Development, Gentle, love, respectful parenting, sleep

Our Family Bed

If you had asked me 6 years ago my thoughts on children sleeping in their parents’ bed I would have scoffed and said something like, “my children will be sleeping in their own beds…” And then I would have made or thought some remark about enmeshed families.

I’m pretty ashamed of that now. And I’m sure I said other utterly naive things before I had children. So if I said them to you, I’m sorry. From the bottom of my heart.


It seems like there’s been a number of discussions recently in our group about safe sleep, cosleeping, and bed sharing, and I figured I’d share what works for my family at our current stage of life.

I didn’t grow up knowing there were different options when it came to sleeping arrangements for babies and children – I knew that babies slept in cribs or bassinets. Period. I also knew that my baby brother spent the first 5 years of his life being rocked to sleep by my mom and sleeping in my parents’ bed, horizontally, across their pillows. And I knew that my mom received some ridicule about that. So. My childhood experience of small children sleeping with their parents was that it created bad habits.

When my husband and I became parents we very quickly realized that things like sleeping, sleep arrangements, keeping babies asleep, putting babies to sleep is SUPER HARD. It’s no wonder – our entire lives we’ve been inundated with messages that there is only one way for a baby or small child to sleep.

Understanding sleep patterns, handling developmental milestones, breastfeeding, our own lack of sleep, other medical conditions… there are any number of things that make sleep difficult for parents. Then add the fretting over WHERE a baby sleeps.

When I first had my daughter in 2013 I figured she’d be sleeping in her bassinet, next to our bed, and then we’d transition her to her crib later on. She had other plans. She would only fall asleep in our arms, snuggled against me or her dad, or while nursing. And if we put her down, she would only stay asleep for up to 45 minutes.

For the first few weeks of her life I’d nurse her before bed, then lay her down in her bassinet. I’d lay down and try to sleep. Then 45 minutes later she’d wake up, and my husband would get out of bed, pick her up, and hand her to me. (I had a lot of hip issues from birthing her, so it was difficult for me to get in and out of bed, or lean over and lift her). I’d nurse her, we’d lay her back down. Repeat.

I was told to let her cry a little… that she’d learn to fall asleep on her own.

My instincts told me not to do this… but we were exhausted, and getting a little desperate. So we laid her down one evening and let her cry.

Maybe 5 minutes went by and WE COULD NOT HANDLE IT. It went against every fiber in my body to listen to her crying and not respond to her.

I also knew what I was doing, behaviorally… an extinction method… and I was wholly uncomfortable with it. You can read about what’s going on when you use a cry-it-out method here: CIO, Should we do it, or no?

I decided to let her sleep on my chest. My husband was nervous. I was nervous. But it felt so natural, so right, and that first night my daughter and I slept 5 hours. FIVE HOURS.

Recently, the AAP has altered their safe sleeping guidelines, and you can read about them here.  Cosleeping is now recommended for the first several months of a baby’s life, and there is a brief mention of safety if falling asleep while nursing an infant in bed. But while cosleeping is now recommended, bedsharing still is not. I’m not going to argue about the safety of babies having to sleep alone, on their backs, and in a crib… because I’m not the one who’s done the studies. But I do encourage you to read up on the history of the guidelines, how other cultures handle infant and small child sleep, and the 4th trimester/early attachment. A good starting point is The Other Baby Book by Megan McGrory Massaro and Miriam J. Katz.

Another good resource is Evolutionary Parenting. Be sure to check out all of the articles related to sleep. It’s good stuff.

Ok… back to our stumbled-upon bed sharing. Long story short, I was elated that I was now getting sleep. I was relieved Clare was now getting sleep. And my husband was freaking out through all of this. So I did a bit of research, and when I found the resources I gave you above, I FELT SO VINDICATED. (And this, ladies and gents, is actually the beginning of my journey into gentle/instinctual parenting… but that story is for another time.)

Take a look at these photos, guidelines, and links for safe bed sharing practices:

 Safe Cosleeping Guidelines, Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory, University of Notre Dame

La Leche League International, Safe Sleep 7

The Safe Sleep Seven

If a mother is:
1. A non-smoker
2. Sober
3. Breastfeeding

And her baby is:
4. Healthy
5. On his back
6. Lightly dressed and unswaddled

And they:
7. share a safe surface


Let me just say, though, that sleeping arrangements look different for EVERY PERSON and EVERY FAMILY. As long as everyone is safe, and comfortable, and getting sleep, then whatever your arrangement, it’s not wrong.

We have a second baby now, and when we were expecting him we knew we’d most likely be having him in bed with us, just as we ended up doing with our daughter. We also knew our daughter wasn’t ready to transition to her own bed. So we set up our room to accommodate our family, and keep everyone safe and comfortable.

We have a king size mattress, as this provides us with lots of space and no crowding. Everyone (except the baby) can have a pillow, or their own blanket, or no blanket, or whatever. {Clare is showing you where I sleep.}

Many people have their mattress right on the floor. This is smart! It reduces the worry of a baby/young child falling off the bed. We have a small home, and putting our mattress on the floor would take away some storage space, so we take extra precautions and keep our bed on a frame.

We’ve used this bed railing in the past, but don’t need it anymore:

We have side-carred the crib, and matched the level of it’s mattress with our bed. This provides extra space for baby, a safe area away from big sis and dad, with no stuffed animals, pillows, or blankets. If he’s not nursing, or he rolls away from me, I can guide him into this space without much effort or waking.

I stretch a thin quilted blanket or sheet across the two mattresses to cover the space where the two meet. This is so no one gets caught in between. I found that sweet Underwater Seas set in Home Goods for a great price, but you can also get it from Amazon, too.

My pillows prop me up. This is for nursing comfort. He also was very sick through his first winter. He struggled with lots of congestion, ear infections, RSV and the flu. Many nights he needed to be propped up to breathe comfortably, and I did that by keeping him on my chest and myself propped.

He’s a big boy now (here he is at just about 1 year), and takes up more space than he did when he was an infant. He’s able to move himself around when he’s uncomfortable, and seek me out when he needs to snuggle or nurse. I still keep him separated from his sister and dad, because both kids twist and move around in their sleep and could easily end up kicking each other. And here’s this sweet man again while the sheets are being changed – 🙂

A few other things you’ll notice in my photos:

  • my boppy, which was extremely helpful when he was an infant and we needed that support, but not used so much anymore.
  • Summer Infant By Your Side Portable Sleeper (this has been discontinued by the manufacturer, but a similar item is the SwaddleMe By Your Side Sleeper. This sleeper sits in your bed and is a nice option if you prefer your baby to be in a separate ‘area’ but still right next to you. We ended up only using it as an organization area for diapers, wipes, my pumping/nursing items, etc. to keep them readily available and easy to reach.

Since our children are always growing and changing, so are sleeping arrangements. So I suppose this is to be continued… 🙂