If you have a baby on the way or are a brand new mom, you may wonder why anyone would give up their space and alone time in bed when it’s so frowned upon by doctors and mom-shamers alike. Most of the time when you bed-share, you have to keep an extra watchful eye on the monitor to make sure your baby is staying put when you aren’t in bed, it becomes a hassle to crawl in and out of bed without waking them up, and you can forget about doing anything romantic with your partner (at least in the bedroom). So why would people even bother?
When done safely, bed-sharing with your baby can allow mom to get more rest- especially if she’s breastfeeding. By setting up a mat in the bed with a few diapers and wipes, there’s virtually no need to get out of bed all night (other than for the extra bathroom trips from the fluids keeping up milk supply). This makes for a more rested mom and, if your baby is anything like most, a more rested baby having mom snuggled up with them all night long.
Not only does bed-sharing have the potential of giving mom and baby slightly more rest, but studies show it can actually reduce the risk of SIDS. Research on this topic is conflicting, but for the most part studies show that having mom nearby (perhaps through her movement, perhaps through her CO2 release, etc.) signals to the baby’s brain to arouse, ultimately keeping the baby breathing. According to Dr. William Sears, a “group of researchers found that mom and baby share similar patterns of sleep arousals [when bed-sharing], what we call “nighttime harmony. They drift in and out of sleep stages in a similar, but not always identical, pattern”. In keeping the baby’s brain “on its toes”, it reduces the risk that the baby will stop breathing altogether.
Another pro when it comes to bed-sharing is the bonding experience. Whether you sleep with your baby for 2 months or 3+ years, there is nothing better than snuggling up to your sleeping child. Trust is established by having you there to respond immediately to their every need. Also, the closeness and cuddling promotes the release of oxytocin in both mom and baby, reinforcing that bond.
If you choose to bed-share, the safest way to do it is to ensure your mattress isn’t soft enough that your baby could suffocate if they’re on their stomach, while avoiding having too many pillows and blankets. Using no pillows or blankets and wearing warmer PJs is always the safest option while bed-sharing. In addition, ensure that there are no gaps that your baby could fall through. Even if your bed is up against a wall, be sure that the crack between the wall and the bed isn’t large enough for your baby’s arms or legs to get wedged in. If your bed isn’t against a wall, using a bed rail is a good way of preventing a fall. But remember- once your baby can roll, crawl and/or pull themselves up, the bed rail is only good if they’re completely asleep. Bed-sharing also becomes unsafe if anyone in the bed is sleeping under the influence of alcohol or drugs (sleep inducing medicine included).
The choice to bed-share is ultimately a personal decision, and you should do what works best for your family. This will ensure the happiness and rest of everyone, while also establishing a safe sleeping environment for your baby/child. Doing what’s best for your child is the most important thing to remember.