Thursday, December 15, 2011

Adding one more to the family bed, safely

affiliate links in post

Welcome to the Safe Cosleeping Blog Carnival

This post was written for inclusion in the Safe Cosleeping Blog Carnival hosted by Monkey Butt Junction. Our bloggers have written on so many different aspects of cosleeping. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

Since my husband and I share a bed with our four-year-old, Mikko, we knew we needed to figure out logistics when adding a baby, Alrik, into the mix.

Here are some precautions we've taken for four in the bed:

  • Separate the baby and the older sibling:

    Mikko sleeps like many four-year-olds: erratically. He'll often end up upside-down, flopped over my hip, or even on the floor. I knew a big part of Alrik's safety was protecting him from his big brother.

    Before Alrik's arrival, Mikko slept cozily in between Sam and me, but much closer to me. Because I know even having a partner near a baby isn't safe, Sam slept on one edge of our king-size mattress, and Mikko and I slept on the other. My body protected Mikko from rolling off onto the floor or into a crack. As Mikko grew older and there was no longer any worry about rolling onto him, he took the initiative of sometimes sleeping cuddled up to Sam, sometimes to me, sometimes to both of us. He liked being in the middle — but I thought that's where Alrik should be.

    Even though we have a king-size mattress (on the floor), we started feeling a little squishy with four of us in bed when Alrik was born. At first, we tried moving Mikko onto a small crib mattress placed next to ours. I would get him to sleep in the big bed, and Sam would move him over when we were ready to sleep. However, it backfired — Mikko wouldn't wake up when transferred, but he would sometime during each night, at which point he would clamber over Sam to get to me.

    I realized immediately that I couldn't leave Alrik between Sam and me as I had done with Mikko as a baby, so I exclusively began having Alrik sleep on the far side of the mattress, then me, then Mikko, then Sam on his side.

Somewhere I have a picture of this little mattress next to our bed, but here it is in the second bedroom, where we also tried it out. Same thing, though — Sam could get Mikko down to sleep elsewhere, but then he'd usually end up back in bed with me. How can I disagree? Cosleeping is some snuggly stuff.

  • Supervise their sleep together.

    We put Mikko down to bed before Sam and I go to sleep. However, this means that Alrik usually goes down before Mikko, which would then leave them in bed alone together.

    Alrik solves this by refusing to stay asleep without me making body contact, leading me to believe we wouldn't get much sleep if we weren't cosleeping. Alrik snoozes on my lap or Sam's downstairs until Sam and I are ready to go to bed.

    Mikko's past the napping age, but if he were still napping, I would stay in the bed with them both, as I do now for most of Alrik's naps, or check back every few minutes to supervise, as I do the rest of the time with Alrik's naps.

    (We had an Amby baby hammock for Mikko's naps when he was a baby, but it's since been recalled and the company has gone out of business — eek — so we don't use it for Alrik.)

  • Continue to protect the baby from your partner:

    A couple times, we tried out having Mikko on the far side of Sam, but that left Sam too near Alrik for my comfort. A non-breastfeeding caregiver is not as aware or in tune with a sleeping baby, so I wanted a buffer zone between Sam and our baby. This meant, as mentioned above, moving Alrik to the far side.

    As it's turned out, Sam often sleeps out of the bed for now, sometimes on the couch downstairs and lately on a queen-size air mattress we set up in the (theoretical) boys' room for guests. We plan to buy Mikko his own loft/bunk bed from Ikea (potentially for Christmas — shh, don't spoil the surprise), at which time we'll try to transition him into his own room. We're going to set a full-size mattress below the loft so that Sam can start out the night — or spend the whole thing — with Mikko. We'll see if this keeps Mikko in his own room. If not, Sam will at least have a comfy place to sleep till Mikko wants to transition. I actually love having Mikko sleep with us, but I love having Sam sleep with me, too! I'm hoping we can find a way to change things up that ends up happy for everyone.

