Co-sleeping is an emotive topic and one that continues to divide opinion. Some parents swear by the age-old practice, yet others see it as unsafe. While there is an overwhelming amount of research on both sides of the fence, the jury is still out when it comes to a link between SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) and safe co-sleeping. What we do know is, there is a right way to co-sleep, and a wrong way. If you are not aware of the safe co-sleeping guidelines, you could very well be unknowingly increasing your chances of SIDS. With this in mind we sat down with Julia Youll, Senior Child Health Nurse at Healthbay Poly Clinic. Here she talks us through how to co-sleep safely and what the benefits are.
Be informed about co-sleeping
Healthcare advice is generally that the safest place for babies to sleep is in a cot in their parents’ room. However, although they initially don’t plan to, many mothers do co-sleep at some time in the first few months of giving birth, for part or all of the night. It is important to have information minimising the risks of co-sleeping and to be aware of ways to keep baby safe at night.
Create a safe co-sleeping environment
- Always put baby to sleep on his back on a firm and flat mattress or surface (never co-sleep on a waterbed).
- Remove any loose covers or items that can be pulled over baby’s face.
- Baby should never sleep on top of or near pillows.
- Babies under one year should not share a bed with other children.
- Both parents should be aware that baby is in the bed.
- Never swaddle baby if you are co-sleeping, as this can result in overheating.
- Women with very long hair should tie it up.
- Position baby well down from the headboard of the bed.
- It’s preferable not to place baby between the parents due to over-heating.
Know when co-sleeping is not safe
Baby is of low birth weight
It should be mentioned that there are more risks associated co-sleeping if your baby is premature or of low birth weight. The reason for this is that these babies can be particularly vulnerable to SIDS.
You are under the influence of alcohol
After drinking alcohol the senses are not so acute and there may be undue drowsiness and a lack of awareness. This also applies if the parents are extremely tired or suffer from sleep apnoea. Being connected to your baby’s feeding cues could also be disrupted after consuming alcohol.
You’re a smoker
Smoking and co-sleeping could potentially put your baby at a higher risk of SIDS. Even if smoking is not done near the baby, tobacco could be present on parental clothes, breath and skin. This also applies to shisha.
You’re on the sofa
Sofas and armchairs are not a safe option for co-sleeping as the parent may fall asleep awkwardly and cause the baby to be trapped or fall.
Common concerns about co-sleeping
Overheating can be a risk factor, as babies can’t regulate their temperatures effectively. For this reason, dress your baby lightly for sleep, as your body heat will raise theirs. Ultimately baby’s head or tummy should feel warm to touch but not hot.
Baby falling out of bed
Be aware that if you place baby on your outer side, which is preferable to placing them between you and your husband, there is a chance that he can fall into a gap between the bed and wall, or even slip off the bed. It has been observed however that most co-sleeping mothers instinctively have a protective arm in an arc around their baby’s head.
Rolling on top of baby
Research has shown that mother and baby pairs tend to respond naturally to each other, a phenomenon known as ‘night-time harmony’. Even if a mother is in a deep sleep she will be subconsciously aware of her baby’s proximity. The baby in turn is more easily roused and has a protective mechanism alerting his mother if he is uncomfortable. The C shape is a good position for mothers to sleep in if bed sharing, and this is where she lies on her side with her body curled around her baby and with her knees drawn up under his feet. This automatically prevents rolling.
Benefits of safe co-sleeping
It makes breastfeeding easier
Although there have been risks associated with co-sleeping, breastfeeding protects babies from SIDS and breastfeeding duration appears to be longer in breastfeeding mothers who co-sleep.
It increases bonding
For the mother, any worry about her newborn may be alleviated by skin-to-skin contact and frequent cuddling, and the closeness with her baby in bed can help to deepen their connection.
You both get more sleep
Mothers may be more relaxed and rested, particularly if the co-sleep time takes the form of a lie-in or a nap during the day. Likewise, the CO2 in the mother’s breath helps co ordinate the baby’s breathing pattern. His heart rhythm becomes regular and a mutual sleep cycle can be developed.
It relaxes baby
Babies may feel anxiety initially, from being separated following the pregnancy and birth, and some react to the strange environment of the crib. Co-sleeping can give a feeling of security, which in turn relaxes baby.
NB: In this blog we are talking specifically about sharing a bed with your baby, rather than sleeping in the same room, which is sometimes also described as co-sleeping.