Safe bedsharing: My experience

To bedshare or not to bedshare? That is the question.

Every new parent wants to do the best by their baby, protecting them from harm and helping them develop into healthy and well-adjusted children. Sleep is undoubtedly one of the biggest challenges that parents face, especially in the early days, and much of the advice in recent years has warned bleary-eyed, sleep-deprived new parents of the mortal dangers of bedsharing, both for the baby’s immediate safety, and for their long-term psychological and emotional development. “Bedsharing increases the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)” and “Your baby should learn to sleep independently to avoid being clingy later on” are two universally accepted statements that sum up the approach that us new parents are encouraged to take.

It’s no surprise then, that when I had my first child in 2019, I was absolutely terrified of SIDS, and avoided bedsharing completely. I forced myself (and my baby) to adhere to a gruelling nightly routine where I would feed and burp him, before desperately trying to get him into his moses basket without him noticing. I’d lean right over into his cot and slowly slide my arm out from underneath his body, hopeful that he was firmly planted in the land of nod. I’d rest my head on my pillow, but just as I’d close my eyes, my heart would sink as I’d hear him cry and I’d sit back up, try to comfort him, fail, and resort to taking him back out of his cot again to rock him to sleep and try again to get him to settle on his own. Most of the night would be spent awake, in agony from the lack of sleep, nodding off in the sitting position while holding the baby, and generally wanting to die to escape the torture of it all.

With my first baby I was constantly soothing him to sleep in his cot, only to have to pick him up again because he’d cry. A tortuous cycle that repeated itself every night.

This time around, with my daughter, I am doing things differently. I never particularly planned to bedshare with her, but after night one at home, I intuitively decided that it was what we were going to do. The three nights we spent in hospital had given me a false sense of security; she would sleep in her perspex crib without any issue, to the point that I would have to set an alarm to wake up every two hours to feed her. She didn’t cry, and seemed perfectly happy to be put down and left on her own.

My daughter seemed perfectly content to sleep in her own crib on the labour ward, which lulled me into a false sense of security.

It didn’t last. Once home, a switch was flicked inside her tiny brain, and she suddenly found her voice. After one night trying to make her sleep in her moses basket to no avail, I realised that, with not just a newborn, but a boisterous toddler to look after as well, I simply couldn’t spend all night, every night, awake, trying to soothe the youngest one to sleep. I had also learnt, from my first round with a newborn two years earlier, that tiny babies simply love close contact. There is nothing wrong with them, there is nothing wrong with you, it’s normal. They are tiny, utterly helpless, and have just spent 10 months living inside you, so it figures that they prefer to be up close to you, with your warm skin, your regular heartbeat and the comfort of knowing you are there to protect them.

If you’re going to bedshare, then it’s very important you do it safely. The fact that so much of the available advice explicitly warns parents off bedsharing, while ignoring the fact that so many end up doing it anyway, simply makes the whole thing more dangerous. Sitting up in bed, trying to soothe a baby to sleep while nodding off yourself is far more risky than planning for bedsharing and setting up your bed properly for the two of you to sleep comfortably and safely.

If you’re considering bedsharing with your baby, you have to be willing to get rid of fluffy pillows, scatter cushions, duvets and blankets and redesign your sleeping arrangements. This was my bed BEFORE having my daughter.

Planning to bedshare safely

Being properly prepared for co-sleeping and planning for it, rather than ending up slumped over in bed with your baby in your arms through sheer exhaustion, is obviously the safer approach, so here is a breakdown of how I prepare my bed for sharing, which you’re welcome to use as a starting point for setting up your own bedroom. Please note that I am NOT a co-sleeping expert or medical professional, so please also consult official resources such as Lullaby Trust, La Leche or the NHS when making the decision to bedshare or co-sleep.

