Safe Bed Sharing and How I Failed

Maybe “failed” is too harsh of a word. How I was “uninformed,” or, “ignorant of the risks,” or, “was clueless” would be more fitting. I have a two year old that still sleeps with me on a nightly basis, so I guess I didn’t “fail” at bed sharing, but I sure didn’t know how to do it safely when my little one was born.

Let me preface this for you:

I’m a first time mom, my husband has gone back to work, and my mother has gone back home. I’m left alone with my 1 week old baby who does nothing but nurse and cry. She nurses for 45 minutes, and I get a 45 minute break, and then she nurses for another 45 minutes. There are reasons for that that I had not yet figured out.

Anyway.

I was sleeping in 1 hour intervals, folks. ONE HOUR INTERVALS. I did not sleep for more than ONE HOUR AT A TIME for several weeks. I just want to make sure that this is sinking in. One time, in that first month, I slept for two hours straight and felt like I had won the lottery. I thought, “How sad that two hours of sleep feels THIS good..” And that was my introduction to motherhood.

Let me tell you how prepared I was for my little one to not sleep in my bed. I spent well over $300 on a crib and bedding. We were gifted a bassinet. My mom bought us an Arms-Reach Mini Co-Sleeper. I had options upon options for “safe” infant sleep, but she wanted nothing to do with any of them. She hated the swing and the rock-n-play. Setting her in any type of baby container was a no-go.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want to have her in our bed, it was that I was terrified to have her in our bed. All I knew was that babies died in adult beds. They suffocate in blankets and pillows and adults roll over on them. I didn’t want that to be my baby, so at that point the natural inclination of my sleep deprived brain was to sleep on the couch with her. I slept on my back with her on my chest, and my arms folded around her bum. For two weeks we slept this way until one day I couldn’t take the exhaustion anymore. My arms fell to my side and my two week old infant fell off of the couch, face first, onto our hardwood floor.

I felt it happening but I couldn’t wake up fast enough to stop it. The splat! sound of your infant’s face on the floor is a sound that will make your heart jump up out of your throat. Immediately she cried, but settled down for me quickly. It felt like the thumping of my heart was vibrating my whole body. My ears were ringing and my hands were shaking. I felt like I was in slow motion. I must have said “I’m so sorry!” a million times. I didn’t see any immediate bruising or bumps but I called my mom in a panic. She assured me that mothers all over the world drop their babies at some point, and if she was eating and acting normal, she was probably okay, but to keep a close eye on her.

At this point all I saw in my mind was the worst case scenario. News headlines flashed of my mugshot and the words “Involuntary Manslaughter” for neglecting to take my child to the emergency room after a fall.. or for accidentally cracking her skull on the floor.. something crazy like that. The things you think of when you are not in your right mind because of sleep deprivation.

Let me tell you something else, I told no one else this happened for two years. I was so ashamed, I could barely admit it. My kid was two years old, and obviously VERY normal, before I ever told her dad this story. And you know what? I still continued to sleep on the couch with her after this situation occurred. I just propped my arms up with pillows, or scooted myself so far into the couch that the baby basically had a cushion to herself.

However, had I known the safety guidelines for sharing the bed with my baby, I likely could have prevented this whole situation. In the second month of my sleep deprivation, I came across some information about safe bed sharing and I thought to myself “Duh. This makes so much more sense than what I’m doing right now.”  It was that day I learned that our sleep setup (sleeping on the couch) was actually where THE MOST infant suffocation deaths occur. In my fear of putting her in danger, I had made a decision that put her in more danger because no one had told me that safe bed sharing was possible. I had no idea that sleeping on the couch was worse than sleeping in the bed. That’s what anti-bed sharing propaganda leads you to do.

Instead of telling parents to NEVER EVER sleep with their babies, let’s tell them how to do so safely. It’s happening regardless of what sleep experts or the studies say. Many parents (myself included) probably made some mistakes the first few times. So let’s talk about to bed share safely. 

