Overall, I’m quite happy with the steps forward that modern parenting advice has taken these past few years. It is now well-established that the breast is best when it comes to feeding your baby, and that on-demand feedings trump scheduled nursing sessions. Infant massage and baby signing are becoming increasingly popular, and babywearing is no longer considered a fashion trend leftover from the Hippies. Natural birth, especially homebirths, is seeing a huge increase in interest. More parents are trying out the stay-at-home path, maybe even considering homeschooling. It’s generally accepted that positive parenting is ideal, compared to it’s-my-way-or-the-highway authoritarian styles. And even the most stoic experts are noting that’s there’s no such thing as spoiling babies.
But there is still work to be done, specifically in the arena of nighttime parenting. While it’s wonderful that the American Academy of Pediatrics has come out to say that it is preferable for parents to sleep in the same room as their baby, there is growing concern over the idea of bedsharing. So much so that some long-time supporters of the sleep practice are changing the language surrounding their research-backed advice to parents about the benefits of bedsharing. You may begin reading more cosleeping experts using the phrase “keep baby within arm’s reach,” rather than coming out and saying its okay to share your bed.
Of course, this being only if you’re also breastfeeding.
You can follow up on this more yourself, but renowned cosleeping expert Dr. James McKenna of the Notre Dame Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Lab only recommends bedsharing with young infants if mother is exclusively breastfeeding. I add to that, that mothers also need to be breastfeeding on demand and holding their baby much of the time and, if possible, give birth naturally without mental interference of pain drugs. This ensures that the mother has the best possible burgeoning relationship with her baby, because mother-infant behaviors in the bed demand an intimate awareness of one another.
I cannot imagine not having the option of bedsharing with my babies. My sanity depends on getting adequate sleep, and I rely on the convenience of snoozing while nursing to do so. In addition, a great deal of bonding is lost if parents only focus on being physically close and emotionally responsive during the daylight hours and not the other half of the day.
But the question surrounding bedsharing is, is it safe? The answer: Yes, of course, as long as you take precautions. It’s the same as with nearly everything else. For example, water poses a risk of drowning or scalding, but safety measures ensure a fun and safe bath.
Attachment Parenting International has published these guidelines as part of its Infant Sleep Safety Campaign:
- Always place your baby to sleep on her back
- Choose a firm mattress without bed covers near the face, stuffed animals, and other loose fluffy items
- Never place your baby on a couch, recliner, beanbag chair, fold-out or pull-out couch, inflatable bed, or waterbed to sleep
- Adjust clothing and room temperature to keep baby from overheating
- Use a fan to help circulate the air and keep the environment cooler
- Never leave your baby alone on an adult bed; use a mattress on the floor if you don’t have access to a crib or bassinet, not a carseat
- Place baby next to mom, not between mom and dad; do not allow siblings, non-primary caregivers, or pets sleep with baby
- Use approved side rails or bed extenders if mattress is on a frame/box springs
- Fill any gaps between the mattress and the wall, headboard, or footboard.
Article by Rita Brhel
Rita Brhel is a stay-at-home mother to three children. She is also a WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counselor for the Community Action Partnership of Mid-Nebraska, the Publications Coordinator for Attachment Parenting International, the managing editor of the Attached Family magazine, an API Support Group Leader, PSI Postpartum Support Coordinator, Sidelines High-Risk Pregnancy Peer Counselor.
Rita has written 41 awesome articles for Natural Family Today.