30 December, 2010

Bed-sharing and Why We Do It

I don't have anything against the way people parent their children, unless they are making obviously bad choices or abusing their children. Other than that, any parent is welcome to parent their children any way that they see fit. We have chosen to parent our children a certain way, even though some people may not agree. It's fine if you don't, but this is the way we have decided to raise our children.

Whenever a couple is expecting a baby, there are a few key things that they generally discuss about the upbringing of the child before the baby is born. The rest of it is all just trial and error, and hopefully, some research along the way.

What is most discussed before babies come home? Well, to be honest, not a whole lot. Usually its where baby is going to sleep and how baby is going to be fed. More "crunchy" parents will discuss vaccinations, cloth diapering, circumcision...those types of things. Unfortunately, the norm in the United States is baby sleeps in a crib in his/her own room, with disposable diapers and formula.  But we've chosen to raise our kids a different way, and go about things that are "against the norm". Sadly enough, the way we chose to raise our kids USED to be normal, but now...its seen as "weird" or "off the wall".

So I'm doing a couple blogs about the things we do that are "off the wall" and why we do them. Lucky for me, Brad and I are both pretty much on the same page when it comes to parenting. We do disagree on little things. I'm not a big fan of the spankings, but in certain situations, it works. And Brad handles that part of the discipline. And it took awhile for Brad to be okay with the cloth diapers and baby wipes, but we seemed to have crossed that hurdle and now we're all on the same page. There are other things we have and will disagree on, but we both know when to call it quits and just let the other person do what they want (for instance, he stepped aside on the cloth diaper debate and I stepped aside when he told me he didn't want a doula)

First on the agenda is co-sleeping. Or rather, bed-sharing. We bed-share in our house. This actually wasn't really something that came up while I was pregnant. We had talked about co-sleeping and having Ophelia sleep in a play pen in our room. And we bought the play pen. And eventually it will be used. But while I was in the hospital, Ophelia slept with me. The only time she was in her little bassinet was while I was going to the bathroom and was alone. Or while the nurses/doctors were looking at her. Any other time she was sleeping, she was in my arms or in my bed. Surprisingly, the nursing staff never said a word to me about it. Maybe that's because she was sleeping the right way (on her back all swaddled up). Since she's been home, she's slept in our bed, either in between us, or on my side of the bed (with a bed rail in place now that she's going to start rolling soon).

And while I'm on this topic, I'm going to admit to a big no-no that I do. I let my baby sleep on her stomach. I did it with Reilly. I'm doing it with Ophelia. Neither one of my kids have been huge on the swaddling. And while its a nice idea to keep them from startling, my girls just didn't tolerate it well. It was a huge fight and I just wasn't going to be a part of it. So I've let both girls sleep on their stomachs from day one. Call me a bad mom if you must, but I take every precaution that I can to ensure that nothing bad happens to them while we are all sleeping. I have the added bonus of being a light sleeper when either one of my girls is sleeping soundly next to me, and if things aren't right, I wake up.

Back to the topic. Not only do I love bed-sharing, but Brad does too. He likes being able to wake up and cuddle with Ophelia in the morning. And she's such a happy morning baby, anyone who didn't love it would be crazy. And bed-sharing has its benefits too, especially for breastfeeding mommies. Personally, I don't think that getting up 2-3 times in the middle of the night to get up out of bed and grab a baby, sit down, and feed them sounds like much fun. Not that getting up 2-3 times in the middle of the night is fun mind you, but not having to get up, walk around, get the baby, change her, then feed her...well, that just isn't my cup of tea.

There are added benefits to bed-sharing as well. It's been proven that mom's and babies sleep better. Baby can smell mom's scent, hear her breathing, and feel her close. There have also been studies that show that baby's heart rates and breathing patterns are regulated by sleeping close to mom. They share the same sleep patterns making sleep more efficient and beneficial for everyone. It makes breastfeeding much easier. A lot of women have learned the side feeding position (though honestly, I've never been able to master it. I sit up a little bit, get Ophelia latched on, have a pillow on whatever side I'm feeding her on, and lightly doze while feeding her) and sometimes mom and baby feed/eat without ever waking up. Babies naturally drift closer to their parents during sleep. I notice it all the time. Ophelia will start off closer to the middle of the bed, and by the time I wake up in the morning, she's snuggled up close to me. Co-sleeping is especially beneficial to breastfeeding moms. They sleep lighter, which means they wake up when baby starts stirring. For some reason, though I'm not sure exactly why, mom's who formula feed are less likely to be as aware of their babies, but I haven't actually read anything that says why. But we aren't talking about bed-sharing when formula feeding babies. By the time Reilly switched to formula, she was sleeping through the night and even the rare occasion where she did get up in the middle of the night, I was so trained that it didn't even matter.

I understand some parents want their space. I get that sometimes having a baby in the bed with you can make people anxious. They are so obsessed with their babies breathing and all the little noises that babies make that they don't take the time to just relax, calm down, and fall asleep. So they move their baby to another bed, or another room. I'm the exact opposite. I freak if my babies are far away from me sleeping. Hell, I still had a baby monitor in Reilly's room until she turned 4 and Brad had to all but physically force me to take it out of her room. I still make him sleep with the door open, even though he hates it, just in case she wakes up in the middle of the night. I don't handle my girls being far away from me very well. I get anxious and worry and check on them constantly. And eventually Ophelia will move out of our bed. It'll probably be in the next 3 months or so. It worked really well with Reilly, and she was in a crib, in her own room by her first birthday.

Bed-sharing is obviously one of those things that need done correctly. But honestly, its more common sense than anything. Don't have lots of blankets and pillows that can cover or fall on your baby. Don't bed-share when you are taking drugs (prescription or otherwise), or you've been drinking. Problems can be created if you are overweight as well. And honestly, if you know for a fact that you or your spouse are heavy sleepers and won't wake up if you roll on a baby, then you probably shouldn't bed-share. But it can and is done safetly and in a healthy way that benefits mom, dad and baby. 

It's a little more common now to co-sleep (baby in the same room) than it has been. But it's even less common that parents bed share. A lot of parents think and can get stuck with their kids in their beds for years. It happens. It hasn't happened to me...when I decided it was time to move Reilly to her own bed, it happened, and that was that. Some people think they are spoiling their baby by letting them sleep in bed with mom and dad. Simply not true. Some people think that their child will have sleep issues later on in life. Reilly doesn't. Reilly is a perfect sleeper. The only time she wakes is when she has an accident (which is rare) or when she gets scared for one reason or another (also rare. In total, it probably happens 2-3 times a month. At the most). Some people think that their bed is specifically for the parents (ie. sex). But seriously ladies and gents, it's the 21st century. Get creative. Your baby is sleeping in your bed? Well, how many other rooms in the house do you have?! It can be done. A lot of mom's say "I'll never let my baby sleep in my bed"....and then comes that night, where you've been up until 1am, and just when you think the baby is asleep, BAM, it's sad baby island. And you've tried everything, and nothing is working, and you climb into bed with your little one, and magically....it just works.

So to close -- we bed-share because we want to. We have taken the necessary steps to create a safe bed for our baby. There will come a time where we want our bed back, and we both know that and have discussed it. And as long as we are on the same page, we will probably continue to bed-share with our subsequent children. Because that's how we roll. You may not bed-share or co-sleep. You may even think that its dangerous. But shit, our baby is almost 4 months old now, and she's perfect.

And I wouldn't have it any other way.

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