  • Keep baby on the bed:

    We use the Bed Bug Bumper, a thick foam bumper that sticks underneath the fitted sheet and provides a firm but sloped impediment to rolling out of bed. (I've also heard good things about the Humanity Family Bed and like that it combines a bumper with an absorbent pad, although it's pricier.) Even though our mattress is on the floor, I don't want Alrik falling off it or slipping into a crack left by a traditional bed rail. We do have a bed rail on the other side of the bumper, to ensure the bumper stays put, but as long as the sheets are on correctly, it does.

  • Secure the sheets:

    We've put suspenders on our fitted sheet so that it stops trying to pop off! Sheet sets always promise that they're now deep enough for the newer mattresses, but they always seem to be lying.

  • Ditch the pillows:

    With four in bed, or even three (see Sam's departure above), I haven't felt comfortable using a pillow anymore. There simply isn't room with two boys snuggled up against me. I'm getting used to doing without, for now. I was using one for awhile (as in the above picture), but I found that to protect the baby and push the pillow behind me, I was often covering my preschooler's face instead! He could wiggle free, but it just became cumbersome to try to finagle it. You can figure out what works for you, though!

  • Keep warm:

    So that no one feels the need to pull the blankets up to chin-height, we're using our heat sparingly when it's really cold, which we never used to do while sleeping. I figure this is a temporary measure while Alrik's at his vulnerable age and it's winter.

    I'm also dressing him in one-piece pajamas, which I never used to do with Mikko, since I would do elimination communication with Mikko at night. Call me lazy (go ahead), but I just can't get into doing EC at night with Alrik, considering he'll otherwise sleep through the night — in the sense that he'll barely stir to feed and then drift back asleep, whereas Mikko used to wake up screaming regardless of whether he had to eat, had to pee, or had already gone, so doing nighttime EC wasn't as much of an added burden at first. I've been going with an absorbent diaper and enjoying my rest, which means putting Alrik in hand-me-down snapping jammies isn't as inconvenient as it was with change-me-NOW Mikko.

    If you're wanting to change diapers or do EC at night but keep baby warm, I suggest an outfit of a nightgown (for boys, you can call it a nightshirt if that makes you feel better), socks, and BabyLegs.

    If your home is a lot colder, you'll need to configure your own bedtime warmth. If I pull the blankets to my waist and bracket my baby with a knee beneath his legs and my am above his head, I keep him pretty well anchored all night: not slipping under the blankets or up toward the wall.

  • Breastfeed:

    Based on my review of the safety of bed sharing, only breastfeeding mothers have a proven track record. They sleep in a particular way, facing baby, with an arm overhead to keep baby from drifting up and legs cocked underneath to keep baby from shifting down. They also have wake-sleep cycles that are in tune.

    I say this not to shame anyone who doesn't breastfeed — far from it — but only to suggest that in the case that you're not breastfeeding, you put your child in a safe bed nearby but not in the same one with you. This could include an attached co-sleeper, a side-carred crib, a crib mattress on the floor (but not close enough for entrapment), or a bassinet, pack-n-play, or crib in the same room. Alternatively, you could use a cosleeping device such as these bumpers or this sleeper to create a cosleeping nest within your own bed if your mattress is large enough for all of you; just be sure to keep covers separate on either side. If your room's too small for your bed plus a separate bed for baby, hopefully you have a room or even a hallway nearby that can fit a bassinet that's an appropriate size until your baby is old enough to sleep safely with you or more conveniently in another room.

  • Continue to take other safety precautions:

