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Editor's note: This essay describes a parent's expirience with and research into bed sharing. To learn more about the American Academy of Pediatrics safe sleep recommendations please visit the AAP.


Like many parents, we began co-sleeping by necessity. Most women find that they bring the baby into the bed to nurse, and keep falling asleep; it's easier and safer to plan for bed-sharing than for it to happen inadvertently. We were a little different, however.

Because of reflux and other health problems, my son had trouble gaining weight. A different pediatrician probably would have called it “failure to thrive." We wanted him to nurse often at night, and sleeping next to me seemed a good way to do that.

It worked. Sleep reserchers Mosko, Richard, and McKenna proved that arousals are greater between bed-sharing pairs, meaning that these co-sleeping mothers and babies half-wake more often than mothers and babies who sleep apart. My son and I used these arousals to latch him to the breast more often. As time went on, he learned to latch himself; this is common among bed-sharing pairs.

In fact, James McKenna of the Notre Dame Mother-Baby Sleep Laboratory argues that frequent arousals are good for babies, because they promote what's really important in the first year of a baby's life: breastfeeding.

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This isn't to bash formula feeding. Far from it. But Dr. McKenna, like Dr. Bill Sears, argues that breastmilk is best for babies. And when you talk about safe co-sleeping, you talk about breastfeeding.

Co-sleeping promotes breastfeeding

Dr. McKenna claims that babies will “breastfeed more often, with less disruption to mother's sleep" when bed-sharing. This, he says, “can also be translated into less disease and morbidity." Basically, the more babies breastfeed, the more likely they are to reap the benefits of breastfeeding, which include, according to a position paper of the journal Pediatrics, improved developmental outcomes, a decrease in the incidence and severity of numerous infectious diseases (including among middle-class populations of developed countries), a decrease in SIDS and lower risk of diabetes.

Of course, breastfeeding is a choice. But it's a choice many mothers are making. In 2013, according to the CDC, 81.1% of American mothers began to breastfeed, and 60.6% were still breastfeeding at six months. In the US, only 12.8% of parents bed-share (though 45% of infants spent some time in an adult bed in the last two weeks).

That could account for the precipitous drop between breastfeeding initiated and breastfeeding continued at six months: no one wants to get up, go to a crib, pick up a baby, nurse her, put her back to sleep, and go back to bed every two hours, the normally cited time between breastfed baby feeds.

Formula, according to “Night Waking: Will I Ever Get a Good Night's Sleep Again?" forms larger curds in the baby's stomach. This means it take longer to digest, and hence formula-fed babies can go longer between feedings (the typical four-hour schedule) than their breastfed counterparts.

Basically, the closer you sleep to your baby, the easier it is to breastfeed. As Dr. McKenna says, “Proximity, of course, makes it more likely and possible that more interaction will take place between the mother and infants during the night, including more breastfeeding." Mother and baby will move towards each other, even in sleep; babies—like my son—will learn to latch themselves. (This is partly why, according to breastfeeding website Kellymom, mother and baby both tend to get more sleep while co-sleeping). All this nursing helps maintain mother's milk supply, especially if she works and is away from baby for significant amounts of time every day.

There's even a name for this: reverse cycling. Basically, when baby is separated from mother all day, he makes up for it by nursing more at night than he eats during the day. This can be frustrating, since baby's up nursing over, and over, and over, but lets baby get the nutrients he needs, and the mama time he craves.

Co-sleeping is biologically normal

As attachment expert Tami Breazeale says in “Co-Sleeping," the practice of mothers and babies sleeping separately is both a recent and a Western one. Dr. McKenna notes in “Co-sleeping Around the World" that “for the overwhelming majority of mothers and babies around the globe today, co-sleeping is an unquestioned practice."

This remains the case in much of Southern Europe, Asia, Africa, and Central and South America. Some cultures bed-share; others co-sleep with a bassinet or hammock in the room. Using CDC data from 1981, McKenna says that 68% of American babies co-sleep at some point, and 26% “always" or “almost always."

Breazeale notes that co-sleeping is almost 100% in “classic studies which included more than 200 cultures… including the Japanese, the Korean, the Phillipino, the Eskimo Indian, the !Kung San of Africa, and the natives of Okinowa." She also says that only 48% of kibuttzum children, who saw their parents for four hours a day and slept with age-mates, had a secure attachment to their mothers.

The human baby, McKenna says, depends on care from the mother. For the infant, co-sleeping represents “a form of expected physiological regulation and support." Indeed, he says:

“Infants require this contact and proximity especially because of nutritional needs (breastfeeding) but also because of the immaturity of their thermo-regulatory, immune, and cardio-respiratory systems, in addition to their dependence on touch, all systems closely tied together to promote efficient functioning of all of the infant's immature organs and the central nervous system in general."

