3 Things I Wish I Knew About Safe Baby Sleep Sooner

In today’s day and age, it is hard to reconcile all the tidbits shared with moms-to-be or new moms through word of mouth, social media scrolls and email subscriptions.

Often we’re flashed only a sentence or two that quickly turns into gospel, without really understanding the full picture or the intended “why” behind the catchy message. ("Drowsy but awake", anyone?)

The result being there is so much misinformation, things easily getting misconstrued in the proverbial game of telephone. This is why I’m so passionate about sharing my learnings, to empower new moms to feel comfortable following their instinct when it comes to their baby.

I went into my second pregnancy feeling pretty smug about most things baby sleep.  It was relieving knowing that I could bedshare from day 1 if I so chose, without the worry and stress of thinking I was being unsafe or creating bad habits.  I was well educated and a veteran (having had bedshared with my first for 2.5 years) and looking forward to a more peaceful experience this time around.

Having said that, there were new pieces of guidance I learned much later in my bedsharing journey, even after my second baby was born, that I wish I knew sooner.  

I pulled together the top three in this blog post and for those of you who have already finished Rebel Mama, consider this an addendum to the Redefining Normal section of my bedsharing chapter.  And if you haven’t gotten that far yet in the book, fear not, this will still be useful information and will motivate you to pick up the book and continue reading.

1. Skip the swaddle when bedsharing

If you’ve memorized La Leche League’s ditty about bedsharing, then you’re probably a step ahead of me on this first one, as the fourth line of the ditty is “keep him lightly dressed”.  When reading La Leche League’s Sweet Sleep, I learned that if you choose to bedshare, skip the swaddle.  


The swaddle prevents the baby from alerting you with swats or movement if needed, plus it could lead to overheating.  


I had swaddled Jack (my first baby) in those early days because for the first five months or so, I was trying my best to follow the rules and have him in his bassinet at night.  

But we kept ending up with a quasi-bedsharing, quasi-bassinet arrangement, making determining his outfit a challenge.  Consequently, he ended up bedsharing with me in his swaddle on many occasions.  

Thankfully we never had an issue, but it rattled me that I imposed a risk to my baby as I tried to navigate the muddy waters of nighttime baby sleep.

Focusing on what I could control, I knew that skipping the swaddle was best for our bedsharing situation going forward, and my second baby never wore a swaddle.  And then I learned another important tip with respect to bedsharing.

2. Tie up long hair when bedsharing

I have several evidence-based sleep specialist favorites that I follow regularly and read all of their content with fascination, one of them being Kaitlin Klimmer.  She is a wealth of knowledge, brilliant, kind and funny.  She has a way of explaining things that makes the learning process engaging and interesting.  

Kaitlin did a great Instagram story where she posted a picture of her bedsharing with her baby and viewers had to “guess” what was wrong.  I am such a sucker for a quiz, I quickly calculated all of the things she intentionally staged that were unsafe, excited to click forward to see that I scored a 100%.  


Turns out I missed something.  How could that be?

Not unlike me, Kaitlin has very long hair.  And in her picture, it was flowing beautifully on her pillow and bed.  But the lesson she was teaching was that all luscious locks should be tied up to avoid strangulation.  

As soon as I read it I felt so foolish – of course it makes total sense.  

To confirm (not that I doubted her one bit, but I wanted check in McKenna’s book), I went to consult my bedsharing bible, my copy of Dr. James McKenna’s Safe Infant Sleep. Sure enough, if you have long hair you should treat it like a cord and ensure it’s not dangling anywhere near the baby.

After this learning I decided to make a remix to LLL’s ditty, with one small word swap in bold below. The DJ Rebel Mama version looks like this (as a reminder, this is to the tune of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”):

No smoke, sober mom

Baby at your breast,

Healthy baby on his back

Keep him lightly dressed.

Not too soft a bed

Watch hair, cords, and gaps,

Keep the covers off his head

For your nights and naps.

Before moving to my third learning, I want to share that Kaitlin’s blog has one of the most comprehensive safe bedsharing write ups, as this post only hits on two points that complement the bedsharing chapter in Rebel Mama. Kaitlin’s post is such a gift as it’s completely free information that I wish every new mom would read should she find herself in a bedsharing situation (and according to this recent Cut article it is very likely she will!).  

3. Keep car seat naps for the car

Swaddle off, hair up, was I in the safety zone yet? Well I might have been for nighttime bedsharing, but I had one more adjustment to make when it came to naps.

And that was, keep car seat naps in the car.  Meaning, don’t use the car seat as a “nap container” outside of your car.  


We did this DAILY with my first son until he was about eight months.  Not in the car, but we’d take him for a walk in his stroller (which uses the same infant car seat insert as the car), and he’d fall asleep.  Then once we got home, we’d take the car seat insert out of the stroller and place it on the floor inside so he could finish his nap.  

I thought we were so clever as it was always a guaranteed long nap, which was pretty impossible for my first to get unassisted.

We carried on this tradition with my second son for some naps early on (thankfully he was way more open to napping in different locations so we weren’t as reliant on the stroller walk nap) until I came across an article talking about positional asphyxiation.  

In simple terms, positional asphyxiation is when the position of the head and/or neck blocks the airway, preventing the baby from being able to breathe.  Now naturally one may think, well that wouldn’t happen in the infant car seat, since car seats are so heavily regulated for safety before they hit the shelves.  And yes, that is true.  But remember, car seats are for safely transporting a baby from point A to point B – not for sleeping.  

The key here is that when the car seat is connected to either the base for the car or the stroller, it’s at the optimal position/angle to limit positional asphyxiation and protect the baby in the event of a crash.  

However, when removed and placed on a flat surface, the seat tends to balance out such that baby is at a more upright position, significantly increasing the risk for airway blockage.  Hence, while it is not at all what any parents wants to do, if you find yourself with a baby who fell asleep in the car seat, once at your destination, transferring him or her to a flat service is recommended (or if you have the luxury of time, finish it out as a contact nap!).

I acknowledge that it’s always so hard to talk about baby safety, especially sleep safety, without scaring the bejesus out of someone. Let’s wrap this up with a grounding exercise, i.e. the three deep breaths.

In through your nose, out through your mouth.



Now after learning 1 and 2 above, I still proceeded with bedsharing being the best option for my family.  I didn’t panic because of the swaddle nor did I cut off all of my hair, I just adjusted going forward once I became better informed.  

And of course after learning 3, I immediately stopped permitting car seat naps to continue past the car ride or stroller walk with my second son.

I am trying every day to avoid allowing myself to feel shame and guilt in any of my parenting decisions and actions, reminding myself that I am doing the best I can and so are you!  If you read any of this and immediately felt remorseful, allow the feeling to work its way through your body and then let it go.  What’s the best thing you can do? Share this information with another new mom in a caring, judgement-free way.  Together we’ll empower, educate, and support new moms, creating a sense of solidarity in those early days of motherhood.

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