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Note: I use the terms “co-sleeping” and “bed-sharing” interchangeably except where otherwise indicated.


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. 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.

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. It’s been associated with a slight increase in intelligence (a claim now controversial), and numerous maternal health benefits, including a decrease in breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and hip fractures in postmenopausal women.

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, is a certain protection against 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, we can ignore the public service campaigns. 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.

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2018 will go down in history as the year that gave us a royal wedding, a second Chrissy Teiegn cookbook and saw Serena Williams prove that new mamas can do anything. It's also the year that a bunch of adorable celebrity babies came into the world.

Here's to all the celebrity babies born this year!

Elizabeth Smart and Matthew Gilmour welcomed baby Olivia

Back in June author and activist Elizabeth Smart announced she and husband Matthew Gilmour were expecting their third child, and in November baby Olivia arrived.

She was born in hospital and Smart shared a sweet post-birth selfie with her Instagram followers.

"So happy to welcome Olivia to our family!" she wrote.

We are so happy for her.

Jessica Chastain and Gian Luca Passi de Preposulo welcomed a baby girl

After actress Jessica Chastain was spotted out in October carrying a baby in a car seat, media outlets began to speculate about whether she and husband Gian Luca Passi de Preposulo had become parents, and it turns out the rumors are true. On November 19, E! News reported Chastain's daughter was born in the spring, via surrogate.

Chastain has not spoken publicly about her daughter or posted any baby photos on her Instagram, which is absolutely her choice. If she ever does decide to talk about the early days of her daughter's life, we will be all ears!

Until then, congratulations to Jessica and Gian!

Kate Upton and Justin Verlander welcomed daughter Genevieve

What a sweet little face! On November 10 Kate Upton and Justin Verlander introduced the world to their daughter, Genevieve Upton Verlander who was born on November 7.

On his Instagram account proud dad Verlander added notes "You stole my ❤️ the first second I met you!!!"

Looks like Genevieve's parents are very much in love with their baby girl.

Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade welcomed (a surprising) baby girl 

Gabrielle Union and Dwayne Wade shocked the world in November by announcing the birth of the daughter fans didn't know they were expecting!

"We are sleepless and delirious but so excited to share that our miracle baby arrived last night via surrogate and 11/7 will forever be etched in our hearts as the most loveliest of all the lovely days. Welcome to the party sweet girl!" Union, who has previously written about her struggles with infertility, wrote on Instagram.

Diane Kruger and Norman Reedus welcomed their first baby together

Diana Kruger and her partner, Walking Dead star Norman Reedus, are the latest celebrity parents to welcome a new baby, but unlike a lot of celebrity couples they did not do an Instagram baby announcement.

The family is keeping things low key, but People reports it has confirmed the baby's arrival.

Whether or not a family chooses to publicize their child's image and name is totally up to the parents, whether they are famous or not. Kruger and Reedus may choose to keep their baby out of the spotlight and that's totally cool. Big announcements aren't for everyone.

 Hilary Duff and Matthew Koma welcomed daughter Banks Violet Bair

Hilary Duff shared some big news in October, dropping an adorable birth announcement on Instagram and letting the world know that she had a home birth for daughter Banks Violet Bair. What a unique name!

Pippa Middleton and James Matthews welcomed a baby boy 

Little Prince Louis now has a close cousin! The Duchess of Cambridge's sister, Pippa Middleton, and her husband James Matthews welcomed a baby boy on October 16, one day after her sister's sister-in-law, Meghan Markle, announced her pregnancy.

Kate Hudson and Danny Fujikawa welcomed baby Rani Rose 

Kate Hudson is now a #girlmom.

The actress (who is also mom to sons, 7-year-old son Bingham and 14-year-old son Ryder) and her partner Danny Fujikawa announced the birth of their daughter one day after she was born on October 2. The birth announcement came via a series of Instagram slides, captioned with simply, "She's here".