The infant breathing system, both voluntary and autonomic, is not fully matured at birth, and especially functions immaturely during sleep. The human infant's physiology, McKenna says, “is not designed to function optimally outside the context by which usually the breastfeeding mother can compensate for the infants developmental (neurological) vulnerabilities." Basically, babies are biologically hardwired to sleep next to a breastfeeding mother, with whom they can sync breathing, heart rate, and more.

Who gets more sleep?

According to Kellymom, generally the Internet go-to for breastfeeding information, co-sleeping parents get more sleep than parents who don't share the same sleep surface. And who doesn't want more sleep? Families who sleep together end up sharing the same sleep rhythms. Dr. Jay Gordon recounts James McKenna watching mother-father-baby trios at the Notre Dame sleep laboratory fall in and out of sleep at the same time: stirring and moving simultaneously.

Researchers at East Tennessee State University proved, with 33 first-time mother-baby dyads, that while breastfed babies got less total sleep, breastfeeding mothers got more over a 24-hour period. Both mother and baby remained in a lighter stage of sleep, enabling arousal to nurse, and acting as a protective buffer against adverse sleep events. The researchers have proven what mothers have known since the dawn of time: co-sleeping mamas get more sleep.

Is co-sleeping safe?

A 2014 study in the journal Pediatrics, claims that 69% of infants who died of SIDS were bed-sharing at the time. However, the study doesn't account for the type of sleep surface; couches and recliners are perilously dangerous for sleeping infants. Nor did it evaluate each situation for a safe sleep environment. Were there heavy pillows and blankets around the infant? Was entrapment between mattress and wall an issue? The study doesn't distinguish between responsible co-sleepers and parents inebriated with alcohol or drugs. Nor does it account for cigarette smoking in the home (a known SIDS risk factor). So while the study might immediately frighten bed-sharing parents, there are too many holes to make a determination of the data.

A British study did find that bed-sharing was still a SIDS risk when the parents didn't smoke, drink, or use drugs. But again, the same problems exist with the study. Safe sleep environment and sleep location make a crucial difference when determining the safety of co-sleeping.

And co-sleeping is safe. McKenna and Gettler say because breastfeeding is a protective factor against SIDS, “safe bed-sharing may actually exert a protective effect against SIDS." Mothers sleeping next to their babies, they argue, and breastfeeding, is “an evolved suite of behaviors tracing humans' phylogentic roots as both primates and mammals."

We evolved to breastfeed and co-sleep, and evolution wouldn't favor a practice that led to the sudden and inexplicable death of infants. Dr. Sears agrees, and notes that countries with high co-sleeping rates have the lowest rates of SIDS. He also says that “infants who sleep near to parents have more stable temperatures, regular heart rhythms, and fewer long pauses in breathing compared to babies who sleep alone. This means baby sleeps physiologically safer."

The American Academy of Pediatrics actually recommends co-sleeping, defined as the caregiver sleeping in the same room as the infant, albeit on a separate sleeping surface from the parent. This, they've found, reduces the risk of SIDS. They still recommend against bed-sharing, but, as McKenna and Gettler note, “epidemiological studies reveal inconsistent findings as to whether or not, to what degree, or under what circumstances bed-sharing represents a consistent risk factor for SIDS."

What is a safe co-sleeping environment?

James McKenna details, on his website, what makes for a safe bed-sharing setup. First, the mattress must be dropped to the floor, making it only a few inches high. It also must be pulled away from the wall, to prevent movement and entrapment. Parents should dress warmly, to use as few covers as possible, and the covers they use should be light and airy, not heavy comforters. One pillow is allotted per person, and the bed must remain free of toys, stuffed animals, etc. He recommends that other children and pets remain out of the bed, and that siblings certainly never sleep next to the baby.

When our new baby came home from the hospital, we had already dropped our mattress and pulled it away from the wall. We had a queen-sized mattress with a twin-sized sidecar, because we knew how many people were getting in there. Each person was allotted one pillow. My husband slept on the single bed, and in the middle of the night, our older sons, then two and four, crept in to cuddle with him. I slept on the far side of the queen bed with the baby cradled on my arm. We slept with light covers up to our waists.

You'll find as many co-sleeping environments as you find families. However, by and large, planned bed-sharers—as opposed to those who bed-share accidentally, say by falling asleep while nursing—follow the rules. They may sneak in an extra pillow, or let their dog in bed, but they mostly adhere to the common sense guidelines laid out by Dr. McKenna.

Is co-sleeping right for you?

