“Where should we put our baby to sleep? Is co-sleeping with baby okay? What is safe co-sleeping with a newborn and what isn’t?” — This is the sleep debate that many parents still have today.
As a baby sleepwear company, we understand that sleep is precious for everyone involved, and sleep safety is a top priority. We encourage parents to become informed in order to choose the best safe sleeping arrangement for their family.
What is co-sleeping with baby
What does co-sleeping mean? — The term “co-sleeping” is defined as any sleeping situation where the infant and parent are within sensory range or close proximity to each other. When you co-sleep, you are keeping your infant easily accessible during the night. “Co-sleeping” is an umbrella term that encompasses other more specific terms including, “bed-sharing” and “room-sharing”. These terms are often used interchangeably, however it is crucial you understand the differences, especially in terms of safety.
Bed-sharing means that you sleep in the same bed as your baby, or are sharing the same sleep surface. While bed sharing with baby has been practiced in many cultures all around the world, it has raised some concerns because of an increase in the risk of sleep-related deaths, including sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Room-sharing involves having your baby in their own sleeping space (crib, bassinet, or sidecar - baby beds that attach to parents bed) within the same room. This is the sleep practice advocated by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The AAP actually recommends that parents and babies sleep in the same room together for at least the first six months of life.
While there are a few possible arrangements to choose from when deciding to co-sleep, it is important to know that the safe way to co-sleep with your baby is to room share — where your baby sleeps in your bedroom, in his or her own crib or bassinet.
Family Bed: Child or older baby sleeping with parents in the same adult bed.
Bedside sleeper for infants: Securely attaching a crib to one side of the parents’ bed, next to the mother. Three sides of the baby’s crib are left intact, but the side next to the parents’ bed is lowered or removed so that mother and baby have easy access to one another.
Different beds: Having baby’s bassinet or crib within arms reach of the parents or just in the same room; or preparing a bed on the floor for an older child.
Child welcomed into parents’ bed as needed: Child has their own bedroom, but is welcomed into the parents’ bed at any time. Children may start the night in a separate bed or room, but are welcomed into the parents’ bed after a night waking.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) encourages room-sharing but does not recommend sharing a bed with a small infant due to the potential for injury or death. The warning to avoid the family bed extends until a baby turns one. The AAP cites that bed-sharing may pose an increased risk of SIDS and warns about the potential for suffocation from soft bedding, a soft mattress surface, or a parent rolling over on them.
Pediatricians, as well, recommend that young babies should not bed-share. As a supporter of safe sleep practices and the AAP’s recommendations, we too encourage room-sharing as the best co-sleeping scenario; the danger of SIDS is small, but we prefer to air on the side of caution.
Reasons to sleep next to your child at night
Many parents like co-sleeping because it keeps their baby close, making nighttime care more efficient, and offering intimacy and attachment.
Ease of breastfeeding - With co-sleeping, breastfeeding has never been easier. There is no need to go to another room to feed. Night feedings are quicker, less disruptive, and more accessible. This ease encourages mothers to continue breastfeeding, which in turn will increase the milk supply. Sidecars or attached cribs are a convenient and safe arrangement. Simply slide baby over to feed, and then place them back in their safe space to continue sleeping.
Monitor your child - Any form of room-sharing gives the parent the best opportunity to respond to their baby in crisis. Babies and children have perished in fires, been abducted from their bed, been attacked by pets, have suffocated after vomiting, or have died or been injured in other various ways that could have been prevented. A child who is suffocating for any reason is probably more likely to rouse a parent who is sleeping nearby than one sleeping in a different room. With a parent nearby to help, these scenarios can potentially be avoided.
Bonding - Who doesn’t want extra snuggles with their sweet smelling infant? Co-sleeping can provide more time to see, hear, hold, smell, and bond with your baby. It can strengthen the emotional attachment between the two of you. Co-sleeping aids in responding quickly to baby’s needs, helping them to learn you will always meet their needs. Co-sleeping can actually help to nurture a child’s trust, and allow them to foster earlier independence as a result.
The AAP recommends room sharing because it’s been shown to decrease the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) by up to 50 percent. Having your baby next to you in her own sleeping space can offer many healthy benefits.