If you want to share the bed with your baby, please follow safe sleep guidelines. All sources are listed at the end of this post.

Healthy Mom, Healthy Baby

Baby should be healthy and full term. Parents who smoke, or are under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or medications that cause drowsiness should never bed share.

It is not safe for extremely obese parents to bed share.

Create A Safe Sleep Environment

Couches, recliners, futons, and waterbeds are never safe surfaces for sleeping with a baby.

Remove all extra pillows and blankets from the bed. Use one pillow per adult, and remove heavy blankets. If you’re using a light blanket or sheet, be sure to keep it at waist level.

Dress appropriately. Don’t wear clothes with long strings. In the winter time, button down pajama tops help keep breastfeeding moms warm from the waist up, while keeping your breasts accessible.

Make sure there are no gaps between the headboard/footboard and mattress, and no gaps between the mattress and wall (if your bed is against a wall). Ensure there are no small crevices between your bed and bed side furniture that baby could become entrapped in.

Some parents feel more comfortable placing their mattress on the floor until baby is able to safely crawl off the bed on his or her own.

No adults other than mom and dad should be sleeping in a bed with baby.

Adults with long hair should sleep with hair tied up or in a braid to prevent infant entanglement (this has actually happened!).

Place baby to sleep on his or her back.

Breastfeed If Possible

According to several sources, it is safer to bedshare if you are breastfeeding than it is to do so if you use formula.

A breastfed baby will instinctually sleep close to and facing her source of food, AKA: mom’s chest. Bottle fed babies are usually placed higher than chest level- usually around the pillow area of the bed. I can attest to the fact that my child would wake up from a dead sleep, every time, and cry if I dared turned my back to her. Breastfed babies are also less likely to wonder away from their food source, where they get could caught between the mattress and headboard/wall/bed side furniture.

Breastfed babies sleep lighter and wake more often than babies who take formula. Mom and baby’s sleep/wake cycles sync up while breastfeeding, making each more aware of the other, and the dyad sleep in a lighter, easier to arouse state.

Breastfeeding mothers are more likely to sleep in a side-lying position, facing their baby, and in a “protective” sleeping position. In this position, the mother’s arm stays above the infant’s head and curves around the body, keeping the baby close and at chest level.

If you exclusively bottle feed, try a side car setup like the Arms Reach Cosleeper so your baby is close, but in his or her own dedicated space.


I hope this list, though not exhaustive, was helpful if you decide you’d like to bed share with your baby. No matter if you bed share, co-sleep, or sleep separately, I’d urge you to NEVER sleep with your baby on a couch or recliner like I did. Every time I think about my innocent mistake that could have turned deadly, I thank my lucky stars that she fell off the couch instead of into the cushions. Please learn from my mistake and enjoy cuddling your sweet baby safely in bed every night!

Resources:

Bed Sharing and Formula Feeding

The Safe Co-Sleeping Check List

Safe Co-Sleeping Guidelines

Bed Sharing and Infant Sleep

Sleeping on Sofas is Deadly for Babies

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4 thoughts on “Safe Bed Sharing and How I Failed

  1. Why the recommendation against a futon mattress? Is a futon something different in the US? I personally recommend futons because they are firm, don’t have ‘roll-together’ problems and are usually made from natural fibres. They’re also easy using directly on the floor.

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    1. It may be a cultural difference? I think the fear here is if the infant is sleeping with an adult on the futon while it’s folded up into the couch position, he could roll or fall into a position where he is stuck between the adult and the upright back of the futon, unable to move or breathe.

      If the futon is laid flat like a regular bed mattress, it may be fine! I don’t have any experiences with futon style sofas, so I can’t off too much expertise on them, other than they are lumped in the same category as couches here.

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      1. Thanks for clarifying that! 🙂
        I’m in New Zealand and “Futons” here most often refer to the mattress used for a bed i.e. the same as in Japan (only not usually on the floor). There are futon sofa beds here but they’re rarely used as a bed or referred to as one and generally only used for guests.

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