Most importantly, co-sleeping is safe. But it also affords more sleep for a breastfeeding mother, remains the biological norm in many parts of the world, and actually encourages nursing—a protective effect against SIDS. While Dr. McKenna recommends against bottle-feeding mothers bed-sharing, since they don't seem to share the same biological rhythms as their babies, for nursing mothers, co-sleeping seems the best choice.

As long as the family maintains a safe sleep environment, families should be empowered to make their own decisions. If mama and daddy are both in agreement, co-sleeping is probably the best choice for their family. And that's something we can all sleep on.

[This post was originally published October 14, 2016.]

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Sometimes it can feel like toys are a mama's frenemy. While we love the idea of entertaining our children and want to give them items that make them happy, toys can end up taking the joy out of our own motherhood experience. For every child begging for another plastic figurine, there's a mama who spends her post-bedtime hours digging toys out from under the couch, dining room table and probably her own bed.

Like so many other moms, I've often found myself between this rock and hard place in parenting. I want to encourage toys that help with developmental milestones, but struggle to control the mess. Is there a middle ground between clutter and creative play?

Enter: Lovevery.

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Even better, the toys are legitimately beautiful. Made from eco-friendly, sustainable materials materials and artfully designed, I even find myself less bothered when my toddler leaves hers strewn across the living room floor.

What I really love, though, is that the kits are about so much more than toys. Each box is like a springboard of imaginative, open-ended play that starts with the included playthings and expands into daily activities we can do during breakfast or while driving to and from lessons. For the first time, I feel like a company isn't just trying to sell me more toys―they're providing expert guidance on how to engage in educational play with my child. And with baby kits that range from age 0 to 12 months and toddler kits for ages 13 to 24 months, the kits are there for me during every major step of development I'll encounter as a new mama.

So maybe I'll never love toys―but I will always love spending time with my children. And with Lovevery's unique products, mixing those worlds has become child's play.


This article was sponsored by Lovevery. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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In a recent survey shared in the Reproductive Health journal, one out of six women in the United States reported being mistreated while in labor, where mistreatment included, "loss of autonomy; being shouted at, scolded, or threatened; and being ignored, refused, or receiving no response to requests for help."

One out of six.

To make these numbers even more sickening, mistreatment was more common among women of color, women with partners of color, women with lower socioeconomic status, and women under the age of 30.

(And yet people still question the validity of stating that black mothers are at a higher risk of pregnancy and birth-related complications.)

Rarely at a loss for words, I find myself almost unable to speak.

I am a midwife, and I am disgusted.

To be entrusted with the responsibility of caring for a woman giving birth is one of the single greatest honors available in the human experience.

I am not going to lie—it is not easy work. It is stressful and exhausting and sometimes even jading, and there are times when we will question the wisdom of the decision to spend our days doing this.

Yes, we worked incredibly hard to get to where we are today.

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But where we are is beside a woman who is giving birth. It is a gift to nurture and safeguard a woman as she does the profound work of bringing life into this world, and it is a duty to be held with reverence.

Providers. If the day has come that you are too stressed, too tired, too jaded to treat women with respect, then the day has come for you to leave this profession.

You swore an oath. Every time you ignore, or raise your voice to, or disrespect a woman in labor you are breaking that oath because in doing so you are inflicting harm. Birth trauma—and make no mistake, mistreatment in labor is trauma inducing—has very real consequences.

As I have shared previously, "When we give birth, we do so from our core—not just the core of our bodies, but the core of ourselves. We are open and vulnerable during and after birth, and the energy that is around us is the energy that we absorb. It becomes a part of the inner voice that guides us in motherhood."

The eye roll you thought she didn't see when she handed you her birth plan.

That snide remark about her "crazy behavior" while she was in labor.

When you ignored her call-bell because she was "just asking for more drugs."

That time you didn't call the translator service because "she should understand by now."

It mattered to her then and it matters to her now.

I want you to think back to the you who just got accepted to nursing, medical, or midwifery school. Would they be proud of the provider you've become?

I believe that a great many providers out there can answer yes. I believe that most people are trying to do right and be good.

But every single one of us needs to take a very hard look at ourselves and our practice and ensure that we are still deserving of the honor.

To women, I want to tell you three things.

First, you are worthy of respect. You know what? Scratch that. Because the word "worthy' implies that a special quality or effort on your part makes you good enough to deserve respect.

Your very existence calls for respect.

Our culture does a bang-up job of putting medical professionals on a pedestal—and there are some pretty amazing, life-saving ones that quite frankly should be up there. But even the most intelligent, skillful provider is a human, just like you. Yes, they may have a gift. But mama, so do you.

