THE GREAT DEBATE

As a sleep professional, there is no parenting topic more hotly debated than co-sleeping and bed-sharing.  Anyone that knows me, knows that I think parents should be educated about all their options so they can make informed decisions. There are the recommendations and then there is the reality of life with baby. Every family needs to find the best fit for them, and if you are here to learn more about bed-sharing, read on! There are ways to keep your baby safe while bed-sharing (sharing the same sleep surface) with just a little planning.

Worries about SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) and suffocation have motivated health care agencies to recommend against bed-sharing.  The Canadian Paediatrics Society recommends that babies sleep on their back in a crib, in the parent’s room for the first six months of their life (co-sleeping).

ADVANTAGES OF CO-SLEEPING

  • Babies and parents get more sleep because if baby stirs mom can sooth or nurse the baby back to sleep without either of them fully waking up.
  • Breastfeeding at night helps maintain milk supply.
  • Having baby close may help protect your baby from SIDS by as much as 50% according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

SAFETY FIRST

However, if a family decides to bed-share with their baby it is important that it is done with safety in mind.  Adult beds are not designed for babies and can be unsafe, especially for families that bed-share accidentally or out of desperation.  If bed-sharing is done intentionally and with planning there isn’t an increased risk of SIDS and is supported by a meta-analysis published in the Journal of Pediatrics (2012).

About 60% of parents will bBaby sleeping while holding parent's fingered-share at some point in the baby’s first year. The recommendation is to avoid bed-sharing, and yet more than half of parents do it.  Such rigid advice results in sleep deprived parents falling asleep with their babies in arm chairs, on couches and beds unintentionally. They are left to feel like they are sneaking around, and being unsafe.

The risk of suffocation, SIDS and entrapment are undeniable, so what is a parent to do? The risk is greatest with accidental bed-sharing. What is important is that parents are doing it safely and safety almost always takes planning.

MAKING SLEEP SAFE

Any sleep space that a baby sleeps in needs to be safe. Even if you do it occasionally, it needs to be safe. Factors to consider in your planning:

 The sleep surface

The mattress a baby sleeps on (crib, bassinet, parents bed) should be firm with tightly fitted sheets. If you have a pillow top or sleep on a cushioned surface such as sheep skin, you will want to firm that up or remove it before baby sleeps there. An alternative option is to create a safe sleep space in your room where you can lie down with your baby.  It might be a firm mattress on the floor with no pillows or blankets. Purchasing a side car that attaches to the adult bed is another option as well.  As a family, you can decide what sleeping arrangement is best for you.

Stuff free sleep zone

If your baby comes into your bed, it is important that all pillows and blankets, toys are moved away.  If you are like me and can’t sleep without being buried in covers, wear warm pj’s or even a turtle neck.  I cut two slits in a fitted turtle neck for sleeping in when my babies were small and the blankets never went above my thighs.  I really don’t like to be cold!

Mind the gaps

Make sure baby cannot roll off and that there are no gaps between headboards and footboards that baby could roll into and become trapped.  One way many families deal with this is moving the mattress to the floor to make it safer.

The bed

The bed shouldn’t be against a wall because it is easy for babies to get trapped between the wall and the mattress making it unsafe.

Sleep position

There are two parts to this one: baby and parent.  Baby should never sleep between two adults. They should sleep beside mom because mothers are more aware of a babies presence and stirring.  Also, babies should be put to sleep on their backs.  To keep baby safer still, mom can sleep on her side in a “C” shape with a pillow between her knees and a pillow behind her head with her arm up supporting her head.

Be a team

This is a discussion all expectant and new parents should have with each other.  Plan for it and how you will work it out in your house to keep your baby safe.  If you only occasionally bring baby to bed, it is a good idea to wake your partner up so they know baby is there.  I can tell you there were nights that we played musical beds in our house. If my son was coming into bed with us, my husband usually left to sleep in the spare room. Your family may decide something different and that is ok!

Even taking all these safety precautions, there are still times adults should never sleep with baby and those include if either parent smokes or a parent is obese.  It greatly increases the risk of SIDS.  If you are impaired by alcohol, sedatives, drugs, or extreme fatigue.  Never swaddle your baby when you are bed sharing.  Being close to adults keep them warm and may cause them to overheat which is another risk factor for SIDS.

WHAT IS A PARENT TO DO?

The bottom line is that you as a parent get to be the final decision makers about your baby’s nighttime needs and sleeping arrangements.  Co-sleeping has been shown to be protective from SIDS, and that there isn’t just one factor that increases risk with bed-sharing, and many of those factors can be addressed. As with all things parenting, there isn’t a one size fits all answer, and each family should feel confident to make decisions that help their families get the sleep they need.

To learn more visit http://cosleeping.nd.edu/

Dr. James McKenna’s studies how sleep spaces affect families well-being and development.  There are some great resources for families to access as they navigate their sleeping arrangements decision.

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