Co-sleeping is ok and normal. Know the safest way to co-sleep and bed-share with your baby to reduce the risk of SIDS/SUID
- Co-sleeping is when you sleep in close proximity with your baby, either you sleep on the same bed, or you sleep in the same room.
- The decision on how and where your baby will sleep is the sole right of you as parents. It is the responsibility of the government agencies and healthcare professionals to inform parents of the risk, and how to mitigate it.
- Bed-sharing and co-sleeping are ok as long as adverse factors that increase the risk of SIDS are mitigated.
- It is up to parents to create a safe sleeping environment.
There is a negative connotation about co-sleeping with your infant. Many parents are judged for letting their babies sleep on the same bed, and as parents, it makes us feel bad.
But when your baby is waking up at wee hours in the morning, and you are bone-tired and sleep-deprived, you are bound to adapt and do anything just to get a good few hours of shut-eye.
So is co-sleeping really bad? Let us discuss this below.
What is Co-Sleeping
A co-sleeping arrangement is when you sleep near your baby. It can be in many different forms, which may or may not be safe:
When your baby is sleeping on the same bed as one of both parents (also known as bed-sharing)
Sidecar arrangement is when one section of the crib is down and is connected to the parent’s bed.
When your baby’s crib or bassinet is in the same room (room sharing)
Co-sleeping is normal since any parent would want to be in close proximity with their baby when sleeping. Likewise, babies also want to be near their mothers. This way, parents can monitor their baby and when the baby wakes up, it is easier to soothe and get the baby to sleep.
Co-sleeping is normal in many parts of the world. However, in western countries, bed-sharing and co-sleeping, in general, are frowned upon. This stigma forces parents to avoid co-sleeping altogether, or when forced to co-sleep, they are ashamed to admit it.
The reason why co-sleeping gets a bad reputation is because of the lack of knowledge and understanding. The advantages and disadvantages are discussed below.
What are the advantages of co-sleeping?
Many advocate co-sleeping, and it depends on the family’s preference and sleeping habits.
The first reason is that parents and babies get more sleep. That is because the infant can hear the co-sleeping mom’s breathing and heartbeat which has a soothing effect. As a result, the baby gets back to sleep even before he is fully awake.
Advocates of co-sleeping also say that breastfeeding is easier and faster, which gives breastfeeding moms more time for sleep.
Another reason is that sleeping in the same room (not the same bed) as your baby reduces the risk of SIDS by 50%, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. When your baby is near you, you can easily be alerted when your baby experiences something during the night.
What are the disadvantages of co-sleeping?
CDC and the AAP advise against bed-sharing with your baby as it increases the risk of SIDS. So why the conflicting findings? First, let us discuss what SIDS is.
What is SIDS
SIDS or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is when an infant unexpectedly dies and the cause of death can’t be explained even after an autopsy. This is a condition where the baby slept and never woke up.
SIDS is a kind of SUID (Sudden Unexpected Infant Death). SUID also includes death by suffocation, overheating, strangulation, and choking. SIDS risk is high when your baby sleeps in an adult bed since adult beds have layers that can cause any of the aforementioned situations.
Additionally, the risk of rolling over onto your baby, or your baby rolling into the crevices and gaps is highly likely.
What do AAP, CDC, and other health professionals say about co-sleeping?
There are conflicting statements about co-sleeping and bed-sharing.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Center for Disease Control discourage bed-sharing as a form of co-sleeping. Professionals recommend room sharing with your baby until he reaches 6-months, or ideally 12 months old.
However, Professor James McKenna from the University of Notre Dame – Mother-Baby Sleep Laboratory clarified the negative connotation of bed-sharing. Bed-sharing is perfectly normal, especially in other cultures. Surprisingly, SIDS rate in these countries is lower than in Western countries.
Why, you may ask, are we discouraged to share a bed with our baby when other cultures have statistical data to prove otherwise? The difference lies in the adverse factors present during bed-sharing scenarios.
Factors that increase risk of SIDS:
The risk of SIDS is always present whatever the sleeping arrangement is. Since your baby is helpless, it will be hard for your baby to cry for help, or move its body to get more comfortable. The older your baby gets, the lower the risk of SIDS is, and the risk is further reduced when the baby reached 1 year old.
Therefore, when an infant is placed on surfaces where objects can potentially disrupt a baby’s breathing, or when they are in a sleeping environment that increases sleeping hazard, SIDS risk is increased.
With this in mind, here are some examples of factors that increase the risk of SIDS/SUIDS
- Situations when one or both parents are in heavy or deep sleep since you are more likely to roll over onto your baby or be less sensitive to your baby’s movements. Therefore, when one or both parents:
- tired or unwell
- uses drugs (including prescription medication)
- drank alcohol
it is not advisable to share a bed with your baby.
- One or both parents smoke, or when the mom during her pregnancy smoke.
- The baby is sick, small for its weight, or is born prematurely. The main reason being babies who are more helpless are less able to cry for help.