    Even if you've bed shared before, there's no reason to stop following basic safety rules (see my picture tutorial here).
    • Don't sleep with a baby if you've been drinking alcohol or are on medications or drugs that would impair your consciousness. (This can include some cold medications, for instance, and obviously anything like a sleeping pill.)
    • If you're particularly exhausted, it's safer to put baby in a separate, safe bed, or ask someone else to help care for the baby, while you get some initial sleep.
    • Don't sleep with your baby if you are a smoker.
    • Secure long hair. A comfortable way to sleep with long hair pulled back is in a loose braid (unless your hair's too thick for it). Another option is a loose bun on top of your head. Bonus for either: You'll have waves when you shake your hair out in the morning!
    • Beware of your clothing. Don't wear shirts or nightgowns with long ties. Tuck pajama drawstrings into your pants. Wear close-fitting shirts.
    • Stay warm without blankets. I wear a long-sleeve pajama top, unbuttoned so I can easily breastfeed at night. It keeps my arms and upper body warm enough so that I don't have to pull the covers up over my waist. To be even safer, wear warm enough clothing, or turn on some heat, that you can do without blankets entirely.
    • Don't bed share anywhere but a prepared bed. Don't sleep with your baby on a couch, armchair, air mattress, waterbed, or other surface. Don't bring your baby into bed with you on a whim or out of one night's desperation, without having considered the safety angles beforehand. Take time to think through and prepare the environment
    • Consider whether you can bed share safely. Be aware of your own limitations. If you have a history of night terrors or sleep walking, sharing a bed with a vulnerable baby is not a good idea. If your size or the age of your mattress is such that your baby will roll into you, that's a danger. If your partner or other children who sleep with you could be a danger due to their particular sleep habits, consider that as well. If bed sharing simply doesn't feel right for you, don't do it.

Picture tutorial here

There have been some adjustments in adding a new baby to the bed, but the good news is that we're all sleeping more or less soundly — and safely.

What are your family's sleep arrangements? Have you dealt with adding a new baby to a family bed?

Safety Disclaimer: I am not a health or safety professional.
In sharing how we do things in our family, I am not trying to suggest
bed sharing is right for you. Please consider the safety issues,
and take all precautions when considering where your children will
sleep. Most government agencies and health professionals warn against
bed sharing with infants. Based on my own recent research, I believe
bed sharing can be done safely with older infants and children when
proper safety precautions are followed but that there might be increased
risk for babies under six months regardless of how bed sharing is done.
In such cases, a separate safe sleeping surface might be a better choice
for you, such as a cosleeper, side-carred crib, or bassinet. I have weighed
the risks-to-benefits for each of my children so far in terms of breastfeeding
support and sleep quality vs. risk of injury or death and made my choice.
You need to consider this decision carefully and make a choice you can
own. Don't rest your children's well-being on any one blog post, even mine.
There's some good reading about this in the articles below!

Safe Cosleeping Blog Carnival

Thanks for reading a post in the Safe Cosleeping Blog Carnival. On Carnival day, please follow along on Twitter using the #CosleepCar hashtag.
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