"We have decided to name our daughter Rani (pronounced Ronnie) after her grandfather, Ron Fujikawa. Ron was the most special man who we all miss dearly. To name her after him is an honor," Hudson wrote.

"Everyone is doing well and happy as can be. Our family thanks you for all the love and blessings that have been sent our way and we send ours right back."

Jillian Harris and Justin Pasutto welcome baby Annie 

On October 1 Jillian Harris and Justin Pasutto announced they just welcomed their second child (and first girl), baby Annie. According to the Instagram post introducing Annie, Harris and Pasutto were enjoying a date night when Annie started making her entrance into the world, interrupting mom and dad's round of golf.

 Kim Kardashian +  Kanye West welcomed Chicago Noel West

Celebrity power couple Kim Kardashian and Kanye West welcomed their third child, baby Chicago via a gestational surrogate on January 15, 2018. Chicago came into the world weighing 7 pounds, 6 ounces and was instantly loved by the whole Kardashian family, including her siblings, North and Saint.

"We're so in love," Kardashian said in a statement released shortly after Chicago's birth.

"We are incredibly grateful to our surrogate who made our dreams come true with the greatest gift one could give," the proud mama explained.

[Updated: November 20, 2018.]

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I was at my midwife appointment two weeks before my due date. After hearing my daughter's heartbeat and answering some questions, the midwife asked if I was planning to breastfeed.

Mentally scanning my perfectly outlined first-time-mom birth plan—complete with bullet points and bolded phrases which I had carefully picked—I realized that I hadn't even considered this notion until half a second ago. I was so preoccupied with the details surrounding how I was going to get this baby out of me that I hadn't contemplated how I would actually keep her alive once she was disconnected from my placenta.

I shrugged and replied, "Sure, I guess I will if I can." So I added my breastfeeding bullet point to my birth plan.

I woke up to my buzzing phone on the morning of March 29th. "Due Date" popped up as a notification on my calendar, as if the birth of my child could be scheduled in the same way you would an oil change.

I had everything planned. I would first labor quietly, un-medicated, wearing makeup and using my hypnobirthing techniques I been studying. Then, when I was ready to push, my baby would be delivered in a very reasonable amount of time with minimal tearing.

She would be placed on my chest where together we would soak in the hormonal love cocktail that I had read so much about. Afterward, I would unpack my laptop to check work emails during the downtime that I had assured myself would be bountiful during our hospital stay.

Growing more impatient as the time lingered since my due date notification, the hours turned to days. My water finally broke three long days later. My actual labor started quickly after I began bragging to my visitors about how manageable the contractions were.

I sweated my makeup off soon after. The calm and meditative laboring state I had prepared myself for was more akin to the calmness one would have upon placing the palms of their hands onto the burners of a searing hot stove.

The intervals between my contractions vanished as I eventually ripped my clothes off, hoping I could somehow crawl out of my skin. I gasped for breath between sobs when my midwife assured me that I was two whole centimeters dilated.

As fate would have it, 48 hours later, I would deliver my bruised and exhausted baby laying on my back, crying and shaking on an ice cold operating table.

As it turns out, enjoying approximately 35 seconds of sleep in a span of days doesn't do much for one's patience levels. Sore and freshly bound around the abdomen, I couldn't possibly be expected to employ my motherly duties yet, could I?

Whoever was supposed to serve me the hormonal love cocktail I was promised, apparently skipped my hospital room. My emails went unanswered as I ineptly tended to my shrieking newborn.

"The Universe laughs when you have a plan," I once read. The Universe must have taken one look at me and rejoiced: Boy was I in for a lesson.

Once settled in at home, I realized that breastfeeding wasn't going to work for us after all. Then I experienced a heavy period of postpartum depression.

Just weeks prior, I had everything planned so precisely. Things that pertained not just to the infancy stage I was so freshly experiencing now, but things that I had no right to plan, as I wouldn't truly understand them for months and some even years.

