Growing up, I was always taught to never sleep in the bed with a baby. A family member told, and still tells, me a story of a friend who fell asleep in the recliner with his baby and suffocated him. And even though these stories are frighting, co-sleeping, when done properly, is okay and actually has several benefits!
Still not convinced?
Let’s take a look:
First, let’s define co-sleeping as sleeping in the same SPACE with another person. This could be in the bed with baby (called bed-sharing), in a bed next to baby’s crib or bassinet, on a palate in baby’s room, etc.
Bed-sharing, sleeping in the same bed as baby, comes naturally to humans. This is the way humans survived for thousands of years. Human babies are programmed from birth to need their mother’s close at all times for survival – food, comfort, warmth, and protection. Bed-sharing is, as I found out, the best way to keep a breastfeeding relationship since it allows easy and frequent night nursing, which, by the way, is completely normal!
Diva has shared a bed with me since coming home from the hospital. At first I wasn’t sure. I didn’t want to harm my baby, of course. But, as I found out quickly, getting up and down all night long to get baby, nurse baby, get baby back to sleep, put baby back, get back in bed, and go to sleep equaled NO sleep for me. I was exhausted, and Diva picked up on that and cried and nursed more. Ugh!
After a few weeks of this – yes I let this go for a few weeks – I decided I wasn’t really sleeping anyway, what harm could come of her being in the bed with me, right?
The first night I barely slept. I was uncomfortable propped up on 4 or 5 pillows. Diva was in a milk-induced coma in my arm, which promptly fell asleep, and my husband was joyfully snoring next to me. However, every time Diva woke up, I easily popped the boob out, let her drink her fill, and we never really had to move. No bed squeaking or forcing myself out of bed on tired, jelly legs.
The second night I tried something a little different. I used 2 pillows, nursed her, and laid her tummy to tummy with me. Her head nestled between my breasts gave her comfort and easy access to her milk (I have a nursing night gown). I put my other two pillows beside me, one on each side so she wouldn’t fall off of me, which she never did. I slept. She slept. We didn’t wake my husband up. It was bliss!
Diva and I slept like this for a long time. As she has grown, we have had to readjust our ways of sleeping, as she no longer sleeps tummy to tummy with me and prefers to lay across me or beside me. We also have her bed next to our bed. She starts the night off being nursed to sleep and placed gently in her own bed. At some point in the night she wakes and I never stay awake long enough to put her back in her own bed.
The good news: She’s never been hurt. She wakes several times a night, still, to nurse. She always sleeps next to me with my arm around her and a pillow usually blocking her from getting too close to daddy since he sleeps hard and doesn’t always wake up. This constant waking protects her from SIDS. Waking frequently wakes me and allows me to move her around and know that she is breathing and not suffocating, which she’s never even been close to doing.
Experts agree that when the proper precautions are taken, bed-sharing with an infant is safe and beneficial. Sleeping in the same room as your baby has shown to reduce SIDS risk as much as 50%! One study compared 745 SIDS babies with 2411 control babies across Europe. The researches estimated that 36% of SIDS deaths could have been prevented in the babies had slept in a cot in the same room as the parents. An English study compared 325 SIDS babies with 1300 control babies, found that 75% of the day-time SIDS deaths occurred while babies were alone in a room.
Yes, there are people, like my family member, who truly believe bed-sharing is dangerous, but trust me when I say I have been bed-sharing since a few weeks after Diva was born and I’m still bed-sharing 18 months later. When safety guidelines are not observed, co-sleeping can be incredibly dangerous, so it is imperative that the necessary precautions are taken to protect your baby if you choose to bed-share or co-sleep. What are these guidelines? Look below!
- Mom breastfeeding on demand throughout the night
- Firm mattress with snug fitting betting
- Bed up against wall or bed-rail installed to prevent falling.
- Place baby next to Mom
- Place baby on their back ONLY
- Baby at breast level next to Mom (Diva slept on top of me, but I also do not roll in my sleep.)
- Parental smoking, drugs, medications that promote deepened sleep for anyone in the bed.
- Loose blankets, pillows, etc. near baby’s face (We use a light sheet that I pull up to my waist and my husband lays on top of.)
- Older children in bed with infants under age 1
- Couches, rockers, recliners, chairs, or other surfaces with crevices where baby could get stuck and suffocate, including beds near but not flush with the wall.
- Co-sleeping on the same surface with non-parent caregivers (As much as they may love baby, they aren’t as in tune with baby)
- Water beds or overly soft/sinking surfaces that don’t allow baby to push up and roll away as needed.
- Strings, cords, scarves, or lose long hair that poses a strangulation risk. (If your hair is long, pull it up and make sure it will not come out.
- you are obese due to increased sleep apnea and suffocation risk
- are under the influence of alcohol
- have taken drugs, prescription or otherwise, that may cause deepened sleep.
- your baby is premature or underweight
- smoked during pregnancy or currently smoke
- primarily bottle feed your baby
Many recent studies have shown that most bed-sharing deaths happen when an adult sleeping with a baby has been smoking, drinking alcohol, or taking drugs, whether illegal or over-the-counter medicines, that make them fall into deep sleep.
Other bed-sharing or co-sleeping deaths are caused when people fall asleep with their babies accidentally or without meaning to. This is very dangerous, especially if it happens to be on a couch/sofa or recliner where baby can get wedged or trapped between the adult and the cushions.
But my baby will end up never leaving my bed/having sleep problems, etc.
This simply isn’t the case. Researchers found co-sleeping does not lead to sleep disorders and actually makes a child more confident. Children sharing their parents bed at 5 months of age were no more likely to have problems sleeping at the age of 2 or 3 compared to those who had slept alone. Similarly, at the age of 6, these children did not show noticeable differences in their behavior or emotional maturity.
This is only a small piece of the research. Go look for yourself and talk to the moms around you. Many parents admit to co-sleeping and bed-sharing not only to get more sleep, but also for the protection of the baby.
A 2005 study from Dr. James McKenna and Thomas McDade found that breastfeeding moms who shared a safe sleeping space with their infant actually got more sleep, and the babies got more sleep too. That’s something to think about!