1. Decide if you and your partner are happy to sleep separately

The first step for me was agreeing with my partner to sleep in separate bedrooms while the baby is very small. This was easy for us as we have two bedrooms, and he was already sleeping in the other room with our son, and had been since I became pregnant and needed to use my (huge) pregnancy pillows (which left little room for him!). If you prefer to stay in the same bed as your partner, do your own research on bedsharing with two parents and make sure you have enough room to do it safely and without the risk of overheating or suffocation. If you do have the option to sleep in separate rooms, I highly recommend you consider it, as in my experience, it makes those newborn weeks a whole lot easier.

2. Remove pillows and duvet from the bed

The next thing I did was remove the pillows and the duvet from my bed, and make sure that the bed’s surface was firm and flat, with no sheets flapping about. If you have a mattress topper, or a particularly squidgy mattress protector, consider removing them if they create too much of an uneven surface. Basically, you are trying to avoid any chance of the baby’s face or head being covered or immersed in bedding, and you’re removing any risk of them overheating.

First, I removed all the pillows, blankets and duvets and layered two muslin cloths on the middle of the bed, which is where baby would sleep.

3. Place muslin cloths where baby will sleep

Next, I placed two muslins in the middle of the bed which act as a ‘landing spot’ for the baby, and are great for protecting the sheet and mattress from the inevitable spit-ups and nappy leaks. Flatten and straighten them out so they are not posing a risk to baby’s airways. This is where I position the baby to sleep.

4. Use a J Pillow

Then, for my ‘pillow’ I use the J Pillow travel pillow which hooks under my chin and is small and compact enough not to pose a risk to the baby. Because most co-sleeping warnings cite suffocation from pillows as one possible cause of SIDS, you want to find a solution that ideally doesn’t involve a big, fluffy pillow that could move over the baby’s head or face while they sleep.

To support my head, I use a “J Pillow” travel pillow instead of big, fluffy pillows that could accidentally move over baby’s face or head.

5. Dress baby lightly

Next I dress the baby. I keep her totally separate from me in terms of her bed clothes, so that there is no risk of her sliding underneath my duvet or blanket. Depending on the temperature of the room, I will dress the baby in a combination of a vest, babygrow and sleeping bag, but you should check the temperature of your room and the thickness of your baby’s clothing to dress him or her appropriately. As a guide, my room is currently about 19-20 degrees at night, so I put the baby in a short-sleeved vest, a babygrow and a 1-tog Swaddle UP sleeping bag from Love to Dream. NOTE that the use of swaddles when bedsharing is NOT recommended, so please do your own research before using a Swaddle UP bag or any other swaddle.

Dress your baby lightly and consult both a temperature chart, and your chosen sleepingbag manufacturer’s instructions to dress your baby safely for sleep. Note that Love to Dream don’t approve using their Swaddle UP bags for bedsharing, so please do your own research before choosing this option like I have here.

I use Love to Dream’s temperature guide to help me decide how to dress my baby for sleep, and the rule of thumb is always to lean towards dressing them a bit lighter if they are sharing a bed with you, as your body heat will be increasing their temperature, and you want to avoid them overheating. Note also that the use of hats is NOT recommended once babies come out of hospital, and their heads should be clear of any covering (including your arm or face) to enable them to regulate their temperature by losing heat through their head.

A useful guide to how many layers your baby should wear in bed. Remember they will always be a few degrees warmer if they are sharing with you.

6. Sleep facing baby

I always sleep facing the baby, as this way she can breastfeed throughout the night and I can be in a safe position without the risk of rolling back onto her. Facing your baby also means you’re more aware of him or her and their little noises and movements. I place her on her back, with her head turned towards my breast so that she can feed. If I ever turn her onto her front during the night to burp her or relieve wind, I always prop myself up on my arm to ensure that I don’t fall back to sleep and forget to return her to her back. On your side, facing baby, you can bend your top leg forward to stabilise yourself if you find that more comfortable and I normally hook my bottom arm underneath my J Pillow and tuck my top arm down my side, between my body and the baby. This is so that I don’t risk dropping my arms on top of her during the night.