There is no credential, degree or diploma that permits the mistreatment of human beings.

Second, trust yourself.

So often I meet women who say things like, "It felt kind of hostile, but I'm probably just being too sensitive," or, "They kept hurting my feelings, but maybe I'm just hormonal."

If you feel mistreated, it is okay to say so. Yes, misunderstandings happen. But you do NOT have to sweep your feeling under the rug because you think you are "being silly." Your concerns are valid and deserve to be heard.

I also want you to trust that any mistreatment received is not your fault. I don't care if you asked a thousand questions, or cried and yelled the whole time you were in labor or didn't "do what they wanted you to do." Nothing justifies mistreatment, ever.

Lastly, you have rights and choices.

If you feel that you are being or have been mistreated, you have rights and you are not alone. Check with your birthplace and see if they have a patient advocacy department, or contact an attorney or advocate near you that will support you.

For a full list of your rights in childbirth, check out this document from Childbirth Connection.

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If you buy Parent's Choice baby formula at Walmart you need to check to see if your product is being recalled.

The manufacturer of Walmart's Parent's Choice Advantage Infant Formula Milk-Based Powder with Iron, Perrigo Company, is recalling the product because it may be contained with metal. There are no reports of babies experiencing adverse effects, but the company says it is proceeding with the recall out of an "abundance of caution stemming from a consumer report."


If you buy this formula look on the bottom of the tub to check the lot code and use by date. If it is lot Code C26EVFV with a "use by" date of February 26, 2021, it is part of the recall. Don't use it and take it back to Walmart for a refund.


These tubs retail for just under $20.

The FDA suggests "consumers with any health-related questions should contact their healthcare provider", and you can also call Perrigo Consumer Affairs at 866-629-6181.

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Babies love it when their mamas sing to them, and Carrie Underwood's son is no exception. But does he love his dad's singing? Not so much.

If your mom has a voice like Carrie Underwood's, chances are your lullaby standards are a bit higher than most. And, if a recent video from the singer is any indication, even Dad's singing may not quite make the grade.

The country singer shared a cute video clip of her son, Jacob, reacting as her husband, Mike Fisher, sings him a song. Let's just say the little guy isn't having it: Jacob cries throughout his father's mini-performance...That is until Mama steps in to sing the same song.

The clip shows little Jacob calm immediately when he hears his mom's voice (relatable, right?). Mike takes that opportunity to step back in and resume his vocals...but Jacob begins to cry again. "Everyone's a critic," Carrie captions the adorable video.

But don't take this to mean you have to be a recording artist in order to sing to your children! Even the most tone-deaf among us can (and should!) sing to our babies—not just because it's fun, but also because singing to your babe comes with some pretty awesome benefits. The act may even improve your baby's attention span and increase positive their reactions towards you, as we've previously reported.

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While Carrie and Mike opt to belt out the song "I Still Believe" by singer Vince Gill, you don't have to get too fancy. Singing a good old-fashioned lullaby to your kids is a great idea (they work for a pretty good reason). We are fairly certain that most babies out there love the sound of their mama's voice more than just about any sound (with the possible exception of the "Baby Shark" video), so keep up the family singing sessions even if you don't have a hit song on the charts.

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We teach our children to wash their hands to prevent the spread of germs, brush their teeth to prevent cavities, and we take care to make sure they get they get the sleep that is critical for healthy child development. But we also know that not every child in America can wash their hands, brush their teeth, or sleep without bright lights shining down on them. The children inside Border Patrol detention facilities don't have access to things like hygiene supplies or beds, and it is keeping many American mothers up at night.

As the Washington Post reports, lawyers for the U.S. government argue that it should not be required to provide detained migrant children with toothbrushes, soap, showers or conditions conducive to sleep. This is concerning many Americans, especially after a report from The Associated Press painted a bleak picture of unsanitary conditions for children detained at Border Patrol facilities, some with no parent to care for them.

For many, this isn't about politics, but about compassion. Last week Judge A. Wallace Tashima stated that it is "within everybody's common understanding that if you don't have a toothbrush, you don't have soap, you don't have a blanket, those are not safe and sanitary [conditions]," and many parents around the country agree.

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The children who are reportedly getting sick from unsanitary conditions need voices like Tashima's, but you don't have to be a judge to speak for them.

Here are 5 powerful ways to help these kids:

1. Call your representatives

You can follow Tashima's lead and let your reps know that your definition of "safe and sanitary" includes access to hygiene items and sleep.

If you don't know what number to call, you can either call the US Capitol switchboard or punch your info into callmycongress.com and get the direct phone numbers.

