Back Pain & Bedsharing

Here’s a little story about space.

Once upon a time, there was a little bed that looked like this:

And then one day, it looked like this:

How did that happen? (Note: Don’t add picture here.)

So a few days later, there was a bigger bed that looked like this:

And then, for about a million good reasons it looked like this:

And then about 3 months later, it looked like this:

Now, I actually consider myself pretty savvy when it comes to geometry and math and stuff, but I cannot, for the life of me, figure out how every night at 7pm the bed looks like this:

and manages to look like this only a few hours later:

Every night.

I get a lot of emails on “best” sleep position, so I usually refer everyone to this post (Nightowl*), but I realize now (of course) that the “ideal” sleeping position has to be temporarily forgoed when there are hoggers, ahem, I mean babies sleeping with you.

Why am I writing this post this morning? Would you like a little more back story?

We are a baby-carrying (as opposed to baby stroller or baby wearing) family most of the time. We have about a 25 pound baby. As you’ve seen from my baby carrying posts, you want to make sure to not thrust your hips forward and hike your shoulders (read more here) but there are other mal-alignments I didn’t cover.

You also don’t want to thrust your hip out to the side like this:

There is also one more poor baby-holding alignment that I am always guilty of. I call it the rib slide and it looks like this:

That sneaky rib slide is pretty subtle but it adds up. This posture means I’m trying to lessen my arms work by holding him on my ribs. Not very spine-friendly.

I seem to carry the kid more on my left (stronger), even though I switch every few minutes. He sits more comfortably on my left — something that I have conditioned him to do probably, so now he already has kind of a preference for twisting left to look forward. {See how simple it is to create bias in your kids’ alignment even when you have all the info and the intention?}

So, back to last night. After a long week and not a lot of sleep, I woke up with a spasmy feeling in my bottom rib. I could tell, right away, that is was just the accumulation of tensing to stay on the edge of the bed, fatigued muscles, and this dopey position I had fallen asleep in while nursing.

The reason sleeping on your side isn’t that great is because it causes the rib slide. It would be one thing if you could balance it out by flipping over, but you can’t do that when you’ve got a baby. And last night, my muscles weren’t going to take it any longer. Actually, it’s one’s spine that can’t take it, which is why one’s muscles spasm to protect it from one’s behavior.

One meaning me.

I needed something to keep my ribs from rib-sliding into the bed. Solution: I grabbed a cloth diaper (which are handy for EVERYTHING and always lying around) and folded it a good height (a few inches thick) and slid it under my ribs until I found the perfect place for the spasm to relax. Ahhhhhh.

P.S. I had a great sleep for about 3 minutes, until I was punched in the face. Again. My son is a bruiser, and evidence points to it not being genetic (click).

Some alignment tips for bed sharing families:

1. Prop up your ribs with a folded cloth, diaper, or hand towel. Note that pillows, blankets, and long towels aren’t great when you’re sharing the bed with a little one. The smaller the prop the better.

2. If you’re sharing the bed with another adult (hey, how’d YOU get in here?) then switch places every night. This is not only good for the big people, but also gets the little one used to switching it up. It’s all about eliminating habits! And bonus: Switching it up is better for your mattress too!

Interested in bed sharing with your baby? My doctor-recommended these safety guidelines for bed sharing (she bed-shared with her baby too!) (click).

I would totally write more but I’m so sleepy for some reason. Plus it’s hard to see out of my double black eyes…

*The post Nightowl can be found in the book Alignment Matters.

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61 thoughts on “Back Pain & Bedsharing

  1. Thanks for this, really really needed!

    Just a thought, my co-sleeping babies have always slept on my side rather than in the middle as my DH is a heavy sleeper, so we have a bedside cot, they never sleepin it but stoips baby/child falling out!. if you had something like that you could switch sides..?

  2. LOVE it! Thank you. I’ve been having some stiffness and back pain from bed-sharing with our 2 month old and I hadn’t thought about trying to prop my rib cage up with something. 🙂 Something between my knees would probably help, too.

