“What’s your favourite thing about us sharing a family bed?” I asked my 6-year-old son.
“Just that we’re all together” he replied.
I feel the same way.
Togetherness; our biology needs it, our psychology craves it, and our children are born expecting it.
Yet, it’s under threat in our culture, isn’t it? Why? My take on it is that collectively, we prioritise the wrong things. Independence. Separateness. “Good” behaviour. Productivity.
We value “doing” and we leave no space for “being”.
We’ve been conditioned to people please, to seek external validation, to chase grades and “dream” careers, to find perfect partners and white picket fences, to glorify how much we can pack into our days and to not break under the pressure…or at least, not appear to break.
…..we enter into the most transformational, most sacred, most unexpected relationship of our lives.
Our non-verbal, connection seeking babies enter this world needing nothing but us. We’re a carrying species; it’s written in our DNA and so our babies need to be close to us, to be carried, to be picked up, to be responded to, to sleep on our bodies, to smell us, touch us, see us, taste us, hear us, day and night.
And we’re unprepared for the intensity of their needs. For the demand for our presence. They ask us to stop and BE in the fourth trimester with them. It takes us by surprise.
Because we don’t know how to stop. The idea is foreign. We’re in a tug of war between our human needs and our culture’s expectations.
We were promised routines and sleeping through the night. We decorated nurseries and tested baby monitors. We made up cribs with the tiniest sheets we’ve ever seen and read books that sold us the illusion of control.
But our babies don’t buy into any of this. They need us; they don’t need gadgets, they don’t need to be taught how to sleep, they don’t need to separateness to learn independence.
They need togetherness.
And that’s why we bedshare. Because the need for connection doesn’t go down with the setting sun.
The need for connection doesn’t expire on an arbitrary birthday.
The need for connection is universal, yet the giving of connection is lacking in our culture.
Quiet sleepy moments cement relationships, deepen bonds and contribute to making connection sacred. And that feels good.
The Japanese call that feeling ‘anshin’ to describe what they call ‘soine’ or shared sleep. Soine is woven through the fabric of traditional family life. Anshin is the ‘feeling of contentment and relief or peace of the heart (not just body)’. The Japanese believe that shared sleep facilitates anshin for both babies and parents.
Being immersed in feelings of anshin each and every night are what some parents call “payday”; the moments that make the investment, the hard work and the lack of sleep (that comes with any form of nighttime parenting) worth it.
Because, I’d be lying if I said bedsharing – especially through toddlerhood – is always smooth sailing. Bedsharing is also being kicked by a toddler at 3 am. It’s missing my husband’s embrace. It’s repeating the mantra, this too shall pass. And then realising that it passes all too soon. It’s facing temporary obstacles and doing it anyway. Because anything that’s meaningful in life usually isn’t easy.
Sharing sleep is about so much more than sleep location.
It’s half my parenting journey and it’s not up for sale to the highest bidder; to temper society’s fears or fit western cultural norms. It’s not up for debate with friends or family members nor is it up for discussion with our doctor because it isn’t, in any way, shape or form a medical issue.
For me, bedsharing has been one of the greatest blessings of parenthood and it should be celebrated. Yet, when I started this journey, I had no idea what to expect.
And so, I share my story to light the path for parents with babies or toddlers who wonder what it will be like in years to come. I share my story so that you may experience anshin as you parent through the night.
But I also wanted to share other parent’s stories that may reflect your journey more closely. So, I asked my community at Raised Good to share their stories with you…here is what they had to say.
In Real Life: Bedsharing Experiences from the Raised Good Community
“I’ve bedshared with both of my kids (now 5 & 8 years old) and still do to some extent. Originally, we had 3 queen beds and I rotated through the night between beds as I was needed. Often, I slept with both kids and my husband got a bed to himself. Over time the kids have started sleeping more by themselves. We put a camping mattress beside our bed and in the night my 8-year-old often comes to sleep there. My 5-year-old sleeps in his own bed most nights and will call me if he needs me. I’ve always loved nighttime parenting. It’s when my kids are the softest and cuddliest. They gently snuggle in and softly say “I love you” or “I just want you”. Their little sleepy faces make my heart melt. It certainly hasn’t always been easy and there have been exhausting nights. But I wouldn’t change it for anything.” Tara Jay
“It’s so beautiful watching your little one fall asleep snuggled up in your bed. At five years old he still does a little phantom suckle as he falls asleep just for a second or two, and it melts my heart and brings back all those memories of providing so much love and nourishment from my body.
