A dramatic title, I know, but I really believe that our lives would have been tragically different had we not been bed-sharing.
I first learned about bed-sharing when I was desperate to be able to get pregnant with my first baby. For various life reasons, we needed to wait, but I couldn’t resist reading parenting forums (which were few and far between back then!) and buying baby magazines. I was browsing in a bookshop one day, and I spied the simply perfect front cover of the 1999 edition of Three in a Bed by Deborah Jackson. There was a scrumptious yawning baby lying between the backs of his parents and I just fell in love with it. I bought it, took it back to our student flat, and read it from cover to cover.
Once she was born, our baby slept half in our bed, and half in a bedside cot. When we had our second baby, our first was still breastfeeding and sleeping in our bed so we put our king-size mattress on a wide, low bed-frame, and put a single mattress next to it – an eight foot bed!
All four of us were still sharing sleep when our third daughter came along. I’m sure people thought we were completely bonkers, but it worked for us for many reasons. The most frightening night of my life convinced me that we had definitely made the right decision.
I know that babies randomly stop breathing from time to time. I’ve seen my babies do it in the day time: those few short seconds where you watch in agony for their chest to start moving again. It’s completely normal, if rather alarming. Of course, they always restart again, usually triggered by background noise, or the breathing of their parents close to them.
When my third daughter was about four months old, my husband spent the night having nightmares, waking over and over again and every time he woke, I woke and checked on my baby. Right in the middle of the night, as my husband got out of bed for the fifth time to pace the room at the end of the bed, I turned to check my baby. She was doing her ‘not breathing thing’ and I put my hand on her tummy and waited…but she didn’t start again. I sat bolt upright and picked her up, screaming at my husband that she wasn’t breathing. As I brought her in front of me, she took a breath, opened her eyes and grinned at me.
After that night, I hardly slept at all for weeks and weeks. But I never, ever stopped being grateful for the fact that we knew that bed-sharing wasn’t the hideously dangerous thing we are led to believe it is. If she’d been in a different room to us, or even in a different bed, I’m not so sure I’d have been quick enough to bring her out of her too-deep sleep and get her breathing again.
As a breastfeeding counsellor, I struggle with the bed-sharing issue. Parents are so scared of it, but we know that, if it’s done safely, it’s actually not dangerous at all – far safer, in fact, than putting your baby in a separate room from you in the first six months. I always want to tell parents my story but my job isn’t to influence parents, and I fear that a personal story would do just that. All I can do is pass on all the information and facts we have from the extensive research that has been done into bed-sharing and hope that parents have the self-confidence to make the decisions that are right for them and that I can, in some way, counteract the scaremongering articles we read so frequently and that are often very inaccurate.
Clare Kirkpatrick is an NCT-trained breastfeeding counsellor and busy mum of four kids. You can read more from Clare at her brilliant blog, Free Your Parenting.