    Seriously, how can such a little person take over the ENTIRE bed???

      1. Oh, I know. A cat will get you right behind the knees EVERY TIME. They know exactly how to immobilize a sleeping human. Crafty.

        1. My dh calls them “little heat-seeking missiles with a sense of smell,” the smell part of course so that they know which warm body in the bed they want to stay close to.

  3. Dude, my pain comes from hiking up my shoulder to wrap my arm around the noggin of a little nuzzler for the past 10 years. The bed sharing is just about over & it has been so nice working to get rid of the issues.

  4. Trust me – this is also true when you share the bed with animals – i.e. a cat (or 2) who weighs 15 pounds. They do the exact same thing – they squish you over to one side!


      1. Then we will need muzzles for the kitties and ear plugs for the humans! Because to shut them out of the room means a night filled with howling madness and door rattling with them trying to get in. Last night, the hubs got the cat next to HIM so my middle ribs feel pretty darn good this AM!


  5. This is just fantastic. Your diagrams were beyond accurate. Sigh. I attribute my back health to regular flip and rolls with my 30 lb baby at night, and also to a looooooot of stretching and dancing. Sometimes without the baby, thank goodness.

      1. Keep doing it, he’ll get used to it really quick. Just pop a boob in his mouth and he’ll go right back to sleep. There is no way I could have bed shared for the last 2+ years all night on one side!

        1. Me too Yvonne. I actually mostly sleep with my back to my baby because she will nurse non stop if i didn’t. plus that way she reaches out and tickles my back for me, instead of twiddling my nips. 😛

          1. God yes, I turn once my DD has finished (but shes now 2 and a 1/2 (years)) other wise she just does baby bird impressions until she gets boob back in her mouth!

            My DS2 is the octopus who wants arms and legs wrapped around me when he crawls into bed!

  6. How very timely! I’ve been unintentionally bed-sharing with my newborn and I’m having a hard time figuring out how it all works… with my other kids, I would nurse them and then move them back to the bassinet pushed right up by my bed (and I have to say I prefer this method), but I can’t seem to do that with this little guy. I’m just so tired that I latch him on and fall asleep and don’t wake up again until he wants to nurse again and round and round we go all night. But my right ribs currently feel like they’ve been kicked by a horse. I need to just try to wake up enough to pay more attention to my body…

  7. oh my GOD thta’s what my bed looks like too!! Or else they’re both on top of me. (they’re both extreme cuddlers.). Last night we totally switched sides and they cuddled while I tossed adn turned on my spouse’s pillow which was like a rock. In my sleep stupor i didnt’ think to get rid of the pillow. but yea. what a great post and good god, how I can relate 🙂 Only I don’t get punched, I get pinched. in the armpit. and neck. and face. and the back of my arm (sooo painful). and the stomach. and the nipple. and the back fat. someone get me some mittens and duct tape… Great post!

  8. We’ve bed shared with both of ours, and recently I’ve been suffering with a sore neck and shoulder because Little Miss 2 (who is 2 now with a capital T.W.O!) has decided she prefers to sleep in the crook of my arm with her head on my chest/shoulder. And though I totally love your blog and am trying to start with the stretching thing to correct all of my bad habits and aches and pains, I must admit to doing absolutely anything to secure any amount of sleep at night, because both of my children have been wakeful (that’s gentle parenting code for waking every 2 hours from an early age, and Little Miss 2 still wakes 3 times on average). I know things come right in the end as Master 4 mostly sleeps through now (mostly), but in the meantime I find myself daydreaming of being put on one of those medieval torchure racks and stretched to within an inch of my life. Any suggestions for something a little less dramatic? 🙂

        1. Yes, exactly. Or to knock yourself unconscious until you catch up on your sleep. That will take, what, a couple of years??