I had sworn to myself that I would always treat my child with kindness and patience...and look good while doing so. I told myself that I would reserve time for me to enjoy my hobbies and never "lose sight of myself." But suddenly, intellectually stimulating toys, perfectly situated hair bows, and frankly, brushed teeth meant much less to me.

Through the birth of my second daughter, I learned that a healthy baby is enough, no matter how they get here. This time, using medication, I graciously welcomed her into the world. Promptly after enjoying the love cocktail I had waited so patiently for, I let the nurses whisk her off to care for her in the nursery as I took a well-deserved nap.

Life with two small children required adjustments and another shift in expectations, but this time around I laughed my way through it. (And I learned to appreciate the texture of my unwashed hair, too.)

It wasn't until I finally let go of who I thought I should be that I finally felt satisfied by who I am. I am often frazzled, over-stressed and disheveled. I don't always feel very interesting and I am no longer the perfectly curated woman I once was.

I'm chronically late and not unlike my oldest daughter, I often burst in exhausted, bruised and five days late. Deadlines and appointments sometimes slip by and surprisingly, my heart continues to beat.

But most importantly, I'm an extremely good mother. Pay no attention to the non-organic popsicle stains running down my children's mismatched clothing or the bird nests of hair sitting atop their heads: because we are happy. And that is what is important.

Despite my earlier expectations that I have fallen quite short of, my children are well. They are not perfect, nor am I. Neither were any of the women who have come before or will come after me. I only make plans now with the caveat that they must be subject to change. The Universe can now laugh with me, not at me.

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The American Academy of Pediatrics says that newborns, especially, do not need a bath every day. While parents should make sure the diaper region of a baby is clean, until a baby learns how to crawl around and truly get messy, a daily bath is unnecessary.

So, why do we feel like kids should bathe every day?

Bathing frequency

There is no scientific or biological answer to how often you should bathe your child. During pre-modern times, parents hardly ever bathed their children. The modern era made it a societal norm to bathe your child daily.

Many babies and toddlers, especially those who aren't walking yet, don't need to be washed with soap every day. If a child has dry, sensitive skin, parents should wash their child with a mild soap once a week.

On other nights, the child may simply soak or rinse off in a lukewarm, plain water bath if they are staying fairly clean. Additionally, parents can soak their children in a water bath without soap most nights or as needed as part of a routine.

Cause of skin sensitivity

Many problems with sensitive, irritated skin are made worse by bathing habits that unintentionally dry out the skin too much. Soaking in a hot bath for long periods of time and scrubbing will lead to dry skin. Additionally, many existing skin conditions will worsen if you over-scrub your child or use drying, perfumed soaps.

Some skin conditions, like childhood eczema (atopic dermatitis), are not caused by dirt or lack of hygiene. Therefore, parents do not need to scrub the inflamed areas. Scrubbing will cause dry, sensitive skin to become even more dry.

Tips for bath time

Some best practices for bath time for kids who have dry, itchy, sensitive skin or eczema include.

  • The proper temperature for a bath is lukewarm
  • Baths should be brief (5-10 minutes long)
  • To avoid drying out your child's skin, use mild, fragrance-free soaps (or non-soap cleansers)
  • Use small amounts of soap and wash the child with your hands, rather than scrubbing with a soapy washcloth.
  • Do not let your child sit and play in the tub or basin if the water is all soapy.
  • Use the soap at the end of the bath, not the beginning.
  • When finishing the bath, rinse your child with warm fresh water to remove the soap from their body. Let the child "dance" or "wiggle" for a few seconds to shake off some of the water, and then apply moisturizing ointments, creams, or lotions while their skin is still wet.
  • Simple store-brand petroleum jelly is a wonderful moisturizer, especially if applied right when the child leaves the tub while the skin is still wet.
  • Avoid creams with fragrances, coloring agents, preservatives, and other chemicals. Simple, white, or colorless products are often better for children's skin.
  • Do not use alcohol-based products.

Originally posted on Children's National Health System's Rise and Shine.

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