  • Emotive Co-Sleeping Campaign - Miriam at Diary of an Unconscious Mother talks about her feelings on Milwaukee’s anti-cosleeping crusade and its latest advertising campaign.
  • Why Cosleeping has Always been the Right Choice for My Family - Patti at Jazzy Mama shares how lucky she feels to have the privilege of sleeping with her four children.
  • Cosleeping is a safe, natural and healthy solution parents need to feel good about. - See how Tilly at Silly Blatherings set up a side-car crib configuration to meet her and her families' needs.
  • Black and White: Race and the Cosleeping Wars - Moorea at Mama Lady: Adventures in Queer Parenting points out the problem of race, class and health when addressing co-sleeping deaths and calls to action better sleep education and breastfeeding support in underprivileged communities.
  • Reflections on Cosleeping - Jenny at I’m a Full Time Mummy shares her thoughts on cosleeping and pictures of her cosleeping beauties.
  • Cosleeping and Transitioning to Own Bed - Isil at Smiling Like Sunshine shares her experiences in moving beyond the family bed.
  • What Works for One Family - Momma Jorje shares why cosleeping is for her and why she feels it is the natural way to go. She also discusses the actual dangers and explores why it may not be for everyone.
  • Really High Beds, Co-Sleeping Safely, and the Humanity Family Sleeper - Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama gives a quick view of Jennifer’s bed-sharing journey and highlights the Humanity Family Sleeper, something Jennifer could not imagine bed-sharing without.
  • Crying in Our Family Bed - With such a sweet newborn, why has adding Ailia to the family bed made Dionna at Code Name: Mama cry?
  • Dear Mama: - Zoie at TouchstoneZ shares a letter from the viewpoint of her youngest son about cosleeping.
  • Cuddle up, Buttercup! - Nada of The MiniMOMist and her husband Michael have enjoyed cosleeping with their daughter Naomi almost since birth. Nada shares why the phrase "Cuddle up, Buttercup!" has such special significance to her.
  • Co-Sleeping With A Baby, Toddler, and Preschooler - Kerry at City Kids Homeschooling shares how co-sleeping calls us to trust our inner maternal wisdom and embrace the safety and comfort of the family bed.
  • Fear instead of Facts: An Opportunity Squandered in Milwaukee - Jenn at Monkey Butt Junction discusses Milwaukee’s missed opportunity to educate on safe cosleeping.
  • Cosleeping: A Mini-rant and a Lovely Picture - Siobhan at Res Ipsa Loquitor discusses her conversion to cosleeping and rants a little bit about the Milwaukee Health Department anti-cosleeping campaign.
  • Our Cosleeping Story - Adrienne at Mommying My Way shares her cosleeping story and the many bonus side effects of bedsharing.
  • Cosleeping can be safe and rewarding Christy at Mommy Outnumbered shares how her cosleeping experiences have been good for her family.
  • Adding one more to the family bed Lauren at Hobo Mama discusses the safety logistics of bed sharing with a new baby and a preschooler.
  • The Truth About Bedsharing - Dr. Sarah at Parenting Myths and Facts discusses the research into bedsharing and risk - and explains why it is so often misrepresented.
  • Cosleeping as a parenting survival tool - Melissa V. at Mothers of Change describes how she discovered cosleeping when her first baby was born. Melissa is the editor and a board member for the Canadian birth advocacy group, Mothers of Change.
  • Dear Delilah - Joella at Fine and Fair writes about her family bed and the process of finding the cosleeping arrangements that work best for her family.
  • CoSleeping ROCKS! - Melissa at White Noise talks about the evolution of cosleeping in her family.
  • Safe Sleep is a Choice - Tamara at Pea Wee Baby talks about safe sleep guidelines.
  • 3 Babies Later: The Evolution of our Family Bed - Kat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment talks about how her family’s cosleeping arrangements evolved as her family grew.
  • Tender Moments - The Accidental Natural Mama discusses tender cosleeping moments.
  • Cosleeping Experiences - Lindsey at An Unschooling Adventure describes how she ended up co-sleeping with her daughter through necessity, despite having no knowledge of the risks involved and how to minimise them, and wishes more information were made available to help parents co-sleep safely.
  • The early days of bedsharing - Luschka at Diary of a First Child shares her early memories of bedsharing with her then new born and gets excited as she plans including their new arrival into their sleeping arrangements.
  • The Joys of Cosleeping in Pictures - Charise of I Thought I Knew Mama shares pictures of some of her favorite cosleeping moments.
  • Symbiotic Sleep - Mandy at Living Peacefully With Children discusses how the symbiotic cosleeping relationship benefits not only children but also parents.
  • Co-sleeping Barriers: What’s Stopping You? - Kelly at Becoming Crunchy shares how she was almost prevented from gaining the benefits of co-sleeping her family currently enjoys.
  • Co-Sleeping with the Family Humanity Sleeper - Erica at ChildOrganics shares a way to make co-sleeping safe, comfortable and more convenient. Check out her post featuring the Humanity Organic Family Sleeper.
  • Why We Cosleep - That Mama Gretchen’s husband chimes in on why cosleeping is a benefit to their family.
  • Adding to the Family Bed - Darah at A Girl Named Gus writes about her co-sleeping journey and what happens when a second child comes along.

A big thank you to all of the Safe Cosleeping Blog Carnival participants!


Jenn said...

Wow, those are all wonderful insights. Great advice too - even though we have slept with our son in the past (and continue to do so when he wants to...which sadly has become rare...darn independent two year olds), I hadn't thought of some of those things, like being aware of loose fitting clothing on the parents. Your captioned photo tutorial is really instructive too.

