To co-sleep or not to co-sleep?

Where babies sleep is a hot topic. Many modern day parents are set on their babies sleeping in their own beds and own rooms ASAP. Others, especially breastfeeding moms, would love to co-sleep with their babies but are scared of the risks involved. What is safe practice and what isn’t? The truth is there is no right or wrong answer here but there are safe and unsafe ways of sleeping.

The fact is most families in the world co-sleep. This has a lot to do with the majority of families not being able to afford more than one room but its also been the way our parents and babies have slept for 99% of human history. Early baby-parent separation is not something seen in any other carrying species of mammal like us. Every baby is different and even though a few babies may be able to handle sleeping without the co-regulation of a parent nearby, most babies find it much easier in the presence of a caregiver.

To be clear – Co-sleeping doesn’t always mean ‘in the same bed’. Shared surface or shared room sleeping are both types of co-sleeping. Small babies tend to sleep better in a shared environment because having parents nearby is familiar and regulating to them.

What are the pros of co sleeping?

Despite the obvious saving of time spent getting up and down to baby’s room and back, studies show that most breastfeeding moms who share a sleep surface with their baby instinctively move into a curled position which stops babies from rolling onto their tummy’s and keeps pillows and partners at bay. Being close to mom regulates baby’s heart and breathing rates as well as temperature. Moms who breastfeed and share a sleep surface with baby routinely, have been shown to feel less tired despite being more easily and often wakened during the night. Bed sharing moms show more responsiveness to their baby’s cues. There is also evidence that bed sharing can have a positive effect on baby-parent bonding, long term behaviour and the child’s mental health.

What are the cons of co-sleeping?

It can be a source of conflict for couples if both parents don’t agree on the arrangement. The fact is that everyone involved needs to be catered for when it comes to sleep. If mom and baby are sleeping well but dad is not managing, bed sharing may need to become room sharing with baby on their own sleep surface. Baby is still in earshot of the sounds and smells of mom and dad which still have a regulatory effect.

The evidence that SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) is linked to co-sleeping is incomplete. On review there are guidelines that, if followed, can create a safe sleep environment for parents and babies together by limiting risk factors.

 Here are 12 evidence based steps to safe bed sharing:

  1. Bed sharing does not include couch-sharing or sofa-sharing, these surfaces have been shown to be much more dangerous than a bed.
  2. No smoking or having a smoker in the bed
  3. No drugs/alcohol – nothing that makes the caregiver drowsy
  4. Keep baby away from pillows or loose bedding that could cover the face
  5. No soft sleep surfaces – no waterbeds/soft saggy matrasses
  6. Avoid positioning baby on the stomach
  7. Make sure baby cannot fall from the bed
  8. Do not push the bed up against the wall, baby can become trapped between the bed and the wall
  9. Avoid leaving baby alone on the bed.
  10. Have baby next to one parent instead of between the two.
  11. Ensure you both know baby is in the bed
  12. No siblings or pets allowed in the bed

If you are not co-sleeping and need help with sleep training click here

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Mike Marinus

Mike Marinus

Mike Marinus, dad to Megan and James plus a Chiropractor in Blairgowrie with a special interest in family practice and paediatric care. 

2 Responses

  1. Hi Olga.

    There is no strict cut off point for co-sleeping. As long as everyone is comfortable and sleeping well you can continue. Children will often decide for themselves to move into their own space later

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