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What Every Parent Needs to Know About Safe Bed-Sharing

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Every parent, regardless of your stance on bed-sharing, needs to know one thing: how to do it as safely as possible. It is estimated that 80% of American families bed-share at least occasionally, and often without intending to do so

When parents bed-share unintentionally, what often happens is a parent is exhausted and either accidentally falls asleep with their baby, or desperate for sleep, they bring their baby into their bed even though they hadn't planned to do so.

A prepared bed, a prepared parent, and a plan are the key ingredients to safer bed-sharing.

How a Nurse Practitioner Accidentally Became a Bed-Sharer

In the middle of the night when my oldest was a newborn, one moment I was holding her in our bed and planning to put her back in her bassinet. The next thing I knew, I was waking up and laying next to her. I'll never forget how scared and thankful I was when I woke up, realized what had happened, and saw that she was fine.

I hadn't intended to fall asleep with her, it just happened! I was an exhausted new mom. I also happened to also be an experienced pediatric nurse practitioner who knew the risks of bed-sharing and had intended to never, ever bed-share. I (accidentally) blew it in the first month! 

I know many other parents can relate to the fright of waking up next to your baby, never having planned to fall asleep.

That experience with my daughter showed me the importance of planning for safer bed-sharing even if your intention is to not bed-share.  Why? Because you can't predict accidentally falling asleep

Co-Sleeping vs Bed-Sharing

Before we look at how to bed-share safely, we need to define some terms. Co-sleeping refers to sleeping in close proximity to your baby. It can mean sleeping in the same room as your baby, having your baby next to (but not in) your bed, or sharing a bed with your baby. 

So, for the sake of clarity, I prefer to use the term bed-sharing to mean a parent sharing a sleep surface with their baby. 

How to Bed-Share As Safely As Possible

There are a few key preparations that need to be made to bed-share as safely as possible. 

1. A prepared bed

2. A prepared parent

3. A plan

We'll take a look at each of these in detail. 

The scope of this post is not intended to answer the question of whether or not bed-sharing is safe. The bed-sharing question is something that each family needs to make their own informed choice regarding. 

This post is intended to help families who either choose to bed-share, or find themselves accidentally bed-sharing, to do it as safely as possible.

Safe Bed-Sharing: A Prepared Bed

Preparing your bed for safer bed-sharing is very easy, but does take some intention and thoughtful action.

  • No couches, recliners, or water beds - those are simply too dangerous. Only bed-share on a flat, firm mattress. 
  • No strings or cords: be sure phone chargers, window blind cords etc are safely out of reach - this is especially true with mobile babies and toddlers. 
  • Mind the gap: the space between the wall and mattress presents a risk for entrapment and suffocation. Either firmly pack the crack or move the bed at least a foot from the wall on all sides
  • Watch the height: some beds are quite high and present a significant risk should baby roll off the edge. 
  • Ditch the bedding. Extra pillows and heavy bedding are safety hazards for babies. Opt for a light blanket for yourself and don't cover baby. 

Even if you are not in the habit of bed-sharing, if you think there is even the slightest risk you may unintentionally bed-share, it is worth it to take a few minutes to prepare your bed and make it as safe as possible. 

If you are a bed-sharing family, preparing your bed is essential to keep your baby as safe as possible during sleep.

Safe Bed-Sharing: A Prepared Parent

Preparing the bed for bed-sharing is very important, but preparing yourself is equally important. There are a few instances when parents should not bed-share:

  • If anyone in the home smokes, or if mom smoked during pregnancy. Smoke exposure is a known SIDS risk factor
  • No alcohol or medications with drowsiness as a side effect. Also, bed-sharing is a no-go if you are too exhausted to awaken easily should your baby need you.
  • There is some evidence (that is not conclusive) that bed-sharing is safer for breastfed babies than for bottle-fed babies

Safe Bed-Sharing: A Plan

Whether or not you intend to bed-share, having a plan is a must! 

  • No swaddles. A baby who bed-shares needs their arms free to reposition and push away any covers that may creep over his or her face. 
  • Baby on his or her back: Even when bed-sharing, babies should still be placed on their back for each sleep.
  • No children or pets. When bed-sharing with young babies, it is important that no other children are in the bed, and that no pets are in the bed. 
  • If you are feeding your baby in a recliner or sofa and you feel sleepy, either put your baby down in a safe place or move to a prepared bed.

Safe Bed-Sharing Wrap-up

To bed-share as safely as possible, it is essential to have a prepared bed, a prepared parent, and a plan. 

If you have chosen to bed-share, doing so as safely as possible is quite important!  But even if you have chosen not to bed-share, it is still vitally important to know how to do it as safely as possible and to have a prepared bed and a plan. As I shared in my own story, any parent can accidentally fall asleep and bed-share without intending to do so.

For more information on safer bed-sharing, the La Leche League has a great resource page. The American Academy of Pediatrics also has advice for preparing your bed safely

Are you ready to make sleep a thing at your house, but feel stuck or unsure how? Working with parents 1-1 to take the stress out of baby and toddler sleep is my joy.

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