Also "for boys, you can call it a nightshirt if that makes you feel better." I laughed. I say the same thing to my husband when I put our son in a "nightshirt" for bed.

Patti said...

Lauren, can I just say how great it is to hear that another family has decided that cosleeping doesn't HAVE TO included Daddy?

I haven't slept in a bed with my Partner-Guy in over 4 years and yet somehow we've managed to have a 4th child in that time. ;-) My Partner prefers to sleep alone (although he has slept with one or more kids from time to time) and since he gets up early to go to work, it just makes sense for him to have his own room.

I can never understand when mothers tell me "I wanted to cosleep but my husband says he wants the bed to be just for me and him."

I really, really love it that Sam is so supportive of cosleeping that he is willing to sleep somewhere else to facilitate it. You've got a good one! (But of course you already knew that!)

Kerry McDonald, M.Ed. said...

Such a helpful and informative post! We followed a similar path when adding a second co-sleeping baby to the family bed, and then a third one. Most helpful for us was choosing to dismantle our bed frame and put the mattress on the floor which helps us all to feel safer and cozier. Thanks for this lovely post!

-Kerry @ City Kids Homeschooling

Anonymous said...

Your post confirms what I found - other than keeping big kids away from baby, there aren't a ton of special "rules" for adding to the family bed - they are all the same as safely cosleeping with one!

That being said - I had to chuckle at the long hair rule - I honestly never read anything about tying your hair back, but it's something I've done intuitively b/c I don't like hair around my face when I wake up to nurse or change a diaper. Good to know I was on the right track ;)

Terri said...

Ah the joys of co-sleeping with four (sometimes 3)! We happily co-sleep with two mattresses on the floor...I'm mostly on one with the two kids while my partner hogs the other one...Now the children are 2 and 3 and more than able to push us about on the bed we are able to be a little interchangeable now as it suits us. For the first few months though I slept with my baby in a different room - not so much because of co-sleeping logistics but my first-born would sleep all through the night while baby would make a lot more noise and was a frequent waker. We all got more sleep that way. If you are at all interested in our journey it's in this post here:

Enjoy the journey...sounds like the next big step is Mikko transitioning to a new bed...good luck with that one!

Sting said...

Its greatest blog too Informative gud job! i have a topic related to how to assemble bunk bed and more about bunk beds space, Bunk beds are comprised of two beds stacked one on top of another, allowing two people to sleep in the same room with more space.......

Olivia said...

Thanks for writing about this. We'll be adding a 4th to our king sized bed in a few months and I've been wondering how it will work. Right now our almost 3 yr old sleep in the middle, usually closer to me (sometimes with her head on my pillow, lol), so I've been thinking she will stay in the middle and the baby will stay on the outside edge with the bumper. Only thing that I don't like about that is that with my first I would move her to either side of me to switch breasts, but I'm not sure how I'll nurse from the "top" side if I can't move the baby to the middle of the bed. Hopefully, it won't take too long before the baby is big enough to nurse from the top if I just lean over.

I'm a full-time mummy said...

I love your tips! Our sleeping arrangement is like this:
wall, baby, me, toddler, hubby

We also lower down the mattress and remove the bed frame once the baby started getting more mobile.

Christy said...

we struggled with this when adding #2 in the mix as well and we did try our oldest on the other side of daddy and baby in the middle with the same results. After the second night of Teddy clumbsily scrambling over daddy to get to me, landing on the new baby in the process we let him have "his spot" back and placed baby between me and the wall. Since our mattress was on the floor as well there was no gap/space between the bed and the wall so it worked out fine. We only have a queen size bed so once baby #2 was old enough to squirm around we had to transition our oldest into a toddler bed placed next to our bad.

Carmen Van Deursen said...

My husband and I have been co-sleeping with our son since birth, my son is now three and a half. It was so easy for us since mynhusband worse nights. We do have a toddler bed right next to our bed but my son is not ready to leave us yet (and neither am I), but we keep his options open. We love it so much that if we had another baby it would just be so natural to add him or her too.
Carmen Van Deursen

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