- The bed has many layers, pillows, soft bedding, or any object that can potentially suffocate the baby. It is advisable to laythe infant on a flat open sleep surface (backside) without a way for the baby to be wedged in between surfaces.
How to reduce risks of SIDS?
Bed-sharing and Room-sharing
Bed-sharing got a bad reputation for being unsafe. What has not been pointed out is that the risk of deaths linked to bed-sharing happens when the risk factors mentioned above are present.
All co-sleeping arrangements have their own share of risks. To reduce this, be sure to follow these tips:
- When tucking your baby to sleep, never place him on his tummy or side. Infants should always be placed on his back.
- Avoid using loose bedding, mattress toppers, duvets, and blankets. Likewise, avoid placing pillows, stuffed animals, towels, burp cloths, or any objects that can cover your baby’s face and cause suffocation (Related Read:Are Security Blankets Bad? Everything You Need to Know about Loveys or Comfort Objects)
- Don’t wrap your baby with a swaddle cloth as this increases the risk of your baby overheating. It also increases the risk of the cloth suffocating your baby.
- There should not be any gap between the mattress and the adjoining wall where the baby can get trapped.
- Don’t let your baby sleep in the same bed as your other children.
- Avoid other potential hazards.
- You can still share a bed while having your baby sleep separately. You can use a certified bassinet or any certified sleep device. Technically, your baby is sleeping on a separate bed but still on the same sleep surface.
Use of Bassinets/Cribs
AAP recommends babies sleep in bassinets or cribs as a safer alternative to bed-sharing. Like in any sleeping surface, the most important thing to remember is to create a safe sleeping environment for your child.
Here are things to consider when letting your baby sleep in a crib, bassinet, or other sleeping devices:
- the mattress should be a snug fit to the crib to avoid your baby getting stuck in between the mattress and the side of the crib.
- avoid using loose bedding, blankets, pillows, or anything that can suffocate your baby
- Use cribs that passed the current safety standards. In addition, the CPSC banned a wide range of products that caused about 90 baby’s death. In summary:
- inclined sleepers which make the baby’s head tilt downwards when the chin rests on the chest which restricts airflow
- bedside sleepers where there may be a gap between the bed and the crib
- Never place your baby in a beanbag, sofa, couch, recliner, futon, or any non-flat surface where your baby could roll over and suffocate.
Breastfeeding and bed-sharing
Room sharing and bed-sharing are convenient for breastfeeding moms. What’s more, AAP recommends breastfeeding in bed. A study by Dr. McKenna found that a breastfeeding mom and baby’s sleeping dynamics change.
A breastfeeding mom naturally will sleep in a C-Position, which is the position that will create a protective shell for the infant.
What this position does is 1) it gives the child easy access to breast milk, 2) it increases arousal which is a form of defense mechanism, that also reduces sleep apnea in babies, and 3) it helps babies oxygenate which helps with child development
Related Read: Sleep Apnea in Babies
Ultimately, it is best to co-sleep when you’re a breastfeeding mom.
Sleep Training and Co-sleeping
Sleep training is one of the concerns parents have with their infants. Studies show that sleep training, and training your child to self-soothe is beneficial for both you and the baby. For one, you can have more sleep, and two, your baby learns to self-soothe and sleep on their own.
Related Read: Ferber Method of Napping: Training Your Baby to Sleep
Sleep training is a matter of preference. While studies show a lot of benefits from sleep training, others are entirely against it.
If you wish to sleep train your baby when sharing a room, here are some tips you can use:
- Have some white noise in the background. This can help soothe the baby, especially when he just wakes up out of habit
- stay your baby’s crib away from your bed as possible. your baby should be out of sight.
- When the baby is crying incessantly, step away from the bedroom. Your mental health is also important.
When to stop co-sleeping with my baby
Pediatricians and healthcare professionals say that you can stop co-sleeping with your baby when he reaches 1 year old since the risk of SIDS/SUID is lower.
One of the concerns parents have about co-sleeping is when a toddler gets used to sleeping beside you in your family bed. Privacy will be an issue later on. Transitioning from bed to crib or sharing a room to a separate room is tricky. Should you find yourself having a hard time, here are some tips:
- when your baby is 6 months to 18 months old – This is the stage where you may want to sleep train your baby. Start by creating a safe sleeping environment for your child. If possible put a camera so you can monitor your kid from your own room. Whether you try the Richard Ferber Method of sleeping, or other sleep training methods is up to you. The key is to stick to one.
- When your baby is 18 months old and older – since your toddler is able to understand and have conversations with you, talk with your little one and discuss how sleeping in his own room is good for him, Daddy, and Mommy. Try reading books about it before going to sleep. Have a bedtime routine with your toddler to let him know that he is still your baby, but he is growing up to be a fine man.
It is important to remember that this is not a hard and fast rule. If co-sleeping works best for you and your family, there isn’t any real reason to stop.
Where your baby sleeps is your right as parents
While all sleeping arrangements have their own share of risks and rewards, what we can do as parents is to ensure that the sleeping environment is safe for our little ones. At the end of the day, you and your family can say if co-sleeping is the best option for you.