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.
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.
- 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 co-sleeper 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.
- 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.
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?