Get more sleep - The sooner your baby's needs are met, the more rest everyone can get, and that’s exactly how co-sleeping works. Infants who co-sleep may go to sleep faster and stay asleep longer, simply because their needs are met quickly and efficiently. Both adults and babies sleep longer overall when they co-sleep, because caregivers don’t have to get all the way up out of bed for a feeding, and babies don’t have to call out, wait for help, and settle back down.
Reduce stress - A baby’s cry is a natural signal meant to disturb the parents to ensure he receives the care he needs. Prolonged crying, however, can be very stressful to all the family members involved. A small study of 25 four- to ten-month-old babies who were separated for sleep training showed that even though the babies’ behavior quieted on the third night, their levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) remained high. A mother sleeping next to her baby can use her instinctive response to her baby's whimpers, and prevent the need for long and hard crying that is so stressful to the baby and the whole family.
Psychological benefits - The psychological benefits of co-sleeping may include enhanced emotional regulation and feelings of closeness for the parent, and lower stress levels for babies. Some research suggests that infants who co-sleep develop stronger emotional relationships with their parents and with other people.
Baby is peaceful - Research shows a benefit of co-sleeping is that infants almost never startle during sleep and rarely cry during the night, compared to solo sleepers who startle repeatedly throughout the night and spend 4 times the number of minutes crying. Startling and crying releases adrenaline, which increases heart rate and blood pressure. This interferes with restful sleep and leads to long term sleep anxiety.
Last but not least, what better way to wake up than near a smiling baby! Am I right?. . .
Sleep Safety Precautions
Not all co-sleeping arrangements are safe, which is why the AAP recommends room-sharing specifically, as opposed to bed-sharing. When your little one sleeps on anything other than a mattress with a tight sheet and nothing else nearby, it increases the risk of SIDS, especially in the first six months of life.
Substance abuse - One of the biggest dangers in co-sleeping is parental smoking, drinking, and drug use. These substances make parents insensitive and unaware of their baby’s needs or position during the night. Intoxication can be debilitating, and limit the parent from caring for the child.
Loose bedding - Loose bedding, pillows, and soft adult mattresses all pose potential suffocation hazards for babies. Heavy duvets can smother, or sheets can entangle infants, which can be life threatening.
Wrong sleep surface - If a parent falls asleep while feeding an infant, the AAP says it’s less hazardous to fall asleep in an adult bed that’s free of loose covers than on a couch or chair. Babies (with or without an adult) should never sleep on a sofa, couch, futon, recliner, or other surface where they can slip into a crevice or become wedged against the back of the chair/sofa/etc.
Rolling - For really tired, sleep-deprived parents, the risk of rolling over onto baby (which can lead to suffocation) is real, as is the chance that baby could fall off the bed. Deep sleepers are going to be less aware of the baby sleeping next to them.
Safe room-sharing guidelines
There are safe ways to co-sleep. For safe co-sleeping, babies should sleep in the parent’s room, close to the parent’s bed, but on a separate surface. This sleeping arrangement should last for at least the first 6 months after birth, or ideally up to one year.
Any sleep surface that baby uses (crib, portable crib, sidecar, or bassinet) should be made safe:
- Place baby on their back to sleep.
- Crib should have a firm mattress with a tightly fitted sheet.
- There should not be any pillows, stuffed animals, or loose blankets in baby’s sleep space.
- Use a Woolino merino wool sleep bag to ensure baby stays comfortable and safely covered throughout the night.
Babies who are brought into bed with the mother for feeding or comfort should be returned to their own crib or bassinet for sleep.
What age is co-sleeping safe?
When children become toddlers, the potential for SIDS decreases greatly. This is good news since it’s also the time when kids love to climb into bed with their parents. By 1 year old, the risks of bed sharing are very low, but it’s a habit that can be hard to break.
Always try to begin the evening with your children in their own bed. If they wake up in the middle of the night, it’s best to comfort them, but try to keep them in their own beds. At this age, It’s not a concern for their safety as much as it is a concern for their quality of rest.
Co-sleeping or room-sharing with baby is an intimate choice. It isn't for every family, and the various ways co-sleeping can be practiced may work differently for different families. Parents should be informed about all the pros & cons involved in order to make the right decision for their baby’s safety and sleep quality.