The choice to co-sleep (or bedshare) with your baby is a personal parenting decision. The purpose of this post is not to discuss the controversy surrounding the practice, but rather to provide information on how to co-sleep safely and responsibly for those who may choose it for their families.
Co-sleeping has long been and continues to be a normal part of many cultures around the world, yet today in the United States it is often viewed as an unnecessary and even dangerous practice. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises against co-sleeping with infants under one year due to an increased risk of suffocation, particularly in the first three months of life. There are also organizations and professionals like the World Health Organization (WHO) and leading pediatrician, Dr. William Sears, who support co-sleeping citing advantages like increased bonding and ease of breastfeeding. Moreover they claim that most deaths that occur during co-sleeping occur when certain safety guidelines are not followed. Again, co-sleeping may not work or even be desirable for all families or situations, but if it is something you are considering, please keep the following tips in mind to keep your baby safe.
- Place your baby to sleep on his back.
- Avoid using overstuffed comforters, heavy blankets, and too many pillows, as they may block your baby’s airway unknowingly. Use lights blankets and reserve pillows for adults. Make sure bed linens do not cover your baby’s head.
- Use a firm or semi-firm mattress and the larger the bed, the better to avoid overcrowding or overheating. Also, avoid sleeping on waterbeds with your baby.
- If your bed has a headboard or footboard, roll up blankets or towels and stuff into the spaces between the mattress and bed frame to prevent your baby from wiggling into this space in the night.
- Install bed rails or place your mattress on the floor to prevent falls. If placed on the floor, your mattress should be moved away from the wall to avoid having a small space where your baby could become wedged.
- As with a crib, make sure the sleeping area is safe (i.e. away from electrical cords, window shade cords, etc.).
- Avoid co-sleeping on sofas and recliners, especially with newborns, since most cases of suffocation are in those situations.
- Never co-sleep if you or your partner use alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, or any medications that cause drowsiness, make you less aware of your surroundings or induce sleep. Your senses will not be as sharp and you may be unaware of your baby’s presence throughout the night, thus increasing the risk of rolling onto your baby. Second and third-hand (on clothing, bedding, furniture) smoke is dangerous and can cause a wide range of respiratory problems up to respiratory failure in infants.
- Use caution if you or partner are overweight, a particularly deep sleeper or overly tired as you may not be aware of your baby’s proximity to your body.
- Avoid co-sleeping with an infant and other small children simultaneously. Other children may roll onto or injure an infant. Some families whose toddlers are still co-sleeping may choose to use two separate mattresses in the same room (i.e. one for mom and baby, the other for partner and toddler).
- Avoid overdressing your infant. Your infant will not need sleep sacks or heavy clothing. Most infants will prefer to sleep close to their parents so light clothing and body heat will be sufficient warmth.
Also worth mentioning is co-sleeper bassinets like the Arm’s Reach brand, which resemble 3-sided play yards that attach alongside adult beds. Infants can sleep there while being only an arms length away from their parents. The idea is that if infants are not in the parent bed and the bassinet is used properly, the risks associated with co-sleeping are less.
If right for your family, when done safely and responsibly, co-sleeping can be a wonderful experience. I personally love snuggling with my one year old, I sleep better with him next to me and have been able to establish a nurturing and comforting breastfeeding routine. Plus, being there when he sleepily wakes in the morning, stretches, then pops up and excitedly exclaims “Hi!” is the best way to start to my day.
To read more about the advantages and disadvantages of co-sleeping and decide if it is right for you and your family, please review some of the following websites or books, which were also used as references for this post:
- “The Baby Book” by Dr. William & Martha Sears
- “The Complete and Authoritative Guide: Caring For Your Baby and Young Child” by Dr. Steven Shelov and the American Academy of Pediatrics
- “Evidence for the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding” published by the World Health Organization (whqlibdoc.who.int/publications/2004/9241591544_eng.pdf)
- March of Dimes (http://www.marchofdimes.com/baby/care_sleeping.html
- James McKenna, author and leading world researcher on co-sleeping (http://nd.edu/~jmckenn1/lab/)