How to safely co-sleep with your baby

For many years, co-sleeping has been shunned by mainstream parenting advisors for being dangerous, creating needy children, and having bad marriages. However, times are changing, which can only be a good thing.

Co-sleeping is defined as sharing a sleeping space with your infant – whether they are in a co-sleeper or your bed. Room-sharing is the next best thing, and this has already been recommended by FSID (Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths) – the exact guideline is that a baby should sleep in its own cot/crib/Moses basket in the parent’s room until at least the age of 6 months. So, we know that sleeping near your baby is safest.

However, many people still believe that co-sleeping is dangerous. Studies have shown that sleeping with your baby is very safe if done correctly, despite mainstream advice. Many studies carried out by McKenna in the 90s showed that bedsharing, when done safely, actually decreases the risk of SIDS:

“The sensory-rich sleep environment of bed-sharing, which leads to more frequent arousals during deep sleep and more light sleep, from which it is easier for the infant to arouse, appears to confer a survival advantage for children at risk of SIDS” (McKenna, 1996; McKenna and Mosko, 1990; McKenna et al., 1993).

As well to this, there are many other ways in which co-sleeping can be good for families:

  • Co-sleeping makes breastfeeding easier. All you need to do is pop your baby on the boob and go back to sleep. Many mums can sleep right through baby feeding. Even if you can’t, not having to get out of bed makes night feedings phenomenally easier.
  • Close contact between mum and baby at night helps regulate baby’s naturally irregular breathing and temperature – both factors in preventing SIDS.
  • Snuggle time in bed promotes family bonding. There’s not much better than gazing at your newborn sleeping in the half-light or waking up to your baby’s smiling face.
  • Everybody gets more sleep! Co-sleeping babies generally tend to be more settled at night because their need to be close to you is being met continuously. A more settled baby leads to well-rested parents.
  • Mums and babies that sleep together are in tune with each other’s wake/sleep patterns, making it easier for you to tend to your baby when you both wake. We all know how hard it is to awaken from a deep sleep!
  • Babies feel safe when sleeping close to somebody – those primal instincts tell them that safety is in numbers!
  • Lone sleeping is not what babies are ‘prepped’ for – they have been cradled tightly in your womb their whole lives; sharing a bed with them is soothing and comforting and helps their transition from being within you to living in our world.
  • Co-sleeping probably saves more marriages than it ‘ruins.’ There are plenty of places in the house other than beds suitable for… ahem… marital activities. And besides, a co-sleeping mama is more likely to be well-rested – and therefore more likely to want to engage in those activities in the first place!

I believe that co-sleeping is a beautiful way to bond with your baby. However, I am under no illusion that it is the right choice for every family. Room sharing still delivers many benefits for families. If bedsharing isn’t for you, try pulling the crib right up to the bed so that you can touch and soothe your baby through the night. Many families find a compromise in a co-sleeper crib – this gives the baby their own sleeping space while still allowing closeness and ease of feeding.

If you decide to co-sleep with your baby, there are several things you need to bear in mind to make it safe. You often read horror stories of babies dying while co-sleeping, but the tragic fact is that most of these babes were in unsafe co-sleeping situations. Mothers, especially breastfeeding ones, are incredibly unlikely to roll onto their babies during the night. Ask yourself how many times you’ve fallen out of bed in the last month – I’ll bet you haven’t because you know the edge is there. The same goes for the babe.

Following is a list of co-sleeping do’s and don’ts to help you make your sleeping space safe and nurturing.

DO…

  • Remove pillows and duvets from the bed. These pose a suffocation hazard and can also cause babies to overheat. Instead, wear thick-ish clothes to keep you warm or use light cotton blankets – ensuring that they cannot be pulled over the baby’s head! You can reintroduce adult bedding with caution when your baby is older, remembering that safe sleep guidelines state that babies shouldn’t use a duvet or pillow until they are 12 months old.
  • Use a bed guard of some kind. Either this or push the bed right up against the wall – ensuring there are no gaps – so that baby can’t fall out. Many parents choose to do away with the bed frame altogether and sleep on a mattress on the floor.
  • Dress baby appropriately – they will be warmer while snuggled up with you, so there is no need to dress them in many layers.
  • Make sure the room you’re sleeping in is a cool-ish one. 18-20°C is perfect.
  • Have a baby sleep between mum and the wall/bed guard. Unfortunately, husbands and partners don’t have the same innate awareness of the baby in the bed as mum does. Similarly, it has been shown that formula-feeding mothers tend to have less understanding of their baby’s position in the bed. Co-sleeping with a side carried crib or co-sleeper such as the Cloud Baby co-sleeper (see below) may be a safer option for formula-feeding mothers.
  • Ensure there are no cracks, crevices, or gaps in the bed that the babe could get stuck in.
  • Tie back your long hair, and remove any clothing or jewelry that could pose a choking or entanglement hazard.
  • Sleep with your baby on a firm-ish mattress! No airbeds, water beds, or memory foam.

DON’T…

  • Share sleep on a couch, recliner, or chair. This is unsafe because it is easy for babies to roll off or become trapped between cushions and suffocate.
  • Sleep your baby next to your partner, a pet, or an older sibling – however, when the baby gets older, sleeping alongside a sibling is fine. Use your judgment as to when this will be safe.
  • Wear scents to bed – perfumes and the like can impact your baby’s breathing.
  • Sleep with your baby if you are exhausted.

Also…

You must refrain from bedsharing if you have been drinking alcohol, taking drugs, or taking medication that could impair your awareness of your baby in bed. Similarly, parents who smoke should not bedshare – regardless of whether or not you smoke in the same room as you sleep.

  You may feel like these precautions are more trouble than they are worth. True, you’ll need to make some changes to make it safe for your baby, but most families find that it’s so worth it.

Again, though, co-sleeping isn’t for everybody, and you shouldn’t beat yourself up if you tried it and didn’t like it. You can’t do it because of a medical reason or any other reason. Co-sleeping is a beautiful tool that helps us bond with our babies, but it isn’t the be-all and end-all of parenting. We didn’t co-sleep with our eldest because it wasn’t something we wanted to do at the time. Do I regret it? Yes, sometimes. But at the time, it was the right choice for us.

Do you co-sleep with your kids? What are your reasons for doing so or not doing so?

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