If you had asked me about bedsharing before parenthood, I would’ve repeated the same devastating news headlines that everyone hears in the media.
But when my midwife encouraged me to truly educate myself on safe bedsharing practices, I found my uneducated opinion to be exactly that — uneducated.
Knowing what I know now, and having successfully + happily bedshared for almost 2 years upon writing this, I’m sharing the safe guidelines that are a MUST for parents considering bedsharing.
Note: “Bedsharing” is sharing a sleeping surface with your child, whereas “co-sleeping” is sharing a sleeping room with your child.
Prerequisite: You need to be truly open to the idea.
If — for whatever reason — you agree that independent sleep is a developmental milestone + want to be close to offer your child comfort, but feel like you’re not okay with sharing a bed, then maybe co-sleeping is the better choice for you.
If you trust that independence is a developmental milestone + want to be close to offer your child comfort and you feel comfortable sharing a bed with your baby, then these guidelines are for you.
Prerequisite to discuss with your health provider: Baby was not born prematurely.Premature babies need mom’s touch + connection even more so, but their possible respiratory challenges may put them at a higher risk of unsafe bedsharing.
If your baby was born prematurely, then consult your team of health providers for a specific recommendation based on your birth circumstances.
#1: You must be breastfeeding.
Breastfed babies sleep differently from formula-fed babies, especially at the ages of 2-3 months. That age window is also the peak risk period for SIDS.
At this stage, a sleeping formula-fed baby is much harder to arouse than a sleeping breastfed baby. This matters significantly in bedsharing.
If a formula-fed baby were to slip under the covers accidentally while sleeping next to their mother, their chances of waking + alerting her of the danger are much lower than would be a breastfed baby.
Breastfeeding mothers also sleep differently than formula-feeding mothers. Breastfeeding mothers appear to be more in-tune to their babies during the night, which means they may be more easily aroused + more likely to wake if their baby ever stopped breathing or slipped under the blanket.
Breastfeeding mothers also tend to sleep in different positions — usually oriented more towards their babies + curling up around them in a way that creates a space with their bodies for baby to sleep in.
All of these reasons make it imperative that you only bedshare with your baby if you are breastfeeding. All formula-fed babies must have their own sleeping surface. You can still co-sleep with formula-fed babies.
#2: Both parents should be non-smokers.
And the mother should also not have ever smoked during pregnancy.
#3: Both parents should not have consumed any alcohol, recreational drugs or prescription drugs.
Alcohol + drugs alter your natural sleep states, so you would run the risk of hurting baby by rolling over onto them or not being alert enough to answer their cries if something was wrong.
My husband would have the occasional cocktail or beer with dinner, so he would sleep on the couch that night.
#4: Mom’s body should be able to feel baby’s movements.
If you are excessively obese or an exceptionally deep sleeper, co-sleeping would be the safer option for you. You want to be sure your natural body can feel baby touching you or hear baby crying for you.
#5: Parents should not be “overly tired”.
I was laughing when I first read that guideline, too. Use your best instincts on this one, but a good rule of thumb is that you should have not had less than 5 hours of sleep in the last 24 hours.
For times that you are overly tired, do co-sleeping with baby sleeping on his/her own designated bed.
You never want to be approaching a window of accidentally falling asleep with your baby.
#6: Mom is always the barrier between others + baby.
The baby should never be in the middle of the bed + the baby should never sleep next to the partner or any other siblings.
#7: Firm sleeping surface designed for sleep.
Sofas, hammocks, beanbags, waterbeds, recliners, etc. are all too soft + run the risk of suffocating baby. Remove any memory-foam toppers (and no memory-foam mattresses!) from your firm mattresses + you’ll be good to go.
Even though there might be a comfort adjustment for you, your back will thank you! Chiropractors advise against memory-foam materials + plush sleeping surfaces anyways.
#8: Guard against baby falling to the floor.
You can purchase safe sleeping mesh guardrails that attach to your bed, or inflatable bumpers that go under your bed sheets, if you’re concerned about baby rolling away from you on the open side of the bed.
Many parents choose to make their bed a “floor bed” by putting their mattress directly on the floor until baby can safely crawl up and down themselves.
#9: Sleep at breast-level.
Baby should sleep at the same level as mom’s breasts, not head-level. You want pillows far away from baby.
I chose to sleep on the edge of a small throw pillow tucked behind me (with a tightly fitted cover, not a pillowcase) for the first few months with baby, if I used a pillow at all. You get used to it!
#10: Keep blankets + loose clothing away from baby.
Eliminating the risk of smothering helps moms sleep better + helps baby to not overheat.
Make sure you have sheets that fit the size of your bed properly.
I actually wore an adult onesie for the majority of baby’s first year and it was AWESOME. I stayed warm (which is a feat because I’m always cold, even in summer) + the front zipper made breastfeeding access so much easier.
Whatever you do wear for pajamas, be sure to remove any drawstrings or things like bathrobe belts that could accidentally strangle baby. I just pulled mine out of the hood on my onesie + we were good to go.
#11: Tie long hair back.
Preventing smothering or strangling. My hair was in a low messy bun at the nape of my neck.
#12: Watch Mom + Baby’s positioning.
Mom’s position should create a protective frame around baby (see image below).
Baby should be put to sleep on their back without a swaddle. A baby is unable to swat away unwanted covers or alert an adult body that it’s getting too close if their arms are stuck in the swaddle.
What questions do you have about bedsharing?
I’ll be expanding upon my family’s bedsharing experience here on the blog. What else would you like to know?
Share in the comments + you’ll see your questions answered next!
Great supporting resources: