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Our Bed Sharing Journey

Beth Svarovska
Guildford Great Britain
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 25, No. 2, 2008, p. 27

The idea of sleeping with our baby came up in our antenatal classes. "That's risky for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, isn't it?" said one of the parents-to-be. Those were my thoughts exactly. But as had happened many times during our course, the teacher challenged us to find out more before making a judgment. So my husband and I read Three in a Bed by Deborah Jackson, and that's where our journey of baby-centered parenting began. The book is very well researched, drawing on medical, anthropological, and historical evidence to argue convincingly that a baby has a need to be close to her mother. Jackson believes that fulfilling this need during sleep can help a baby develop to her full potential and lead to a close bond with her parents. I formed a mental picture to help me make sense of it. I imagined the delicate brain of my baby making neurological connections that will be with her for life. Then I imagined the disruptive effect that regular flooding by anxiety and stress hormones might have on that complex and growing system, such as might be triggered by regular crying if she is to wake me while lying in another room, or from lying lonely in the dark. Then I imagined the "happy hormones" flowing when she feels safe and relaxed. I know that's how I want her to feel -- so she can focus, unruffled, on her job of growing up.

We were obsessive about safety. My husband and I had a cellular blanket each (which we tested to make sure they were breathable), sheets tightly tucked in, no gaps for baby to fall into, no soft toys, hardly any pillows, and we dressed Abigail appropriately for the temperature (allowing for the extra warmth she would get from us). We don't smoke, drink, or take drugs. Of course, Abigail was put on her back to sleep so I felt we had fulfilled safe sleeping guidelines to the best of our ability. When Abigail was sleeping and started rooting to breastfeed, I woke up instantly. She rarely got to the point of waking up, let alone crying. In the early weeks, my husband switched on the bedside light so that I could help Abigail to latch on, but soon we were able to do this in the dark. Initially I sometimes found it hard to to sleep after feeds. Since Abigail and my husband were both asleep I felt as if I should be "on watch" making sure she was okay. At least I could listen to her breathing while lying in bed rather than sitting up in the cold next to her crib.

I only truly relaxed into sharing a bed with Abigail after a few weeks when she demonstrated that she felt safe and comfortable with the arrangement. Even though she couldn't roll consciously, she consistently shuffled her way over to me during the night and snuggled up close. Then I was glad that we had persevered -- she was where she wanted to be.

As the months went by, I really came to appreciate the benefits of sleeping together. Abigail would only have to be put down in bed with the light off and me next to her and she would sleep. She rarely woke up crying during the night at any age, and when she did it was because she was either ill or teething. After a few months, breastfeeding became so easy at night that I barely woke. The ease of night feeds has been a key factor in helping us to breastfeed for longer, which is beneficial for both of us. Lack of sleep hasn't been an issue for my husband or me since the very early weeks.

Having a king size bed with a firm mattress has been a real help in making bed sharing practical and comfortable. It is lovely to have our baby close, to know that she feels happy and safe, and to feel a deep mutual bond with her. My husband and I have had to be quite creative about finding private time together, but I guess that applies to most new parents! A good night's sleep for all the family is important -- for some this will mean separate rooms, a bedside crib, or bringing the baby into bed at some point during the night once she has awakened.

In our experience, opting to sleep with Abigail for the whole night has enabled us to plan our sleeping environment for maximum safety and comfort for all of us, and to gain the benefits of generally unbroken sleep, even with a very young baby. It's only a short period in Abigail's life that she will want to sleep with us. She is a toddler now and we are beginning to feel that it will soon be time to prepare her own bed, so she can climb in there with her teddy bears whenever she wants to. I have several friends whose toddlers have opted for their own beds without the slightest fuss when they were ready. Like other chapters in life, I expect I will feel a little sad when this one has passed. However, I feel that bed sharing has contributed to giving Abigail the start in life that she would have asked for if she had been able to speak. We've accepted, respected, and fulfilled her need to be close as a tiny person, and we will happily settle her into her own bed when she feels grown up enough to move away.

Adapted with permission from LLL GB News

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