  9. I’m luck that cosleeping baby #2 is pretty chilled out and a great sleeper, and I can shift into a comfortable position and suffer no consequences. Baby #1 (who didn’t consistently sleep through the night till he was 3, and at 4 still sleeps with my husband) spent two months solid where he would only sleep on my head. And when you’re that sleep deprived–he was awake every 45 minutes for two years–that sounds like a great option. “What? On my head?… Promise you’ll sleep? No problem.”

  10. I am just ending 3 and 1/2 years of co-sleeping with twins. I couldn’t choose a side, so I conformed myself to sleep on my back. LOL I laid there totally uncomfortable (like a corpse) 🙂 while they snuggled up from both directions and nursed. Whew! Now, we’ve night weaned and I’m feeling like a new woman. I had no idea how much my stiff, crappy sleep was affecting both my body and my state of mind! Thanks for this great article!

  11. Yep, remember it well. Still have 3 year old in bed with me but we get the whole bed. (Hubby opted for better sleep in other room long ago). Now the 3 year old has decided that my pillow or head are the place to be!!! We will be doing the bed change dance come Winter break. May we be successful or maybe all the beds need to be in one room, as occasionally my 9 year old wants to join the bed party.

    I also dealt with the back spasm by putting support behind me when on my side. I had this great stuffed seal that I used for that. It helped immensely, not sure if I still did the rib slide but it felt like i wasn’t.

    Also a great book about this bedsharing calamity is ” The Biggest Bed in the World” .

  12. I love this blog – it makes me feel so normal.

    I’ve come to think of my 2 year old’s kicks to the back, neck, and head as an invigorating massage.

  13. Btw, it is so great to see all these comments and know that co-sleeping is alot more common and healthy (despite the momma aches and pains 😉 ) than US society might lead us to believe. I can totally relate with all these writers. I love it!

  14. Good to hear I’m not alone! LOL We roll over every time my son wants to nurse, which has been often! Now (at almost two years) he’s starting to sleep through the night which makes me more free to move on my own 🙂

    A crib bed right next to ours, with one side taken off, has been very helpful to us. It provides some extra space as well as it protects both me and baby/toddler from falling out of bed.

    1. That’s what we did, too. Kiddo refuses to sleep in the sidecar, but it provides that extra bit of real estate + fall protection. For the nights my husband didn’t sleep in the bed we got an extra long bed rail for his side and we joked that we had a king size crib.

  15. Hi Katy – a little unrelated I know. But can you direct me to earlier blogs or info where you have dealt with correct postural alignment when standing?

    Many thanks


    1. Hi Janet,
      So many posts deal with a single component, but you might want to start with RUA Ribthruster and Mind Your Pelvis!

  16. My back and hips were a lot happier at 4 or 5 months postpartum when I figured out that if I propped just my arm up on a pillow I could lay flat on my back with the baby nursing by laying on his tummy, sort of sliding off my side, being supported by my raised arm. Of course, this position isn’t great for the shoulder/clavicle, but it did feel wonderful after so many months of side sleeping.

  17. This has nothing to do with today’s post as I finally, blissfully sleep in a queen size bed all by myself YaY, mostly on my back but old habits take a bit to break. I wanted to send you a comment thanking you for all the advise that you give us. I have finished reading all of your blog posts, (phew, but thanks!) while standing I might add and from 4 feet away because it is not at a standing work station and all that looking down would of killed my neck (while exercising my eyes too). I am relieved I am not as bad as I thought I was. Wait a moment while I reach around and give myself a pat on the back without sticking out my shoulder blade I might add…go me! Since January I have suffered from lumbar back pain (tear in disc at #4&5) and hip problems on my right side (bone spurs). Now that my doctors have told me what is wrong and that it is manageable with exercise I don’t have to completely freak out about my problems. Except when I explained that I already do what they were recommending they were at a loss at what to tell me to do specifically to fix my problems. Talk about being your own patient advocate! Enter Katy Says..Hooray!..So now after all that reading and finding out how to fix the slight problems I have with a few things my main thing is a huge problem with extreme tightness in my hamstrings which I am working on. I bend over as you say we should but due to the tightness I have I can only go to a 90 degree angle before my back starts to round out. It will be awhile before I am able to squat correctly too, also working on it..My question is how do I properly pick something up that is on the ground and I can’t reach in my present state? Right now I go down to one knee on the floor, the other leg w/knee over ankle like I’m doing a lunge. Is this the the best way to do it? Thanks for being my “go to gal”.

