If you had asked me when I was younger if I would have bed-shared, I may have said no. But that answer would have been a lie as it goes against who I have always been as a person.
When I was 16, I babysat my newborn cousin for 40 hours a week during one summer. When it was time for a nap, she would fall asleep many times on my chest while I watched TV on the couch. It was not the safest practice, but it is what I did at that time.
When I was in my early twenties, I had a friend who bed-shared even though there was a crib in the room. I remember encouraging her to let her child sleep alone there, so she could have more space for herself. I have since apologized to her before I even became a mother, because it was wrong of me to suggest otherwise.
When I was 26, we got a puppy who we crated at night so she would not pee in the house. The only problem was she cried most of the night. The only person who heard her was me, and I could not sleep as long as she was crying. So I opened her crate, scooped her up and placed her under the blankets next to me in my bed. She slept through the night without a peep.
What do these short snippets have in common? I always slept beside someone if needed. It was my intrinsic response to what was happening around me, even though it went against mainstream American culture of being an independent sleeper as an infant. We have a belief that we need space independent of our children, this is why nurseries are such a big ordeal. We decorate them lovingly and at some point after entering the world, whether right away or a few months old we put them in their own rooms armed with monitors to listen for when they stir.
I’m not shaming anyone who has chosen this method, rather anyone who does the opposite is shamed and told ‘you’ll kill your baby if you bed-share.’ Whether you bed- share or not, babies until they are at least six months old should cosleep in the same bedroom. (Science backs that.)
I remember trying to explain the difference in sleep practices with my husband when I was pregnant and he said, “Even yaks sleep with their babies. What is wrong with you foreigners?”
And it got me thinking if all animals sleep with their young, why do we push so hard to keep them far away from us in our culture? Needless to say, I didn’t have a good argument back. I thought about buying a cosleeper to put next to our bed, and my husband mentioned that we could put our future baby in the stroller we bought. (It was huge and sturdy, yet could work as a bed.)
But that all changed when my daughter was born. She was a preemie and when she finally came home she was put in the stroller that first night to sleep, until she cried. I picked her up and placed her in my bed between my mother and I. She was so small and I was paranoid of if she was breathing okay or not. She was, just very quietly.
I remember wondering if my own mother would judge me for putting her between us, but she never did. My mother told me that we all slept in the same room as her up to a certain point (I can’t remember exactly). The one thing I do know is that when we were sick we always were welcome to climb into my parents’ bed during the day, snuggle and watch TV.
From that first night onwards we always bedshared. We follow most of the safe sleep 7, but in my opinion, it really is recommended for people who are rich with guaranteed heating or cooling in their homes. I can not follow the bedding practices, because our apartment in Chengdu has no heating and the coldest it gets in winter is in the single digits Celsius (low to mid-thirties Fahrenheit). My husband’s hometown is even colder with no heating except for the main room during the day. We could see our breath at night when heading to sleep the past two winters in his hometown.
Should I follow the no blankets rule when she would freeze to death? She was swaddled with her hands out, mostly next to me, but sometimes between us until she was 3-4 months old. I swaddled her hands out because she looked uncomfortable, but it also gave her a way to move around too. We sleep under several blankets, and I am constantly checking to make sure they are not over her face during the colder months, even to this day. She also moves a lot so I have to check that she stays covered when it is colder as she has been known to wiggle out of all the blankets.
I know many people say they would squash their child, and if you are a deep sleeper maybe it is not for you. However, I am a terribly light sleeper. The hum of the refrigerator on the other side of the house has kept me awake at night.
I love bedsharing with my daughter. I love her sweet cuddles, and little giggles that escape when she dreams, and if she is scared mommy and daddy are there to pat her gently to let her know everything is okay. I’m glad my husband enjoys it too as bedsharing is common in his culture until children are ready to sleep alone. Many children will move out of the bed to make way for a younger sibling, or they will still share a bed together. Otherwise the younger sibling may go and share a bed with an older brother or sister, until they want to sleep independently.
Because of the cold climate and the fact my husband grew up in a tent for part of the year until he was about 10 years old, it made sense to bed-share for warmth. It really is a luxury of the modern world for each child to have their own bedroom, but I believe it adds distance to the family the larger a house is, but that is a topic for another day.
No matter how you plan to sleep with your children, it is always important to consider what works best for your family. But if you do decide to cosleep or bedshare, know that you are not alone and it is the most common sleeping arrangement in the world for parents and children. Intrinsically we are all mammals that yearn for love, affection and warmth. Nature never intended for us to be different, but modern inventions have made it less safe in certain parts of the world.
Food for thought: How much traditional knowledge has the western world lost as it pushed independent sleep? Why is this arrangement quickly permeating other cultures as safer and better, after thousands of years of cosleeping?