Co-Sleeping: Why and How

Co sleeping

For many years, co-sleeping has been shunned by mainstream parenting advisors for being dangerous, creating needy children and damaging marriages. However, times are changing, and this 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 in 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 it’s own cot/crib/moses basket in the parent’s room until at least the age of 6 months. So, we know that sleeping in close proximity to your baby is safest.

However, many people still believe that co-sleeping is dangerous. Sleeping with your baby is actually very safe if done correctly, as studies have shown – despite the 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 as 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 the 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 in this world 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 tend to be more settled at night generally 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 bed that are 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 wonderful 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 whilst still allowing closeness and ease of feeding.co-sleeping: why and how

If you decide to co-sleep with your baby, there are several things you need to bear in mind in order to make it safe. You often read horror stories of babies dying whilst co-sleeping but the tragic fact is that the vast majority 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 a safe and nurturing one.

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 possibly be pulled over 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 at least 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 just sleep on a mattress on the floor.
  • Dress baby appropriately – they will be warmer whilst 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 baby sleep between mum and the wall/bed guard. Husbands and partners unfortunately don’t have the same innate awareness of baby in the bed as mum does. Similarly, it has been shown that formula feeding mothers tend to have less awareness of their baby’s position in the bed. Co-sleeping with a sidecarred crib or co-sleeper such as the Arms Reach may be a safer option for formula feeding mothers.
  • Make sure there are no cracks, crevices or gaps anywhere in the bed that the babe could get stuck in.
  • Tie back your long hair, and remove any clothes or jewellery 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 not safe, because it is very easy for baby 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 baby gets older, sleeping alongside a sibling is fine.  Use your own judgement as to when this will be safe.
  • Wear scents to bed – perfumes and the like can impact on your baby’s breathing.
  • Sleep with your baby if you are extremely exhausted.

Also…

It is very important that you 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 all of these precautions are more trouble than they are worth. True, you’ll need to make some changes in order 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 indeed for any other reason. Co-sleeping is a wonderful tool that helps us to bond with our babies but it certainly 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?

 

Image courtesy of Cohiba Jack @ flickr


Comments

  1. Hey Imogen! Great post! I was wondering–could you cover swaddling and sleep sacks sometime? I don’t know if I like the idea of swaddling, but then again, I don’t think I know much about it. Same goes for sleep sacks. Does this all just depend on the baby?

    I’m on your FB page by the way. I tried to send you a note to let you know but couldn’t. My name is Brittany–my current default pic is B&W. I’m in a dress sitting on some stairs :)

    • Thanks Brittany :) Yes, that’s a good idea, I certainly will! Both of my kids have been swaddled in the past and I have to say it was the only way my oldest would sleep – at all – until he was 4-5 months old and we transitioned him to a sleeping bag.

      Thanks for commenting, and for joining us on facebook :D it’s a lovely little community we’ve got going over there. How are you? You must be quite far along now!

      • I am 27 weeks! I can’t believe how fast time is going. Hard to believe there’s only about 13 weeks to go! But I’m feeling great and am enjoying every moment. I’ve really loved being pregnant :)

        Thank you for asking!

        • Wow! Goodness, that *has* gone fast! Great to hear you’re enjoying it :) I find pregnancy to be a huge strain physically but it’s hard not to love it :D

  2. Thanks for this. Always good to have something to share with ‘Newbies’ and unsure parents. :)

    Btw our 7 months old has been sleeping between me and my husband since she was 4 months. He was worried he’d roll onto her but never has. He’s very aware that she’s there. :)

    Nev

    • Thank you for commenting! I think what it comes downt to with co-sleeping is doing what feels right for you. Sleeping a newborn next to a daddy is a different ball game to sleeping a 7 month old there. I have friends who’ve had the same setup as you for months and it works for them :)

      My husband, however, is barely aware of ME in the bed. lol.

  3. I have 2 cosleeping babes. My son is 4 and he has slept with me since day 1. Now, I tuck him in and say good night and he falls asleep all by himself. We have a king size bed and he has the whole other side to himself. We are moving him into his own room when he is ready, which is right around the corner, I’m sure.

    My daughter will be 2 in May and she too, has been sleeping by my side since day 1. She still breast feeds during the night and we both feel so secure sleeping next to eachother. When she gets a fever, I know it instantly, because I can feel her. I just wouldn’t have it any other way!!

