wake up and howl to get mom and dad's attention, so during the feed, the baby is still drowsy and more likely to go back to sleep quickly. That may be as close to sleeping through the night than most babies experience for the first year of life.
Babies who get better sleep through the night tend to be more agreeable during the day, and they have lots of opportunities for their bodies and brains to recover at night. Every parent wants a baby who sleeps well, and that is definitely a benefit of co-sleeping. The entire family unit can get a good night's sleep and feel more functional, thanks to bed-sharing.
6 We Sleep Lightly
Many moms and dads are shy about bed sharing because they believe that they sleep too deeply and won't respond to the baby if they need to. They are even afraid of rolling on to the baby and suffocating it. First, let us mention that there are many infant deaths each year that result from tragic cases where the parent rolled over onto the baby, but that is rare, and usually alcohol or other controlled substances are involved. If a parent is under the influence, even if it is just pain medication while recovering from childbirth, it would be a good idea to use a bassinet or special equipment to keep the baby in a separate space.
But for most moms who co-sleep, they want you to know that there really isn't much danger of that. Moms who co-sleep don't sleep deeply enough to put their baby in danger. They rouse with their baby's movements, and research has shown that moms and babies who co-sleep get in sync in their sleep cycles so that there is no possibility that the baby will wake up or struggle without the mom knowing all about it.
5 We Find Other Times For Intimacy
Some people say that they could never imagine sharing a bed with a baby because if they did, they would never be able to have sex. But moms who co-sleep want everyone to know that just because they sleep with an infant at night does not mean that they don't get their loving in. They find other opportunities, occasions and locations for sex.
Intimacy is important in a relationship, especially when a woman and a man are struggling to work together to be good parents. They deserve some fun, and the baby doesn't have to get in the way, even if he is in the bed. Try the shower or go for a mid-day romp when the baby is napping in his crib. The baby won't mind. Co-sleeping moms still have plenty of sex. As evidence, there are plenty of parents who end up with baby number two on the way even while still sharing a bed with baby number one, so they are definitely finding a way to work in a little one-on-one time.
4 We Breastsleep
Breastfeeding is one of the hardest aspects of dealing with a newborn, and compounding that with the 24/7 schedule of parenting, and it's no surprise that only one out of every three moms who begin breastfeeding make it to the six month mark. But for women who co-sleep, it's a lot easier to make it through the long nights of feedings, and they are much more likely to continue to the baby's first birthday and beyond.
The idea has gotten so much credence that there is a new name for the phenomenon: breastsleeping. It's the idea of bed sharing for at least part of the night, bringing the baby into the bed to nurse in the side-lying position. The mom can rest and maybe even lightly snooze while the baby eat. The baby has an easier time latching when he isn't so upset after having to cry to get mom's attention. And he can get right back to sleep after he finishes nursing. Some moms transfer the baby to a bassinet afterward, but others let him stay put beside them, ready for the next nursing session.
3 We All Have Plenty Of Room
Most people who laugh at co-sleeping moms like to imagine a cramped bed filled with people and animals, pillows, blankets. They think that everyone has to sleep cramped together without room to stretch their legs or shift into a more comfortable position.
And while it's true that many times the baby kicks mom in the middle of the night, co-sleeping moms want everyone to know that there is plenty of room in the bed that their family shares. Making sure that there is room is part of making sure that the sleep environment is safe, so it is a must have for moms who co-sleep. While the baby will undoubtedly move around in his sleep, parents who feel like they don't have enough room in the bed for the baby will figure out another situation. Some families even construct elaborate huge platforms for mattresses so the entire family can sleep together. The point of co-sleeping is for everyone to have a better night sleep, and that certainly includes the ability to get comfortable.
2 We Don't Admit It
The statistics on co-sleeping are hard to nail down. That's because of all the negative judgement given to parents who admit that they share the bed with the baby. They tend to lie to public health professionals, and recent studies have shown that they often won't admit it to their pediatrician. Lately, though, the pediatricians have become more astute at handling the issue.
New guidelines for doctors emphasize talking about safe co-sleeping instead of simply telling parents that it is not a good idea. The stigma against the practice has been so great that parents wouldn't admit that the baby ended up in their bed, and when that happened the doctors wouldn't have the opportunity to talk about the ways that a family can make sure that the bed is safe, including warning against medications or blankets. Parents are still reluctant to admit their sleeping situation, but these days most doctors still give them advice on how to make sure every place the baby sleeps is safe, and that is likely to save lives.
1 Our Babies Aren't Spoiled
Co-sleeping isn't about spoiling babies. In fact, research has proven that it is impossible to spoil a baby before the age of 6 months and nearly impossible to do so before the first year. There is other research, though, that shows how detrimental it can be to a baby to not provide for his needs as soon as you can. That is why most moms co-sleep — because they believe that they will be better able to meet their child's needs and take care of themselves.
Babies don't have a concept of their own space and other people's needs for privacy. Some may easily fall asleep in a crib and others may not, but that doesn't really matter when it comes to bed-sharing. It's more about finding the right solution for the family, and co-sleeping moms want everyone to know that just because some families feel most comfortable with separate sleeping spaces doesn't mean that the ones who share theirs are lazy or putting their children at danger. There are many ways to sleep safely, and keeping the baby close is a mom's prerogative. We all love our children, and that is all that matters.
Sources: Kids Health, What to Expect, Parenting, Today, National Sleep Foundation