Co-sleeping refers to a parent and child sleeping close together, even touching, often to enhance their ‘bond’ or for convenience. Many argue, however, that this practice is unsafe, and can result in SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).
A much debated topic amongst parents, doctors and professionals, co-sleeping is often seen as a bit of a controversial subject. However, it’s important to know what’s best for your child specifically, and doing your own research is vital.
Why Some Parents Choose To Co-Sleep
Many parents choose to co-sleep with their child. One of the most common reasons to co-sleep is to make breastfeeding easier. You’re able to respond to your baby quicker and get them fed without either of you having to wake up properly.
Co-sleeping also allows you to spend more time with your little one, which many parents say increases the bond between you both. Skin to skin contact allows your newborn to recognise your unique touch and smell.
You’re also much more likely to react to your baby’s needs if you sleep close to them, enabling you to recognise when they’re not feeling well quickly.
It is really important, however, that you make sure you’re co-sleeping safely. Make sure that any bedding, loose clothing or cords are kept safely out of the way, and that nothing can restrict your little one’s breathing or cause them to overheat.
You might not always intend to co-sleep. Having a baby is hard work, and we know how sleep-deprived you’re feeling - you don’t need to feel guilty about falling asleep with your baby in bed with you, just make sure it’s safe.
When To Avoid Co-Sleeping
The Lullaby Trust, dedicated to protecting infants and supporting families since 1971, explains that the safest place for a baby to sleep is on a safe, flat surface on their own.
Co-sleeping is especially dangerous if and when:
- Anyone in the bed has recently drunk alcohol
- Anyone in the bed is a smoker (including e-cigarettes) - even if you’ve never smoked in bed
- Anyone in the bed has taken drugs or medication that makes them sleepy
- Your baby was born prematurely or weighed under 5½ pounds when they were born
It’s also recommended you avoid co-sleeping if your child is under 3 months old.
UNICEF explains that the real danger of co-sleeping is that your child can easily get injured by loose clothing, cords or being suffocated by bedding. Many parents then fear co-sleeping in bed, and end up accidentally falling asleep in a much more dangerous position on a sofa or armchair.
The risk of an infant dying from SIDS increases by up to 50 times when co-sleeping on a sofa or armchair, as they can easily slip into a position where they become trapped or injured.
Why Co-Sleeping Is Advised Against
UNICEF explains that around half of parents will fall asleep with their child in bed - it’s natural. It is also important to note that SIDS itself is rare, however the chances of it occurring increase in certain situations, especially unsafe co-sleeping environments.
In 2017, half of SIDS babies died while co-sleeping, however these were in hazardous co-sleeping situations that could be avoided.
The Lullaby Trust explains that the safest place for your baby - and to completely remove the chance of SIDS from co-sleeping - is for your baby to have their own space to sleep.
Adult mattresses are not made to accommodate your baby’s complex needs. For example, memory foam mattresses tend to retain heat, which can lead to your child overheating as they are unable to regulate their temperature themselves.
The risk of entrapment and suffocation is considerably higher when co-sleeping, as loose bedding, the space between the mattress and headboard, and even tossing and turning parents can cause huge risks to your baby’s safety.
They key factors that make co-sleeping in a bed particularly unsafe are:
- Sleeping between two adults
- Over tired parents
- Pillows and bed covers
- Other children in the bed
- Pets in the bed
There’s not just the danger to your baby to consider when thinking about co-sleeping, either. If your little one is used to sleeping right next to you, you’ll find it much harder to get them to sleep independently as they get older, or to sleep easily with a babysitter if you’re not there.
Your child may develop a ‘sleep crutch’ where they simply cannot sleep without you there. This can also cause them to develop anxious behaviours, where they expect rubs, strokes and cuddles to get to sleep. Popular parenting magazine ‘Parents’ explains that this can cause your child to display anxious behaviour near bedtime to convince a parent to stay with them.
Also, getting to sleep with a baby in the bed is going to be difficult for you and your partner - you’ll be nervous not to roll onto them, or might be likely to wake more to check on them.
As your child gets older you’re going to notice them wriggling around more, and unless you’ve got a super king sized bed, your sleep quality will likely suffer.
Not to mention your sex life will have to change entirely. Although there are other ways to keep your sex life going when you’ve had a child - such as taking it outside the bedroom - getting to it with a newborn in the bed is going to be a considerable turn-off!
How To Co-Sleep Safely
If you breastfeed, it’s even more likely that you’ll end up in a scenario where you’ve accidentally co-slept with your child in bed.
UNICEF explains that the ‘cry it out’ method is detrimental to your baby’s development, so keeping your infant close by at night to help soothe them does make sense. However, it is important that you make everything as safe as possible.
The key thing to consider when trying to co-sleep safely is preparation. If you breastfeed, you may have a cot or moses basket near to your bed, so make sure this is set up ready and easily accessible for you to place your baby back into if they need to be fed in the night.
Other ways to ensure safe co-sleeping are:
- Don’t leave your baby alone in an adult bed
- Dress your baby in minimal clothing to avoid overheating
- Always place your baby on their back
- Make sure you have a firm mattress - soft mattresses can increase the risk of danger
- Make sure there aren’t large gaps between the headboard or footboard that your baby could fall between
- Make sure there aren’t any other gaps or sharp edges that could injure your baby
- Don’t cover your child’s face or head
- Avoid pillows, duvets and blankets - use clothing to keep your baby at an ideal temperature instead
- Don’t fall asleep with your baby on your chest
- Especially avoid weighted blankets and heavy bedding
You definitely shouldn’t co-sleep with babies that are at increased risk of SIDS already, such as babies under 3 months old, had a low birth weight or are/were premature.
The biggest risk of co-sleeping is of course hazards, and these risks are increased if you fall asleep with your child on a sofa or armchair. If you try to avoid co-sleeping in bed too much, the chances that you’ll fall asleep with your little one on the sofa increases. Therefore, if you think it’s likely you’ll fall asleep with your child, make sure you’ve got a plan and safe set up ready.
Why Is Co-Sleeping So Controversial?
We’re all aware that kids love to try to sneak into their parents bed at night, and many babies settle quicker if you just let them fall asleep on you. However, given the risks of co-sleeping, some parents think that letting your child co-sleep with you in bed is an example of lazy parenting.
Many parents also argue that co-sleeping doesn’t increase the risk of SIDS at all, and as long as it’s safe and hazard-free, co-sleeping is perfectly acceptable.
Lots of parents also claim that skin-to-skin contact and enhancing your bond with your baby is incredibly important, but others suggest the risks are simply too high.
Some people also say that co-sleeping will result in psychological problems, causing your child to not develop independence and be able to regulate their own bedtime. However, others suggest co-sleeping reduces your child’s anxiety, preventing nightmares and broken sleep.
The Lullaby Trust explains that the bottom line is that it is recommended to avoid bedsharing with your child, but if you do, make sure it’s safe.
The most important thing as a parent is that you educate yourself and consider what is best for your child.
Speaking to your paediatrician or even your nearest Home-Start for more information can help you make an informed decision.