    • Aw, how lovely :) and it’s wonderful to hear that your little boy settles himself to sleep! so many “experts” will have us believe that co-sleeping kids will NEVER fall asleep alone, lol.

  4. I’m a family bed mama. I will say that the safety of the partner varies. Some men do sleep too deeply/fitfully to be safe next to a baby, but traditionally, baby sleeps between the mother and father. In Japan, they’re considered the mountains sheltering the flowing river (baby) between. I thought my husband would be utterly untrustworthy, but it turns out, he has the exact same awareness of the baby in bed as I do.

    I still start baby out on the outside, with older siblings in the middle and once they’re crawling, move them to the middle so that they don’t crawl off the bed in their sleep, lol. We’re a no bed frame family, though we do use box springs. Since we’re going from 2 to 3, we’re going to need to add a twin on one side for the older kiddos to add more space. Even a king gets crowded with kids who like to turn sideways, lol!

    And after the initial adjustment period (about 2 months.. of something close to hell to this hypersomniac) of getting used to baby’s sleep/wake cycle, I’ve never slept better in my entire life. I never worry about where my kids are or if they’re asleep or if anything has happened to them. And if any of us has a nightmare, there we are!

    • Thanks so much for sharing your experience of bedsharing! I agree that all parents/families are different and we must do what fits with us. I could never in a million years sleep a baby next to my husband, he sleeps like the dead and although he’s a fairly lean, slim guy, he’s a total lump whilst asleep, haha.

  5. Why should a parent who smokes not bedshare? Aside from the risk of a cigarette near the baby, is there another known reason?

    • As far as I’m aware, the main reason is because the toxins in cigarette smoke linger on the skin and clothes of the smoker. Also, for many hours after a cigarette, a smoker will still be exhaling carbon dioxide and other toxins which can affect a baby’s breathing.

      I think maternal smoking is the most important factor but I could be wrong. My husband is a smoker, so at night he faces away from the baby & I, and he changes his clothes before coming to bed.

  6. we totally co-sleep. She’s two now and still in bed with us.

  7. I co-slept with both of my chidren,it was natural for me I never made a consious choice it just happend. Great article.

  8. I discovered co-sleeping by default! My third child cried constantly as a newborn until we figured out what was causing it so in desperation I brought him into bed with me. I suddenly realised how unnatural it seemed to put him in a cot in a different room and just how beautiful it was to have him snuggled up to me at night! I loved it! After that, I started looking into all the benefits of co-sleeping and even when he settled better – we continued to have him in bed with us. He slept with us until he was about 12 months….and now we have our precious 8 week old baby in bed with us and in a hammock during the day when we’re home. I love the closeness!

  9. I can’t help but wonder whether many co-sleeping families really do remove all pillows & duvets from the bed! Would be interesting to hear from a few people who have done this, as it never occured to me before reading this article. Obviously I was aware of the fact that duvets & pillows shouldn’t be used in their own bed, and that you should be careful not to have really heavy bedding on your bed if you are having your baby sleep there, but I never really thought about not having pillows & duvets at all!

    I “informally” co-slept with my first two – they had a moses basket & then a cot in the same room as me (I never considered putting them in “their own room” from the beginning, that just seems weird to me!), where they were usually put to bed at first, then later in the night they would move to my bed when they woke for a feed & would usually spend the rest of the night there. I plan on doing the same with this one (due any day now!) as I like to have the option to have them out of the bed & get them a bit used to the idea of sleeping by themselves, but without losing all of the benefits (e.g. convenience & bonding) of co-sleeping. It’s often presented as an either/or choice but there’s no reason it has to be!

  10. Live this! Me and my baby girl Aubrey have been co-sleeping since she came home from the hospital ( she is now four months old) its the only way she sleeps during the day I lay with her and watch tv while she naps I have never spent more then 30 mins away from her everyone judges me for it but I know it’s my choice . She is my first aside from a miscarriage I had

Trackbacks

  1. [...] needs easier, whilst maximising the amount of sleep you get. Ensure you follow guidelines for safe co-sleeping [...]

  2. [...] http://www.alternative-mama.com/co-s…g-why-and-how/ have a read of this hun. hope it helps. xxx [...]

  3. [...] that put you off. Co-sleeping carries no elevated risk of smothering or cot death, providing that safe sleep guidelines are followed (see also). And as for habits… well, it is no easier or harder to enforce a new [...]

Speak Your Mind

*

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.