When my first son, Jack, was a few days old, we took him to the pediatrician at the hospital where he was born for his first checkup. We had no real relationships with any doctors. We just went where people shuffled us. Come to think of it, that’s how we’d done things since I found out I was pregnant. I felt so little control over this situation that I felt like a thief leaving the hospital with him. “Isn’t someone going to stop me from taking this baby?! Surely they know that I am not at all equipped to handle this situation!” So here we were again, ready to be told by the professionals all about how to bring up this baby.
This stranger-to-us looked directly at me and said, “Never put a baby in an adult bed.” I took it as God’s word. He’s a doctor, after all. I was here to do as he said.
We came home terrified of Jack being even near our bed. It was a hysterical and illogical reaction to this information, but we didn’t know how else to handle it. We were new to this, scared to do something wrong and worried that we would hurt our baby. And the big kicker was that we had no idea professionals could get it very, very wrong.
Now I know that we went so far out of our way to keep Jack from our bed that we ended up putting him at risk. Jack would not sleep unless he was at least touching me, mostly latched onto my breast. I couldn’t lie down with him because the doctor told me this would kill him. And I got endless advice on how to get him to sleep in a crib. Which he just wouldn’t do. So I sat in our rocking chair, dozing off with him on a Boppy pillow. On the rare occasion that I really needed to lie down, I made my husband sit up awake staring at us to make sure I didn’t roll onto him.
It all felt chaotic. It felt wrong. This just simply couldn’t be how all of this was supposed to work. I was struggling with breastfeeding, so I took to Dr. Google to solve my problems. What I found were endless resources from people who shared my experiences and were fighting back against this bed-sharing fear-mongering. My baby wasn’t going to die in my bed. My baby was going to flourish in my bed. He was going to feel safe. He was going to get more sleep. He was going to nurse all night giving himself an ample milk supply. He was going to be protected against SIDS. Yes, protected against it; not at risk for it. And halle-freakin’-luyah, I was going to get more sleep!
The dangerous thing I was doing was taking him to the chair to sleep — where he could slip next to me or in between me and the pillow. The fear-mongering over bed-sharing put my baby at risk, not the bed-sharing itself. Bed-sharing is a normal and natural way to sleep with a baby. People have been doing it since the beginning of people, babies and sleeping. Pick up an anthropology book or look to other, less fear-monger-y cultures, and you’ll find sharing a sleep space with a baby everywhere. Babies were not meant to sleep alone.
The fear is deep and cultural. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics states, “Baby should sleep in the same room as the parents, but not in the same bed.”
This information is being passed to parents from agencies seen as authorities that parents should be able to trust. It’s being broadcast across the nation as fact, and parents are scared, confused and uninformed.
Of course, there are things that can increase bed-sharing risks, such as fluffy bedding and pillows, smoking, drug use, alcohol, waterbeds, spaces around the bed and formula feeding. This is not about shaming moms who formula feed. There are many reasons why formula is the best choice for a mother-baby pair. It’s simply a different sleep pattern, and there is some expert support. It has been studied endlessly at Dr. James McKenna’s Mother-Baby Sleep Laboratory at Notre Dame. McKenna’s lab offers up plenty of reliable co-sleeping and bed-sharing information without the fear.
Just plain science-supported facts. There doesn’t seem to be a case out there that I know of in which a sober breastfeeding mother has ever rolled onto her baby. It’s just never happened.
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