PARENTING: The taboo of cosleeping and bedsharing

“Don’t leave baby on a soft surface.”

“Baby should always have their own bed.”

“Don’t fall asleep with baby.”

If you have kids, then you’ve already heard the warnings time and time again from medical professionals, magazines and probably even your peers.

It’s the generic advice that’s given to every new parent, and it’s enough to strike immense fear into our hearts.

I swore that we’d never be “those parents.” The ones who don’t listen to conventional advice. I swore we’d follow all the rules, but it turns out, life isn’t as black and white as that advice assumes.

Sometimes, life has its grey moments, when nature tells you what’s best for your baby, not conventional wisdom.

So here we are now, becoming those parents who shy away from “the norm.” We’ve listened to our child more than we’ve listened to external forces and the result is clear: a happier, healthier and more nurtured child. Because sometimes, doing what the world considers “right,” just isn’t right for your family.

We are a bedsharing family. That means that every member of our family (Mom, Dad and Baby) all sleep in the same bed.

I promise you, we’re not members of a cult. We’re not weirdos (OK, well, everyone is kinda weird so…). We’re not sickos. We’re just two parents who listened to what their child wanted.

Here’s the backstory on that…

Aurora had her own bedroom in the beginning. But we felt safer keeping her in the bassinet in our bedroom while she was an infant. She was an amazing sleeper right from the first night home, and never had any issue with the bassinet. She stayed in the bassinet until she was around four months old, then we transitioned her to a crib.

We tried the crib in her bedroom first. No dice.

She wouldn’t even fall asleep. She’d just lay there hysterically crying for what felt like hours. She wouldn’t even nap there.

So then we bought a second crib (the lengths that we parents will go to…) and put it in our bedroom. The goal was to start her off in our room every night, and transition her to her own room once she felt comfortable. Nope.

She woke up every. single. time we tried to move her. She was irate.

So we just left the crib in our bedroom, and let her sleep there. When everyone sleeps in the same room, it’s called cosleeping.

Then, one night while we on vacation, she woke up in the middle of the night, screaming her lungs out from inside the Pack n’ Play (fun fact: most hotels will provide you with either a crib or a Pack n’ Play for free).

Instinctively, we pulled her into bed with us. She nestled right into our arms and passed out.

The following night, the same thing happened, and so on and so forth. So she stayed in bed with us for the entire trip.

Once home, we tried to get back into our routine but she wasn’t having it. Even on the rare occasion that she did fall asleep in the crib, she’d wake up at some point and scream until we pulled her into bed. Once in bed, she felt safe and comfortable and always passed right out. She’d sleep the entire night without a peep. My husband actually had to set alarms to make sure we woke up for her nighttime feedings – that’s how soundly she slept.

So we gave up. We stopped going against what felt natural to us. She wanted to be in bed with us and we had no problem with it, we just wanted to make sure she was safe. So we researched it. We looked into the history of it. And we came away feeling incredibly confident that we could do it while keeping everyone comfortable and safe.

What did we learn?

Bedsharing is a very controversial topic, and conventional medical advice strongly urges against it.

Why?

First, it’s a safety thing. There’s a fear of rolling over onto baby, baby suffocating under pillows/blankets and baby falling out of bed.

Second, it’s a culture thing. Beds are synonymous with intimacy, and it goes without saying that that’s inappropriate for children. Most people feel that it’s not proper for a child to sleep in bed with an adult, whether that adult is a parent or not. There’s also a cultural feeling that children shouldn’t climb into bed with their parents after a certain age, or else it’s inappropriate.

I care a lot less about the cultural stuff because, let’s be honest, people fucking suck anyways. People are always going to have their own opinions about your parenting methods, and you’ll never please everyone, so fuck ’em. But I was really curious why people were so hung up on separate beds and bedrooms.

Turns out, it’s a pretty modern phenomenon.

The History of Bedsharing and Cosleeping

“Sleep has been a communal activity for millennia,” according to an article published on the topic by Atlas Obscura. In the days before central heating and alarm systems, bedmates were a necessity.”

Guests were usually welcome in the family bed, servants slept with their masters, and men shared beds with other men without hesitation.

Fun fact: “In 1776, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams spent a night sharing a bed at a New Jersey inn which was largely passed bickering over whether to keep the window open or closed.”

Then comes the 16th century. “The wealthy had acquired a taste for beds, and they built them big, elevated, canopied, and curtained. In fact, the bed was often the most expensive item in the home—therefore few but the richest could afford more than one.”

So suddenly, separate beds becomes a status symbol.

But it was The Victorians who finally put an end to communal sleeping.

“The Victorian home abounded with rooms and was bisected into the realms of servants and masters. This marked a shift toward privacy that had been slowly taking place over the past two centuries. Individual bedrooms were assigned to each family member, and gradually the idea that communal sleeping was improper and downright immoral took hold and trickled down to the lower classes.”

“These separate spheres extended to the marital realm. Couples now not only had their own rooms, but their own beds as well. This offered the appearance of propriety that Victorians coveted. However, there was an even greater reason that his-and-her beds came into vogue: disease.”

“During the mid 19th-century, there were many anxieties about public health. It was thought that diseases generated spontaneously where foul water and air lived, and a sleeping body was a prime offender.”

The article continues, “In her housekeeping guide published in 1892, Mrs. Elizabeth F. Holt warned readers that “the air which surrounds the body under the bed clothing is exceedingly impure, being impregnated with the poisonous substances which have escaped through the pores of the skin.” There were other health concerns, too. One Dr. B. W. Richardson writing in 1880, advised that children not share a bed with an adult because the aged suck the “vital warmth” from children.”

So thanks to social status and good old fashioned propaganda, bedsharing and cosleeping became taboo.

How to Make it Safer

There’s no arguing that there are indeed safety concerns.

But with the right precautions, you can lessen them and make bedtime more comfortable and safe for everyone.

Here are some helpful tips (please also do your own research. I am not an expert or a medical professional, but this is what worked for us):

-Eliminate extra pillows and blankets. Keep blankets light. Keeping a minimalistic bed helps prevent suffocation.

-Don’t start bedsharing until baby has some mobility. If they’re not able to kick off the blanket, or roll over on their own, the suffocation risk is higher.

-Encourage your little to sleep in the middle of the bed, preferably between two parents. This will help reduce the chance of them falling out of bed.

-Minimize alcohol intake before bed, and always avoid drugs (including prescription drugs, cough/cold medicine and sleeping aids!). If you’re under the influence, you’re less alert and sleep much heavier.

-Keep the room cooler than normal. With all those people in bed, the body heat keeps things nice and toasty. Lowering the thermostat a few degrees will help prevent overheating.

-Once your child starts walking, let them practice getting in and out of bed by themselves during the day. It can be scary at first to let them attempt it, but the more confident/competent they are in doing it, the less likely they are to fall. Ro learned to get in and out by herself around 12 months old.

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