The woman who ran the bed and breakfast stood in the doorway, unsure if she should let us in. We’d just shown up with our luggage and our one-year-old, without a travel cot. “You’re not going to be sleeping with her,” she warned. “She’ll suffocate.”
It wasn’t the first time we’d heard that sleeping with our daughter would kill her, and it wouldn’t be the last. We’ve been sharing our bed with her since the day she was born. Not every night, but certainly when she needs it.
But the practice makes many people uncomfortable, and even the most diligent of parents—who employ all the safety strategies the experts recommend—are warned of its drawbacks. Here are some of the most common things I’ve heard from concerned and nosy bystanders, and what you need to not say to an already well-informed bed-sharing parent:
1. “My baby was put in a crib from day one.”
Honestly, that’s great for you and your baby. I guess my daughter was different than yours. As a newborn, she cried and fed frequently—especially at midnight. And 2 a.m. And 3:15. And 4:45. Her instincts told her to make sure I was close by, and I was happy to meet those needs, even at night.
2. “You must not get a lot of sleep.”
Actually, co-sleeping is the only way some of us get any sleep. Many mothers struggle with the sleep deprivation caused by night wakings, and bed-sharing can be instrumental in ensuring that exhausted parents get a more restful sleep. In fact, studies have shown that co-sleeping can help women battle postpartum depression. That’s because staying in bed to feed baby is less disruptive than getting up, and being close to a parent often means a baby will sleep for longer stretches. Both of which mean a better night’s sleep for all.
3. “Don’t you worry she will suffocate?”
Yes. Which is why co-sleeping parents do it as safely as possible. We lay our babies down on their backs. We use firm mattresses and keep our beds away from walls and furniture. We ditch bulky bedding and swaddles, and abstain from alcohol, drugs and cigarettes when bed-sharing with newborns. As with everything, there’s a safe way and an unsafe way, and we understand those boundaries.
4. “You need to train her to be independent.”
Yeah, I mean… eventually. Right now she’s still pooping in her pants, so we’ll get there in due time.
5. “What about SIDS?”
SIDS is terrible, and we’re doing everything we can to mitigate its risks by co-sleeping safely. See number 3.
6. “He’ll never be able to self-soothe.”
Never is a very long time.
7. “If you’re too weak to let her cry it out, she’ll own you when she’s older.”
This isn’t a matter of resolve, or lack thereof. This is a matter of one parenting style being different from another. Many of us co-sleep because we want to be able to meet our child’s primal instinct to be close to us, and to be able to feed on demand (in the case of nursing mothers). In fact, cultures around the world view co-sleeping as the norm, and their children grow up healthy and well-adjusted.
8. “Don’t you miss sleeping in bed with your husband?”
Nope, because I do sleep in bed with my husband.
9. “Your partner must miss having sex.”
My partner would miss having sex, if it were something we didn’t do. But since we do, we’re all good. Also, it’s none of your business.
10. “Be careful, or they’ll need you to put them to sleep until college.”
This is one of those har-har-har comments that’s supposed to be made in jest, while also being a subtle dig at how people parent. Present me with the studies that find a correlation between high school students who need their parents to tuck them in and bed-sharing. Then we’ll chat.
11. “What if you roll onto her?”
Statistically, healthy parents who follow safe co-sleeping guidelines, and who have healthy infants, are not likely to roll onto their child in the night.
12. “Just let him cry it out.”
I’d rather not. You do you, we’ll do us. OK?
I didn’t plan to be a parent who co-slept with her child. In fact, I was once mildly against the practice. I thought it was risky and set kids up to take advantage of parents who were maybe a little clingy. I’ve since learned better.
Co-sleeping parents bring their children into their beds to get much-needed sleep, to soothe and comfort worried, sick or anxious children, to strengthen their bond and to make night nursing easier.
Putting children to bed anywhere is not without its risks. In fact, there’s danger in using car seats, high chairs, and DockATots incorrectly. Everything we do with or for our children comes with a degree of risk, and that’s why we research the safest way to care for our children and apply best practices along with good old common sense.
This article was originally published online in September 2018.