To all those moms waking every hour, getting kicked in their sleep, waking up too early, or whatever challenge you are facing, I feel you, it’s so exhausting, but I know for me it was worth it.
Thanks Tracy Gillett for your community and your beautiful words encouraging me to lean in and be the nighttime parent that I wanted to be, I am so glad I did and still do (it’s just so much easier right now). Even though my husband and I take turns sleeping in the other room every couple of nights to make sure we’re all well-rested (our son is a very assertive cuddler, to put it nicely) but we both love sleeping with him and we know it won’t last forever so we try to enjoy as much as we can.” Melissa Boardman
“I didn’t intend to bedshare at all – like many parents, I had heard it was unsafe and dangerous. But then the 4-month sleep regression hit, and my daughter was awake every 45 minutes all night and it seemed insane not to! After I tried it once, there was no turning back.
I have really loved bedsharing – it makes me feel like I can respond to my daughter in such a natural and instinctive way.
She needs me, so I’m right there. We transitioned her to a floor bed in her own room just before 2, and most nights she calls for me and I sleep in there with her for about half the night. I don’t mind in the slightest. I love that she can ask for and receive what she needs and that she knows I’m there for her no matter when it is or what she needs at that moment. It has certainly been a sleep-deprived journey at times, but I’m so proud of the empathetic and emotionally aware little girl she is becoming and I genuinely believe that responsive nighttime parenting has played a role in that development.” Kelsey Bessette
“My husband and I have been co-sleeping with our 3-year-old and a 9-month-old since the day they were born. I knew nothing about it (I didn’t even know it was an option) until I gave birth and felt the need to be near them. I honestly have real no downsides to share. We all get lots of sleep, we’re comfortable…it’s like wrapping our babies in love and protection while they sleep.” Shannon Oldsberg
“Bedsharing was the only option for us. I knew I wanted to do it before I had my son, Z. And I love it. I love the extra time with him. We maintained a nursing relationship through the night until about 18 months when I was a few months pregnant and exhausted. There’s a sleep regression around that time so we were waking up a lot. I asked Dad to step in for me and he did. We spent just two days gently night weaning, which I was shocked by. I was prepared to back down if Z clearly still needed me at night. But he was fine.
Now Dad and Z sleep together. I lay in bed with them as they drift off then go to my own spot.
My second son is due in a week. Once he has adjusted a bit, we will join Z and daddy in bed. I am not sure if my son and I work so well together because of extended breastfeeding, bedsharing, or babywearing. I don’t know if it is because we are gentle or have good boundaries. Maybe we just lucked out and have really complementary personalities. But I do know I can’t wait to be back in a big floor bed with my whole, expanded family. Looking over at my 2 sons, checking their faces when they stir, comforting them when they need me, and feeling their breath.” Amelia Vreeland
“When I was pregnant with my first child, Meredith, I remember saying I was too scared to sleep with her in the bed because I didn’t want to roll on her. I wanted a bassinet that rigged to the side of the bed, but they were so pricey. We did get a bassinet though. Once she was born though, I couldn’t put her down. She never once laid in that plastic box at the hospital. I couldn’t do it. She felt too far away although she was right next to me. I had to hold her. So, once we got her home, naturally, she slept in bed with us. We got a king size mattress after a month to ensure we all had room. Now both of my babies are in the bed. It has made nighttime parenting easier – so nice to just lift my shirt and nurse and we all go back to sleep.
It’s also given me peace of mind, being able to watch their chests rise and fall, knowing they are okay and not away from me in another room.
