I know, I know. Bed-sharing is dangerous, the pediatrician told me. I could roll over and crush my baby. She could fall out of bed. If she got used to sleeping in my arms or, worse, nursing all night, she might never sleep in her crib. All of this sounded very logical, and I decided that I was going to be a hardline crib mom well before I was even pregnant. Then I held my tiny daughter in my arms. And I never wanted to let her go. She felt the same, and screamed and screamed and screamed every time I tried to put her down. For months and months and months. This screaming struck me as perfectly reasonable. After all, she’d spent more time in my body than she’d spent outside of it. We were used to the beating of each other’s hearts. So a bed-sharing co-sleeping arrangement felt like a natural evolution, if not a well-deliberated decision. It felt right.
Those early days together were a slow cycle of eating and sleeping, with some crying and pooping to keep me on my toes. And most of that sleeping happened when my daughter was in my arms, or pressed against my chest in a baby carrier. Our bodies were connected all day long. It didn’t make any sense to push her away at night. And yes, I understand that the safe-sleep guidelines we have all studied say that co-sleeping is encouraged, but bed-sharing certainly is not. My solution, of sorts, was to just enter a higher-state of being where I, you know, barely slept and constantly monitored her breathing.
The worry with bed-sharing is that parents, or their bedding, will smother their child. In an October piece for USA Today, Harvey Karp cited CDC data that shows a four-fold increase in accidental suffocation and strangulation infant deaths since the 1990s, even as SIDS has decreased, largely because tired parents are bringing their babies to bed. The American Pediatric Academy revised its safe sleep guidelines a year ago to reflect bed-sharing behaviors. Co-author Lori Feldman told NPR, “We thought it was prudent to provide guidance on making the bed-sharing arrangement as safe as possible and provide guidance on what populations are most at risk when bed-sharing.”
I understood these safety guidelines intellectually, and I did give up sheets and a blanket for those first few months. But my fears about bed-sharing seemed to shrink every time I nestled my daughter’s tiny body against mine.
The new APA guidelines warn of the dangers of having any bedding near a baby, and of accidentally falling asleep in an armchair (the guidelines suggest it is safer to breastsleep in a bed).” So the advice is “do not bed-share, but if you must, make it as safe as you can.” I understood these safety guidelines intellectually, and I did give up sheets and a blanket for those first few months. But my fears about bed-sharing seemed to shrink every time I nestled my daughter’s tiny body against mine and felt her breath regulate and her cries subside.
I was not afraid of crushing her, because admittedly, I didn’t sleep very deeply. Worse than the every-two-hour feedings was the anxiety gnawing at my guts, promising me something was wrong. If my baby sighed, I was sitting straight up, cold-sweating. If she was quiet, I had my finger under her…