When my husband and I first began discussing baby sleeping arrangements when I was pregnant with our daughter, we knew we wanted her to be in our room for a number of reasons, among them, easier breastfeeding access and being closer for nighttime wake-ups. We eagerly decorated and set up an entire nursery complete with crib (thank you, nesting!), but figured she would mostly be in the attached-to-the-bed co-sleeper we set up in our room. Little did we know that we would end up using neither option, as from night one she nestled into our bed (and hearts), and continues to (mostly) sleep there today at almost 2 years old. Here is a look at how our family bed has evolved over those 2 years.
Our daughter was born at home (in our infrequently used nursery), and when the midwives and doula and photographer all trickled out of our house, leaving us alone with a tiny, helpless, sleepy newborn, it seemed only natural to keep her with us in our bed. Shortly after birth, I realized how much of an extension of my body she was, and that any amount of separation was almost physically painful for me, and equally distressing for her. Her natural environment was curled up on my chest, skin-to-skin, not only for frequent breastfeeding, but because to have her anywhere else just seemed wrong. We made sure to set up a safe bed-sharing environment, and she and I spent the majority of that first week in our new family bed. It is also where she napped, on the rare occasion she wasn’t napping on one of us. The attached co-sleeper did come in handy as an extra large nightstand. It held my basket of snacks, water bottles, nipple cream, diapers, wipes, and burp cloths. It also occasionally held our cat.
That set-up worked well for us for many months. My husband works out of town two-thirds of the year, so often it was just her and I in our king sized bed. When she was around nine months old, she became much more mobile, and the small co-sleeper that was still attached to the bed as my nightstand wasn’t quite enough to ease my fear of her rolling off the bed. So we took away the bed frame, leaving just the boxspring and mattress, took off one side of the never-used crib, and side-carred it to the bed. This gave us a lot more room so she could roll and crawl around to her heart’s content, latch on when she needed to nurse and then roll back over into her own space, and often I ended up with half my body in the crib at some point during the night too.
When our daughter was about a year old, my husband coming and going for work became too disruptive for her sleep. He’d be home for a week and she’d get used to sleeping with both of us, and then when he left she wouldn’t sleep as well for a few days. She’d then get used to sleeping with just me again, and have a few days of disruption when he’d come home. For us, this meant hubby moved into the spare room most nights when he was home. This allowed me to wake up for nighttime nursings and let him sleep, and then he could get up early in the morning with her and let me snooze uninterrupted for a bit. Again, this worked well for us for quite a while.
The next, and most current, evolution came around 18 months, when both she and I were ready for a little more space. I had begun to wake her when I would come to bed later than her, and she seemed more disturbed by my often restless sleep, and I by hers. This time, we took away the crib and added a twin mattress on the floor right next to our bed, about 6 inches lower than the height of our mattress. To ease the transition, I made a big deal about how exciting it was that she was getting her very own bed with her very own blue sheep sheets, and I started out putting her down for naps in it. The first night I put her to sleep in her bed was scary for me, even though she was only an arm's length away. She and I, in our entire relationship history of a year and a half, had never slept on a separate surface. Even when traveling, we’d find some way to set up a safe family bed in our hotel room. That first night, she started off in her bed, and when she woke, moved to our bed to nurse and cuddle for the rest of the night, and that’s about where we’re at now. Sometimes we play bed roulette. If I’m feeling the need for some more space and she’s in our bed, I’ll move to her bed. Sometimes she’ll come into the big bed and, at some point, roll back down into her bed. Occasionally we’ll both fall asleep in her bed and stay there the whole night.
Our sleeping arrangements may not look like I thought they would in the beginning, or like anyone else’s but we’re happy with them. Done safely, co-sleeping or bed sharing can be a wonderful tool for early parenting, and even longer than that, I’m finding. Do you have a family bed? What has the evolution of your sleep arrangements looked like? Let us know in the comments!
Kelsey Voelker is a labor doula and lactation educator with Full Circle Birth Collective. Learn more about Kelsey here.
Connection Through Touch; The Benefits to Ourselves and Our Children
Sonya Duffee CLD, CLDT, CCCE, CPD
Touch is an integral part of being human. Every inch of our skin is connected to nerves that relay the sense of touch to our brain for interpretation. Human touch produces a soothing and calming affect. It allows us to feel loved and cared for. Is it possible that there is more to it than we know? Is it usually instinctual to reach out to our children and hold them and nurture them from the start of their life?
Researchers have been discovering the benefits of immediate skin to skin contact for infants at birth, and the impact it has on their emotional engagement and development. Mothers who immediately engage skin to skin touch with their infants at the time of birth have increased maternal behaviour, and develop more confidence in themselves. Caring for their newborn is enhanced and they tend to breastfeed for longer periods of time.
We are biologically programmed to hold our little ones close, which is just one reason why we love our children. There is convincing evidence that the hormone oxytocin is released in great amounts in mothers during birth, as well as through breastfeeding, and is involved in the formation of maternal behaviour.
Over the years, medical researchers have discovered the basic biological facts regarding the benefits and necessity of human contact and connection. Being touched brings a sense of safety and comfort in our environment, and it is through touch that healthy brain development occurs. 
There were three areas that became dominant in the research between parent and child, which concluded the need for connection at the start of life. The three areas were as follows:
Brain Development - Studies suggests that touch helps in brain development and produces a calming effect, reducing the stress hormone cortisol, which can be damaging to human brain tissue, effecting learning and memory. Loving affection and touch have been confirmed to develop healthy emotions and neurobiological development. 
Bonding – Connecting with our infant, holding and caressing them with gentle touch, brings a deeper connection to parents. The hormone dopamine, is heightened, producing a feel-good high which also helps your baby to emotionally attach to you. This positive interaction boosts self-confidence and security, and as the child grows, helps nurture his or her ability to relate to others.
Growth and Survival – The first contact an infant has with its mother brings a surge of hormones that can help regulate body temperature and blood sugar levels, as well as lower stress hormones that can inhibit sleep patterns and growth. A lack of touch can lower levels of growth hormone in a child, resulting in an immune system that may be weakened and create other health problems.
Science has identified positive effects of touch for babies and families to also include pain relief, physiological stability in heart rate and temperature of the newborn, infant weight gain and growth, and deeper parent-infant interactions. 
Infants in the NICU or who are born prematurely, greatly benefit from ‘kangaroo care’, (skin to skin with mothers) and receiving gentle touch. Dr. Neil Bergman, a senior medical superintendent states, "Physiology and research provide overwhelming evidence that kangaroo mother care is not only safe, but superior to the use of technology such as incubators. Depriving babies of skin-to-skin contact makes alternative stress pathways in the brain, which can lead to ADD, colic, and sleep disorders, among other things."
It is important for parents to consider their infant’s response to touch. Be conscious of signs of overstimulation, and of the delicate balance of our children’s needs. Signs of overstimulation in infants include crying, fussiness, hyperactivity and being withdrawn. In older infants, this may include clinging or hitting. Babies will often show a spaced out stare, turn away from their parents, or just not engage. The baby’s movements may become noticeably jerky, especially when on the verge of crying.
Touch can be through various means, such as cuddling, massage, gentle caressing of the hair, cheeks and face. Follow your infant’s cues to find out if your child becomes overstimulated and sensitive to touch. Use gentle light touches and gradual adjustments to physical affection. As children develop a sense of self, personal space and boundaries, their desire for affection may change. The positive effects and benefits are numerous! Follow your instinct and bring your child close to you for those warm cuddles, because before you know it, they will be off and running.
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