What has surprised me most about bedsharing is how much I rely on it as much as my kids do. We all love the comfort and security. In a sleepy haze, I’ll watch my husband slide his finger into the grip of our babies’ hands and fall back asleep. I wouldn’t change it for the world. I love to wake up and lay a hand on them in the night or brush their cheeks as they dream.” Elizabeth Ann Glass
“I always had so many “I would never” ideas about raising a child. Bedsharing was one of them. After coming home from the NICU, my son and I were having trouble breastfeeding and sleeping. He’d sleep in 5-minute increments in his own bed, or 3 hour stretches if I was holding him. I couldn’t live on the sleep I was(n’t) getting, so I laid him in bed with me. He slept so well after that! I don’t know that the bedsharing itself lead to a better relationship, but it was the first time motherhood had humbled me and taught me a different perspective. I’m a different parent than I always imagined I’d be, but I feel more in-tune to my child’s needs because of this.” Nicole Bridgewater
“For me, bedsharing just feels natural, and it makes everything easier. Everyone gets more sleep and it makes breastfeeding easier. It makes nighttime parenting easier as I struggle to get back to sleep if I have to get out of bed at night, whereas I can snooze while breastfeeding. I love having my baby close, it feels safe.” Amy Gilbert
“I didn’t bedshare with my first child until she was 5 months old. She was born in the UK where bedsharing is frown upon and as a first-time mother, I thought that was sound advice base on proper research. I was lucky that my first baby was a decent sleeper but those first few weeks were very hard at night with breastfeeding and needing to get up and down; looking back at it I feel a bit angry that they robbed me of the experience and the benefits of bedsharing, especially since my husband and I are both non-smokers, we don’t take drugs and didn’t drink alcohol at that time; some advice about safe bedsharing would have been much better. When my baby was 5 months we were on holidays in Spain and it was too hot to even hold my baby, so I started breastfeeding lying down and that’s how we started bedsharing. It was a game-changer! When we came back home, I would put her in her cot to sleep but whenever she woke up at night she came to bed for the rest of the night. When my second baby arrived 7 months ago, we go a side cot next to the bed but bedshare most of the night. Even though he is a more wakeful baby, I feel I slept better those very hard first few weeks.” Marta IE
“As a first-time mom, I knew my child would be on a separate sleep surface and be in their own room as fast as possible. That all babies had to cry it out in order to learn and not be so needy.
I used to judge all those parents that would bedshare and think they were creating little monsters. That all changed the moment my son was born.
I have bedshared with him since Day 1 and I do not regret any of it. The first year I did come up with so many plans to try and get my son to sleep on his own and somehow get him into his crib. I felt the pressure of social norms and family that my son needed to be independent and not rely on me so much. I just followed his cues without realizing and then once I clued in, it became 10x easier. As a breastfeeding mother, bedsharing/cosleeping made parenting easier in general. I wasn’t sleep deprived because I could give my son the breast and we would fall back asleep together. It made me stop and appreciate how little he was during the day with contact napping. At first, I was stressed because my house was a mess. But this little angel needed me, and I knew it wouldn’t last forever.
I was surprised at how normal and right it felt to contact nap/bedshare. I tried to fight it, but I’m so glad I gave in to my gut feeling.
I have a special bond with my son that I wouldn’t change for the world. He knows when he wakes up or at any point in the day, I am there to love and comfort him. I wake up to a happy almost 3-year-old and it starts my day perfectly. I am in no rush to get him out of my bed. He will tell me when it’s time. It will be his transition when he is ready. We will do his room how he wants and make him excited for it. I strongly feel that children need a sense of security, safety and trust to thrive emotionally. I think bedsharing has a lot to do with that. We don’t stop parenting in the night. It is hard some days and nights. It can get frustrating to not have your own space as much as you want. But knowing this is something my son needs, is good enough for me.” Amanda Syderenko
“Nobody warns you about the second night, especially if you’re discharged early from hospital. So, when I breastfed my brand-new newborn and put him in the sidecar cot thinking – “this is great, here’s what every other mummy does” – little did I realise that 20 minutes later I would have him right next to me, in bed, and would continue each night, for nearly 3 years now. I love it.
It feels so incredibly natural. I love the all-night milky cuddles. I love that I can soothe him back to sleep without really waking anyone – simply roll over, offer boob, doze back off again.
I personally wouldn’t change a thing, because it’s meant I’ve been much better rested than if I had to get up and move rooms each and every waking – which can be a lot depending on the child and where they’re at developmentally. My son and I have an incredibly close connection, I think breastfeeding on demand and bedsharing have both played a massive part in our bond. I know he knows he can trust me with whatever life throws his way, whatever the time of day, or night.” Jess Mushanski
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