Practical Parenting: The Family BedPosted: August 31, 2011
I don’t remember the first time I realized that the practice of the family bed existed, but I certainly remember my attitude toward it. It was the same I’ve heard time and time again — that it was dangerous, that co-sleeping fosters dependence — if you bring the child into the bed, they’ll never leave, that overall, it was just…weird. Oh, and you’ll never have sex again. I heard that one a lot.
I knew that I would want my baby in my room, and I knew that was better for her than across the hall. I’d read about all the benefits, like a reduced risk of SIDS, less time getting up and down in the night, etc. I even went to all the trouble of getting a heirloom bassinet, which had been handcrafted by my late grandfather. My biggest fear in late pregnancy was that I wouldn’t get the bassinet mattress on time, and would have no place for her to sleep. I was that dedicated to her sleeping in a cradle. But she most certainly wasn’t sleeping in our bed. It was too dangerous.
Then, she was born — and she didn’t want to sleep in the cradle, and even next to my bed felt too far away that first night. I felt so…empty…without her close. And I just loved her so much, it was unbearable, and I wanted her in my arms. So into bed with us she came. And she’s still there today, five months later.
At first, I did it with a conflicted heart. I had been told about the dangers of bed-sharing — she seemed so tiny, and us so big, wouldn’t we roll over on her? — I was even told that if anyone found out about it, I might get her taken away. My mother, who stayed with us the first week after Sweet Pea was born, kind of shook her head at it, but otherwise seemed to write it of as a sweet new mother thing (but she still asked the midwife about it to make sure it was safe). At first, I told most people, even my pediatrician, that she slept in the bed with me. It felt so natural to have her there, I kind of thought everyone would accept it as an instinctual maternal thing. And at first, they did — but as she got older, I started to feel a lot of pressure to get her into her own bed.
So I started to hide it. When we traveled, I took along the Rock N Play sleeper to make it look like she was sleeping in her own bed. When people started to ask about where she slept (which happened a lot for some reason), I started to say, “we have a little cradle in our room.” (Notice that I didn’t specifically say she slept in it.) Every few weeks, I would commit to myself that I was going to get her in her own bed, that it was truly better for her that way. I didn’t want her to become too dependent on it to sleep. But in reality, bed-sharing was just so much easier. Especially when I learned how to nurse laying down.
It wasn’t until recently that I finally admitted to myself that I’d like to continue to bed-share. Even at five months, I still feel like having her close, and she sleeps best snuggled up to me. And I sleep better, too. And as it turns out, there’s even evidence to suggest she’ll be even more independent because of it.
If you want your baby to sleep in a crib, I won’t tell you not to. I think the best arrangement is what works for everyone — father, mother, and baby. Everyone’s wishes should be considered.
But I also think that there’s a lot of negative feedback about bed-sharing out there, and the truth is, it’s a very natural thing to fall into. I didn’t think I would bed-share, but, like so many other things, my feelings changed when I actually had my baby. I felt so connected to her, like she was still part of me. I couldn’t (and still can’t) imagine putting her to sleep in another room. I was really surprised by that, and you might be too. And if you do find yourself desiring to pull your baby into bed, I would encourage you to try it (but do it safely). You might be surprised at how much you actually enjoy it. And you’re definitely not alone.
And if you’re worried about your sex life, remember — bed-sharers have subsequent children, too.