I always sleep facing my baby, which makes breastfeeding easier, and is safer all round.

7. Duvet should only come up to your waist

Now I arrange my duvet. Because heavy bedding such as duvets pose a significant risk to the baby if they slip underneath it, I make sure my duvet comes up no further than my waist, well away from her face. I also wrap the duvet (and blanket) tightly around my body like a burrito, and as I sleep facing the baby, I tuck all the loose ends firmly under my back/bottom, ensuring there are no flappy bits on the baby’s side. The bunched up duvet along my back and bottom also gives me some support to keep me in the side-sleeping position, and gives some extra warmth along my non-baby side. As the weather gets warmer, I will ditch the blanket and eventually the duvet, and just do the same burrito wrapping with a thin sheet instead.

I make sure my duvet/blankets only reach my waist, and tuck them firmly in underneath me like a burrito. This prevents the risk of the baby slipping under the duvet, or it flopping over her face or head.

8. Dress yourself in layers to keep warm

Depending on the weather, you may find that it’s too cold to sleep with your duvet or blanket only pulled up to your waist; I certainly do at the moment. To remedy this, I wear a few layers of clothes as my pyjamas; a nursing camisole underneath one or two button-down cotton nighties, some PJ pants and a cardigan. Make sure that none of your clothes are so loose that they could drop or fall over your baby’s face during the night. If you’re particularly worried, you could pull your arm out of the clothes on the side facing your baby, and pull them underneath you to the opposite side of your body, out the way of your baby altogether, as I have done in the pictures above. This also makes your breast readily available to the baby throughout the night if you are a breastfeeding mum.

9. Have handy items within reach

Finally, I find it useful to keep boxes of handy items such as nappies, spare muslins etc on the bed as well, far enough away from the baby not to cause any issues. I will write a separate blog listing all these items, as it really does make the 1am and 3am wake-up calls a lot easier if everything you need is within easy reach! What I will say with regards to safe bedsharing is that one essential item is the room temperature gauge pictured above; I use it every evening to check the room temperature and to make sure I’m not overdressing the baby.

That’s it! Good luck setting up your room for bedsharing if that’s what you decide to do, and remember, if you have any concerns at all please speak to your GP, midwife or health visitor for advice. You can also find useful safety information at Lullaby Trust, La Leche or the NHS.

Some great Instagrammers who advocate bedsharing are @taylorkulik and @ashleylouisejames. Check them out for great advice and tips.

Sleep Saviours: Our 6 Baby Essentials for a peaceful night

You’re a childless 8-hours-a-night singleton. Everyone you know with a child bemoans the fact that they never get any sleep. Their babies cry all night, or demand to sleep in the big bed, or get up at 2am for playtime. You think “Well, I’d never put up with that. Any baby of mine wouldn’t get away with disrupting my beauty sleep like that”. Then you meet a partner, try for a baby and find that you’re expecting. Your family-oriented friends warn you that it’ll never be the same again. “Say goodbye to your sleep”, they say, “…the baby will keep you up all night”; “you’ll age ten years in as many months” et cetera et cetera [read: blah blah blah]. You shrug them all off, insisting that you’re an 8-hour-a-night person. You can’t survive on less, you stress, adding “I love my sleep” —blissfully unaware that you’re going to have NO choice in the matter.

And now, a child or two down the line, you laugh in the face of your former, childless self, realising how ludicrous it was to assume that you’d put your foot down and your young baby would miraculously toe the line and let you sleep uninterrupted for as long as you wanted. Did this kid not get the memo?! HOWEVER, despite your mimi-me not buying into the 8pm-8am no-scream zone, there are things you can do to give them, and yourself, a fighting chance of some much-needed ZZZs, especially in those early months. Here are our Top 6 Baby Essentials for SLEEP. They helped us, and they may just help you too.

