Making room for baby

Moms say family beds are great, but counselor says safety is key

Moms say family beds are great, but counselor says safety is key

March 13, 2009|By CRYSTAL SCHELLE

Baby needs her sleep and so do mom and dad.

So goes the debate over whether to bring baby in the bed with the parents for what's often called a "family bed."

Two local moms have tested the family bed concept and have been happy with the results. But it's not for everyone. Sharing a bed can have positive results, but one area counselor and a recent study caution parents about baby's safety in the bed.

For baby

It was motherly worry why Annie Marshall of Boonsboro decided to bring her baby, Juliana Lufkin, into the family bed.

"She had surgery when she was 6 weeks old and was pretty sick," Marshall said.

Today, Juliana is a healthy 17-year-old.

Marshall said she and her then-husband didn't make a conscious decision over whether to have a family bed. "I didn't know anything about a family bed," she said. "Her doctor was pretty opposed."


Bringing Juliana into the bed was a way to make mom and baby feel secure. Marshall said from her experience the family bed worked.

"It makes for a calmer baby," she said. "I just couldn't let her cry."

Juliana said she remembers sharing the bed as a child. She said she liked being able to snuggle while Mom read a story.

"It meant I was safe," she said. "It wasn't me getting up in the middle of the night to find her when I was having a bad dream."

Juliana shared the family bed until she was 5 when she announced it was time for a space of her own. Marshall said they didn't push her to get her own bed.

"We came to believe that, like everything else, she'd want to do it on her own, like zipping her own coat," she said.

Juliana said she decided she needed her own room partly because of a bedtime rule.

"I was only allowed two stuffed animals and a pillow in the big bed," she said.

She said she has fond memories of shopping for the bed because her grandmother purchased the bed for her.

Even today, Juliana said it helped form a bond between her and her mom.

"Even now, I knew if I wanted to, I could still go to bed with her," she said.

What it has done for Juliana, she said, has given her confidence. "I feel like I can pretty much do anything," she said.

Juliana plans to attend college in Ireland. And both she and her mother believe that she will do well because, in part, the family bed gave her self-confidence. Juliana said it's also shaped the type of person she's become.

"I'm really a snugly person," she said.

Just a word of caution

Brianne Tesla-Doyle is a licensed counselor and admission clinician at Brook Lane, which offers family counseling. She's also the mother of a 9-month-old.

Tesla-Doyle said experts disagree on whether a family bed is a good idea for a child. She names two possible downsides to family beds: increased anxiety for a child or co-dependency between child and parent.

But Tesla-Doyle said sharing a bed is simply about safety. She is worried that a parent might roll over and accidentally suffocate the baby in the middle of the night. Or that a child might fall out of the bed.

Safety, she said, is exactly why she and her husband chose not to do a family bed. "I would be terrified about hurting the baby," she said.

A study published in the February 2009 edition of Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, attributes a U.S. infant mortality trend to accidental suffocation and strangulation during sleep. The study on in-bed deaths was conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study examined deaths of infants sleeping alone and with other people; and sleeping in beds, cribs and couches.

The study found that there was an increase from 1984 to 2004 for accidental suffocation and strangulation during sleep. Deaths increased from 2.8 to 12.5 deaths per 100,000 infants. The upswing happened between 1992 and 2004, the study reported.

Not all babies are the same

Kathy Shifflett of Martinsburg, W.Va., said she and her husband, Scott, didn't really talk about whether to bring the kids into the bed. It just evolved.

The Shiffletts have four children ages 17, 15, 13 and 10. And what she found was that each child decided if the family bed was right for him or her.

Her oldest child spent some time in the bed during extended feedings. But their daughter, the second oldest, liked her own space separate from mom and dad. Shifflett attributes it her daughter's time in the hospital.

"She was in the (neonatal intensive care unit) for over a week at birth and I suspect that is what she was used to," Shifflett wrote in an e-mail. "She was a bottle baby, and never wanted to be in our bed."

Their third child, a girl, graduated from the family bed to her own bed at about 2 years old. Shifflett said she and her husband never forced her to go to her own bed.

"On nights when my husband and I wanted alone time, we would rock her and put her in her crib," she wrote. "Most of those nights, she would stay."

But Shifflett said her youngest likes to snuggle in bed with her parents. If her husband is traveling, Shifflett said her youngest likes to crawl into bed with mommy. Shifflett said she likes the together time.

"It's our time. We read and talk. We really do have a special bond," she said.

Talk about it

Telsa-Doyle said parents should talk about bringing a child in the bed before the child decides for them. And issues such as intimacy should be discussed.

"It should be a personal decision for each couple," she said.

As a child grows, Telsa-Doyle said to communicate with a child. She said parents can celebrate when the baby gets out of the bed.

Is there an age by which the child should sleep by themselves? Telsa-Doyle said that when a child enters school, he or she shouldn't be sleeping every night in the family bed.

"By the time they reach school, they should be gaining independence," she said.

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