Maximizing Family Sleep: Embracing Bedsharing Safely and Responsibly

Maximizing Family Sleep: Embracing Bedsharing Safely and Responsibly

Let's talk about your new family's sleepIf I were to stand up in a room full of parents and say the word ‘bedsharing’, it’s likely that within 5 minutes, there would be an ‘interesting’ debate going on. But since I’m among friends and fellow advocates here, let’s talk about bedsharing.
Let’s talk about bedsharing from the perspective that it is culturally normal in most of the world.
Let’s acknowledge that it’s prevalent, also that it is often chosen by informed parents who wish to maximise their sleep, facilitate easier night feeds, and provide close, responsive care to their little ones. Finally, let’s assume for the record that we’re all in favour of it, as long as there are no risk factors. Bedsharing can be fabulous, and a wonderful tool to address a specific sleep concern, even if you don’t plan on making bedsharing your family’s long term sleep arrangement. Some of the reasons it can be helpful (as I’m sure you’re all aware), include: • Faster and easier settling during extreme fatigue. • A chance to reconnect overnight if you’ve been separated from your child in the day. • It is often easier to place limits on night feeds for a nursing toddler within the context of the family bed. • It can calm a very sensitive child and support secure attachment. • It can be a bridge to facilitate more independent sleeping, through the use of bedsharing in your child’s room (if they are old enough). However, bedsharing is not the answer to all sleep dramas, and the best place to discuss this is somewhere where the community understands the beauty of bedsharing. Discussing this in a safe place means that the answer you get when bedsharing is no longer working, or not an option is not a non-responsive one! I run into all kinds of scenarios where bedsharing is not the answer. Here are the main ones, and some tips to help if you identify with any of these.

It’s not safe or appropriate for you to bedshare.

Let's Talk About Bedsharing Currently, the recommendations are that you should not share a bed with your baby if they were born prematurely, you smoke, drink or take drugs which could make you sleepy, or are not exclusively breastfeeding.
I’m acutely aware of how triggering that list may be for many people. We simply don’t have enough evidence for the groups and scenarios mentioned, so for now, an independent sleep space is safest.
Being a responsive, gentle parent isn’t a club where you have to tick all the boxes to be a member. You can be just as responsive and attachment-focused if you take strong sedating painkillers, formula feed or your partner smokes. One option is to use a floor bed or co-sleeper crib, so you can snuggle right up close to your little one.

You can’t switch off.

I know this sounds really obvious, but one of the main reasons for bedsharing is to maximise sleep. If you lie there awake because of hypervigilance, or you find yourself waking up frequently to check your baby, then you may find you sleep better separately. If you’re worried about bedsharing, it may help to have a discussion with someone about your specific situation so you can make an informed choice about it, and ask any questions that might ease your fears.
Hypervigilance is sometimes associated with trauma and anxiety, so I strongly encourage you to get some help for this if you can.

Your baby or child is super wriggly.

We nicknamed our second child ‘Spider’ as she was so wriggly! Sometimes, a new onset of nighttime movements can indicate an iron deficiency, so it’s worth thinking about your child’s diet, especially if they are over about 9 months, and discussing this with your doctor if you’re concerned. But sometimes kids are just wriggly, and this doesn’t always make for a pleasant bedfellow. You could consider transferring your child (if they are over 1) to an older siblings bed.
Siblings often love sharing a bed, and children are usually more tolerant of wriggly sleepers.

You’re expecting another baby.

You may have mixed feelings about transferring your older child to their own bed with the arrival of a new sibling, but there are times when this may be the best option.
It’s not safe to have a newborn and a toddler next to each other in the bed. You would need to make sure there is a child on either side of you, with the baby on the breastfeeding mother’s side.
If this isn’t going to work, you could try having your co-parent bedshare with your older child in a separate bed, while you bedshare with your baby. This also means you won’t wake your toddler in the night when you wake to change nappies or feed them. Winner!

You’re touched out.

Sometimes it just gets to the point where you want a bit of space. It’s sometimes too much to be needed and touched all day, and then needed and touched all night too.
Wanting some time between cool sheets, not touching another human is totally normal. If you’re feeling touched out, make sure you have tried to think of creative ways to invest in your own self care.
I know this isn’t easy if you’re on your own at home with dependent children, so ask family, friends and your co-parent to help. If bedsharing is part of the problem, and not part of the solution for you, then it’s ok to gently and kindly make the transition. Consider a floor bed, co-sleeper, or sibling bed. If your child is over 1, consider having them sleep on your co-parent’s side of the bed.
Making changes with sleep takes patience, kindness and teamwork. If your sleep situation is becoming unsustainable, there are plenty of ways to change it without making anyone sad or stressed.
Good luck! Let’s Talk About Your New Family’s Sleep by Lyndsey Hookway is published by Pinter and Martin