  1. Love to Dream Swaddle UP, from £26.99

Swaddling is a renowned method of helping your baby feel calm and safe, and the theory is that it gives newborns the same safe feeling of being inside the womb. You may also have noticed that your newborn has a reflex known as the Startle Reflex. While completely normal, it can be very annoying when their sudden startles wake them up from an otherwise undisturbed sleep. The Swaddle UP is an ‘arms up’ swaddle bag, meaning that babies can ‘self soothe’ (suck their fingers and thumb through the fabric) as their hands are up near their face, as opposed to across their chest as with traditional swaddling.

We were given a Swaddle UP as a gift when Odhrán was born, and having never seen one before, I was initially a tad alarmed at the thought of putting my baby into what looked like a straight jacket for dolls. Our only experience of how to put a baby to bed was at the hospital NICU ward, as Odhrán was taken to intensive care the day after he was born. There, the nurses always put the babies on their backs, with a blanket pulled up to the chest and tightly tucked into the sides of their cot, so we’d be replicating that at home too. Eventually though, we bit the bullet and tried him in the Swaddle UP, and it was amazing! We noticed a difference right away, and Odhrán seemed a lot more secure in his moses basket than before, even sleeping through the night several times.

Needless to say, we loved the newborn Swaddle UP we were given so much that we bought several more as Odhrán grew bigger, including their ‘transition’ bag for when he was old enough to start flipping over.

2. MyBaby SoundSpa On‐The‐Go Baby Soother Sleep Aid (white noise), £14.99

White noise! The sleep-saviour. We were lucky enough to be given a little white noise unit by HoMedics (the Soundspa Mini) as a gift when Odhrán was born (by the same generous and baby-savvy friend who gave us the Swaddle UP, incidentally!). Knowing nothing about white noise, or its effects on babies’ sleep, we thought we’d try it out and see what happened. Like the Swaddle UP, this little gadget turned out to be a godsend. It’s a simple and economical little device compared to a lot of the more Instagram-photo-worthy humming toys on the market (check out my review of the Whisbear for example; it didn’t come off too good, I’m afraid to say) but it’s just as good (if not better), and it’s all you really need.

The version we have has a simple press-and-hold on/off button, up/down volume buttons and 4 different types of white noise to choose from; ocean waves, rain, jungle night sounds and pure white noise. It runs on batteries, which last us weeks depending on how much we use it. If you’re wondering how white noise works; its primary function is reducing the difference between background sounds and any one individual sound that may disturb your sleep, like a door slamming or someone shouting. Creating a constant ambient sound masks activity from inside and outside your room. For a baby, this can create the illusion of a womb-like environment too. I checked the availability of the Homedics Soundspa Mini that we have and it’s not available in the UK, but they do have the MyBaby SoundSpa On‐The‐Go Baby Soother Sleep Aid over here, which looks like a very similar gadget at a similar price point, so I imagine it will do much the same job.

3. Rockit portable baby rocker, £34.19

A bit of a curve-ball here, as the Rockit isn’t technically a sleep aid, at least not for night time. It’s a portable rocking device designed to attach to your baby’s pram, buggy or stroller, that will rock your baby automatically while you’re busy with work, or with your hands full in a cafe, salon, bus stop or airport. We used it a few times on Odhrán’s pram, but then realised that we could attach it to the legs of his moses basket stand and have it rock him at night too. Bingo! We’d use that in conjunction with the white noise machine to get Odhrán to sleep in the evening, and again if he woke during the night and needed soothing. It can get very tiring rocking the crib yourself, so having this device to do it for us was such a relief, and it meant we could leave the bedroom while the Rockit would carry on doing the hard work. We’d still be using it now except that Odhrán is now in a big sturdy cot bed that can’t be rocked. CUE, the Zed by Rockit…..