Just tell the congressional staffer who picks up the phone that you want to see soap, toothbrushes and beds for detained children right now.

Consider saving those direct numbers in your phone so that you can follow up with more calls in the future.

2. Use digital tools and data

You're probably reading this on your phone right now, so obviously calling your rep isn't the only way to get their attention. We all have powerful computers in our palms these days, and you can slide into your reps DMs or amplify this issue by tagging them in a tweet or Facebook post.

The internet hasn't just given us the ability to connect with our politicians, it has given us unprecedented access to information and science, and in this case, the science is pretty simple: Handwashing is "a win for everyone", according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Study after study after study backs the CDC up. Handwashing can keep kids alive by preventing everything from diarrhea to the flu.

The scientists at the CDC say that "washing hands with soap and water is the best way to reduce the number of germs on them.

So it is vital for these kids to have access to hygiene and sanitation as influenza is common in the detention centers.

The same challenges that make it hard to control communicable disease transmission and outbreaks in jails and prisons—high turnover rates of staff and the detained, a population vulnerable to illness—put these children at risk, and while the New York Times reports some guards at the detention facilities have taken to wearing paper masks to keep them from catching what the kids have, it is totally possible that someone who works around these detained kids will get sick, and that could put a population outside of the facility at risk.

Giving detained people access to sanitation should be a public health priority.

3. Keep talking about this + encourage others to make their own calls

This conversation comes nearly a year after ProPublica released audio reportedly recorded inside a U.S. Customs and Border Protection detention facility and mothers across America cried listening to the sounds of those children crying.

Now, the conversation has shifted to sanitation, but it's important to remember that soap, toothbrushes and showers aren't all these kids are missing—they're missing their families, too. Children continue to be separated from their families, something that will impact them for the rest of their lives, whether those lives happen in America or elsewhere.

There are a lot of debates going on about how to solve this crisis, but one thing that many groups, from U.S. Customs and Border Protection to the American Academy of Pediatrics, agree on is that these facilities were not designed to house kids.

Something's got to change, and the more people that are calling their reps, the better.

Tell your friends that you're talking to your representatives about this and ask them to call, too. A lot of people have never called a politician's office before, so let those in your circle know about how the ACLU will route their call and pass on the short script for those who get flustered on the phone.

4. Donate to organizations that will help migrant families


There are many organizations working to get and keep children out of detention centers so that they will not have to live in the kinds of conditions being reported. All of the following organizations are trying to help children caught up in this crisis.

American Immigration Council: This organization gets on the ground at detention centers helping families, documenting conditions of detention and bringing lawsuits to challenge them.

Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project: Provides "emergency legal aid to refugee families".

Diocesan Migrant & Refugee Services: Provides "free and low cost immigration services".

Families Belong Together: Is a group effort that "includes nearly 250 organizations representing Americans from all backgrounds who have joined together to fight family separation and promote dignity, unity, and compassion for all children and families

Kids In Need of Defense: According to its website, KIND "partners with major law firms, corporations, law schools, and bar associations to create a nationwide pro bono network to represent unaccompanied children through their immigration proceedings."

Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center: States it is "dedicated to serving the legal needs of low-income immigrants, including refugees, victims of crime, and families seeking reunification."

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service: The faith-based organization "works with refugees, children, and migrants to ensure they are protected and welcomed into local communities throughout the United States."

South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project (ProBAR): A joint project of the American Bar Association, the State Bar of Texas and the American Immigration Lawyers Association, ProBAR "is a national effort to provide pro bono legal services to asylum seekers detained in South Texas by the United States government. "

Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES): A non-profit that aims to reunite families and help kids feel safe, this Texas-based nonprofit aims to "directly fund the bond necessary to get parents out of detention and reunited with their children while awaiting court proceedings" and "ensure legal representation for EVERY child in Texas' immigration courts."

The Young Center for Immigrant Children's Rights: Provides independent Child Advocates to stand up for unaccompanied immigrant children and "champion the child's best interests".

5. Teach our children kindness and compassion 

We can't change what has already happened, but we can teach our children to change the future.

By instilling empathy, compassion and kindness in the next generation we are planting the seeds for a kinder world, and those seeds desperately need to be planted.

Caring for these children is not a partisan issue, it's an issue many parents all over the political spectrum are grappling with. Many have differing opinions about how to resolve the issues at the root of this problem, but many parents can agree that if their child was in this position they would want them to be shown some kindness.

As much as many parents would love to scoop these children up, draw them a bubble bath and find them a safe, warm place to sleep, we can't. But we can do those things for our own children, and in doing so we will teach them about love and kindness.

And hopefully, future generations will not be having the conversations.

[Last updated June 24,2019]

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