    1. Patty, you can bend your knees, but keep your shins vertical — rewatch the video on post “When in doubt, stick your butt out!”
      Thanks for being such a great learner!

  18. Great tip on switching sides wit your mate nightly…Whenever we go to hotels (which is A LOT in my case, I make a point of sleeping on the “other” side of the bed. You are a genius Katy. Keep it com in’ xxo

  19. Katy,

    Today one of my students commented after class that she has a “disc issue” where the pubic synthesis is. I”m wracking my anatomy brain to understand this – and she does get easily confused, so that could be the issue. Anyway, she is a post-menopausal woman who has had a hip replacement – that may have something to do with this. She says it is painful when she lifts her legs – really painful. She has seen a DR not sure about a Chiropractor.

    Is this the same thing as pubic symphysis diastasis? Or is this something else? Can you help me understand what may be the issue? Usually PSD is related to pregnancy. Can older women get this too? Is it similar to an SI joint issue?

    Help! And how or what could I offer her to help?

    Thanks! Maybe a post generally will help others as well. Thanks!


    1. They pubic symphysis is just a name for the place where the bones connect – she is likely referring to the interpubic disc. Issues here are found in men and women, at any time, not just during pregnancy. The pelvis is two separate bones and can be disturbed from any asymmetrical muscle patterns, so any realignment would be beneficial. This content is advanced and part of the academic curriculum and also in the pelvic book in Spring 2012!

  20. Ahhh, such sweet memories. I also remember her being very noisy in bed. Now she’s off to college. The last few years of sleep deprivation resulted from not being able to sleep well when she was out late with her friends! It’s all so fun!.

    1. Oh yeah, my son made a little pillow in school for us that I now use as my rib sleep aid. Still have diapers working for me elsewhere, though, after 18 years! Great dust rags…

  21. The answers to all these is a $8.00 tesla purple energy plate which is also called pran yantra in india. It is a natural pain management system available all over the world.

  22. Oh yes, i remember those purple plates, had one for years. Well if I get too nostalgic about my kids babyhood (they’re all in their 40s now), I’m going to come back here and reread this post. Thanks to all of you for the memories. One habit from back then that I still have is sleeping on my side. I kind of wrap my arms up around my head. Is this the cause of the shoulder stiffness and rib issues and probably morning lower back stiffness? Thanks

  23. Ah, but you’ve forgotten the vertical dimension!


    Forget the furniture! With a regular (or thinner traditional) mattress on the floor baby falling out of bed isn’t so much of a worry. When a bout of flailing comes on, the flailer can easily be deposited next to the bed (on a pad) . . . making better sleep for all (they can easily climb back to bed when ready).

    Thanks for the post, I know I do way to much improper propping, tilting, and plain old slumping during the day. I’d forgotten how helpful proper propping could be.

  24. I have been very mindful of the way I hold my daughter since reading this post and it makes a HUGE difference. I find that I can carry her much farther when I carry her without sticking out my hip or ribcage. And I’ve been making a bigger effort to encourage her to walk (she’s 15 mo) instead of strolling her. I haven’t used the stroller in months! Thanks for all the tips in this blog. I wanted you to know that you are making someone’s (my) life easier, better, and healthier through them.

  25. Ah, the Klimt Position, how you fudge up my shoulders! I also have a fuzzy-headed heat seeker in my armpit most of the night. How he manages to rip out my nape hairs and pinch my batwings simultaneously is beyond me.

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