4. Rockit ZED vibration sleep soother, £29.95

Ok, so now I’m definitely going off-piste because we haven’t actually tried Zed, the vibration sleep soother made by the same people that make the Rockit portable rocker, but boy do we want to! Going by how much we loved the Rockit rocker, and disappointed that we can no longer use it now our toddler is in his sturdy, unrockable cot bed, the Zed might be just what we need! I came across it on the Rockit website while researching the details for number 3 on this list, and it looks awesome. The Zed is based on the theory that babies and toddlers sleep well in cars, so to reproduce a car-like experience in the safety of the home, Zed uses special motors that generates low-frequency rumbles that feel like the car suspension and the revving of the engine. As the gentle vibrations pass through the mattress, they also generate soothing sounds. WE.WANT.ONE!

5. Philips Avent Blue Flower Room Thermometer, £19

The Avent Blue Flower Room Thermometer was another godsend, especially when we first brought Odhrán home and we were constantly fretting about how warm the room was for him at night. All the advice on safe baby sleeping environments says you should maintain the room temperature at around 16-20 degrees, and because Odhrán was born at the end of April, we went into the summer months worrying ourselves silly, wondering if it was too hot for him. It can be difficult as new parents to gauge whether the room is too hot or cold, so this cute little flower-shaped thermometer is great for keeping an eye on the ambient temperature. It’s a hard-working little thing too, as not only can it be used for the room, but it floats in the bath too, making it perfect to check the water before you pop your little one in for a splash.

What we loved is that it even has a little reminder written on the face of the digital display; 37 degrees for the bath and 18 for the room; an awesome little detail for sleep-deprived, overwhelmed new parents who can’t remember which end of the baby the nappy goes, let alone what the temperature should be! As an added side-note, Odhrán loves playing with it too; it has a rubbery skin which he loves to mouth and chew. Probably not advisable to let your teething toddler knaw at it for any length of time, but good to know that it can take quite a bit of biting, as tested by Odhrán.

6. VTech Colour Video Baby Monitor VM3252, £99.99

For us, a baby monitor was an essential piece of our “Sleeping Baby” kit, as it enables you (when you’re ready) to put your baby down for naps and bedtime in another room while you get on with whatever you need to without disturbing them. We were given the VTech VM3252 monitor as a gift from my parents, and overall we are pretty happy with it. The image is decent and it has a zoom and pan function which is useful, and for night time it has an infrared display which means you can still see your baby even if it’s really dark. It has volume buttons which you can bring up loud enough to hear your baby breathing if the room is quiet enough, and it also has the temperature of the baby’s room displayed on the parent unit which is an added bonus. The parent unit can be used on battery, but not for that long before the low battery warning starts bleeping so we generally use it on charge, while the camera (baby unit) must always be plugged in.

Our only gripe is that the camera is not particularly flexible. It comes on a little plastic base and the camera is on a ball joint so that you can tilt it up, down, left or right. The trouble is, unless you have a chest of drawers or a unit of some kind near your baby’s crib which is the perfect height for the camera to get a good view of your baby, you have to get creative with boxes and gaffer tape in order to position the camera adequately. Ours is currently gaffer-taped to the corner of the crib, pointing down onto Odhrán. We find ourselves wishing it was on a long bendy arm with a clip, because then you would have much more options for where to put it. There are some solutions for this which I’ll detail below, but note that we haven’t actually tried those yet.

The FlexxiCam Universal Baby Camera Holder is a mount that can be attached to (apparently) any baby monitor and fastened using its clamps to the crib or a nearby piece of furniture or fixing to give you more height and flexibility. It looks really useful for cameras like the VTech VM3252. Alternatively, the Lollipop Baby Camera is an extremely cute monitor with a long flexible tail that can be wrapped around the ledge or bar of the crib, or a door handle or nearby piece of furniture. We don’t own one, but I saw that Dad Blogger Growing With Dad has one in his top 5 new parent must-haves, and it looks brilliant! If you’ve got £145 in your budget to spend on a monitor, the Lollipop definitely deserves a look.

So there you have it! 6 Sleep Saviours that have really helped us (and Odhrán) get some well-deserved sleep. Let us know your tried-and-tested suggestions in the comments, and feel free to get in touch if you have a suggestion for our next blog!

Freya x

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