Updated: Jun 7, 2022
Good sleep for a mother and her baby is one of the most important pillars for postpartum healing.
Bed sharing is a traditional way of honouring and strengthening the relationship between a mother and her newborn (also known as the mother/baby dyad).
There has been a fear created around the idea of co-sleeping and it is important to normalize that co-sleeping is a powerful way of encouraging a mother to receive optimal rest while meeting the breastfeeding needs of her newborn.
As adults, we can 'train' ourselves to sleep with our babies in a safe way so we can tend to their needs at night. In turn, babies cannot be trained and this is where mothers may exhaust themselves with the pressures of sleep training which not only lead to feelings of defeat but also alter a mothers breastmilk supply and cause distress for a newborn who is physiologically designed to be in close proximity to their mother. Unlike babies, adults can adjust and adapt, and in doing so LISTEN to their maternal instincts that actually support them in prioritising the health of their babies and themselves.
As adults we are able to self regulate and as humans, we are designed to co-regulate through the 3x branches of our Autonomic Nervous System.
In the world of babies and children - becuase they are NOT able to self regulate, their brain waves, heart rate and emotions develop by synchronising with the brain waves, heart rate and emotions of the adults that are in their immediate environment. However co-regulation and synchronisation can only happen within environments of safety. When a mother and her baby feel safe, with neither under stress, co-regulation can happen and both are able to settle.
A mothers nervous system helps to co-regulate with her newborn baby and when near to each other, a baby will likely match their parents breathing pattern. (Prevents SIDS, as a mother or fathers breathing pattern encourages a baby to regulate their own breathing).
It is a natural inclination to sleep protectively near your baby and it is important that you have the right resource and confidence in yourself to do so. Babies want comfort and to feel safe, and to be in a close proximity with their mother encompasses this and supports their nervous system development and regulation.
There are 7 sleep steps for safe co-sleeping.
1. No smoking in the house, parents cannot be smoking.
2. Sober parents, no alcohol - parents need to be alert and connected to their senses.
3. Nursing mother day and night. (Not having a bottle-fed baby in the bed).
4. Healthy baby who is full term (not premature or unwell).
5. Baby on their back.
6. No swaddling (it is hard for babies to control their body temperature. Save swaddling for calming as it is recreating the feeling of being in the womb). Parents need to ensure they have their blankets from the waist down, tie hair up, no strings on hoodies etc.
7. Ensure baby is on a surface that isn't too soft - don’t have things around them (pillows/toys), ensure they can't roll onto objects or into sides and cracks.
Infants should always sleep on their backs, on firm surfaces, on clean surfaces, in the absence of (secondhand) smoke, under light (comfortable) blanketing, and their heads should never be covered. The bed should not have any stuffed animals or pillows around the infant and never should an infant be placed to sleep on top of a pillow or otherwise soft bedding.
Sheepskins or other fluffy material and especially beanbag mattresses should not be used with infants in a co-sleeping environment.
It is important to realise that the physical and social conditions under which infant-parent co-sleeping occur, in all it's diverse forms, can and will determine the risks or benefits of this behaviour. What goes on in bed is what matters.
Bottlefeeding babies should always sleep alongside the mother on a separate surface rather than in the bed.
If bedsharing, ideally, both parents should agree and feel comfortable with the decision. Each bed-sharer should agree that he or she is equally responsible for the infant and acknowledge before sleeping that they are aware that the infant is present in the bed space. Do not place an infant in the bed with a sleeping adult who is not aware that the infant is in the bed with them