Written by: Cally Worden
Co-sleeping means keeping your baby close to you at bedtime. This can mean simple room-sharing, where you place your baby to sleep in a cot, bassinet or bed extension, or it can refer to bed-sharing, where your baby joins you in your bed at sleep time. Most parents would agree that room-sharing is safe enough but when it comes to snuggling up in bed with Mum and Dad, opinions tend to be divided.
Why Bed-Sharing is Popular
Those parents who support the practice of bed-sharing offer the following reasons why:
- It helps mothers who are breastfeeding to get into sync with their baby’s feeding cycle
- It makes night-time breastfeeding easier
- It helps babies to get more sleep at night – they tend to waken more often, have shorter feeds, and settle more quickly afterwards
- It provides close bonding time for parents with their baby which may be missing during the day due to work demands
- It helps babies to feel more secure, and they settle more easily as a result
There have been numerous studies that lend scientific weight to these arguments, those who do share their bed with their babies generally find these assertions to be true.
But is Bed-Sharing Safe?
There are many cultures around the world where bed-sharing is the norm, not the exception. In many of these cultures infant deaths relating to bed-sharing is lower. This would suggest the practice is wholly safe, the way in which bed-sharing is conducted in other cultures can differ greatly from our understanding of the practice, such statistics may be a little misleading.
Western experts still generally advise against bed-sharing due to the following risk factors:
- The potential for suffocation from lying face down on a soft surface or bedding
- The risk of strangulation from entanglement in sheets or blankets, or caused by the head passing through a gap in a bed-frame
- The possibility of suffocation caused by the baby getting trapped between the mattress and a wall, headboard or something else close to the bed
Opponents also argue that bed-sharing may impact on parental rest-time and create a separation problem later in the child. They also suggest that babies, who habitually sleeps with Mum and Dad may have trouble settling during daytime naps.
Studies in the US have identified bed-sharing as the primary causal factor in the deaths of babies under the age of 3 months. For older babies up to one year of age it has been shown that the presence of a blanket or pillow in bed during sharing increases the risk of death. There is to date, no evidence that suggests bed-sharing increases the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). It is thought that the practice of room sharing may actually decrease the risk of SIDS.
How to Bed-Share Safely
In response to the possible risks, supporters of bed-sharing argue that an awareness of the risks ensures parents take all necessary precautions to ensure that safety of their baby when bed-sharing:
- Always put your baby to sleep on his back
- Never place a baby to sleep alone in an adult bed
- Help to prevent your baby from overheating by dressing him in minimal or lightweight bed clothes
- Keep the bed free from soft toys, pillows, blankets and throws
- Keep your bed away from curtains or blinds that have dangling cords
- Ensure your mattress makes a snug fit with the bed frame to prevent your baby falling into the gap
- Avoid falling asleep with your baby on your chest
- Check your bed frame from gaps where your baby’s head could get stuck
- Don’t drink or smoke if you are planning to bed share
- Keep toddlers and small children out of your bed when you are sharing with a baby
The jury will remain out on this issue. It will always be a personal decision for each parent whether to bed-share. Personally I can see the benefits, but as a natural worrier I never did bed-share with my babies, with one exception – an unexpectedly chilly night on a camping trip, when my 4 month old girl was unable to keep herself warm enough. She lay between my husband and me, all warm and cosy. I didn’t sleep a wink all night for worrying about squashing her. I know that would never have changed. Not the best way to maintain Mummy energy levels long-term! Bed sharing was not for me – was/is it for you?