Co-sleeping essentially means sleeping in close proximity to your child. It may be in the same bed or just in the same room. New mothers have always had phobia sleeping with their babies for fear they may roll over and harm them at night. This eventually goes away as it is common with new mothers. However, there are cautions that a mother should take if they opt to co-sleep. Some ways of co-sleeping that different families use are:
- Bed-sharing/Family Bed:
- Parent(s) sleep in the same bed with the child.
- Sidecar arrangement: Securely attach a crib to one side of the parents’ bed, next to the mother. Three sides of the baby’s crib are left intact, but the side next to the parents’ bed is lowered or removed so that mother and baby have easy access to one another. Commercial cosleeper/sidecar cribs are also available.
- Different beds in the same room: This might include having baby’s bassinet or crib within arm reach of the parents (easier at night) or just in the same room; or preparing a pallet or bed for an older child on the floor next to, or at the foot of, the parents’ bed.
- Child welcomed into parents’ bed as needed: The baby/child has her own bedroom, but is welcomed into the parents’ bed at any time. In many families, children start their overnight hours in a separate bed or room, but are welcomed into the parents’ bed after a night waking.
Bed-sharing is just one of the ways that a family might co-sleep, but it is frequently practiced by breastfeeding mothers. One of the biggest issues when it comes to bed-sharing is safety. Some sources publicize bed-sharing as an unsafe practice, no matter how it’s done, but there are ways to sleep safely while bed-sharing if you follow guidelines for safe sleep surfaces and safe sleep sharing.
If the baby is sharing sleep with another person:
- Very small premature or low birth-weight babies appear to be at greater risk when bed-sharing, but benefit greatly from co-sleeping nearby but on a separate surface.
- Do not sleep with baby if you are currently a smoker or if you smoked during pregnancy – this greatly increases SIDS risk.
- Do not sleep on the same surface as your baby if you are overly tired or have ingested alcohol/sedatives/drugs (or any substance that makes you less aware)
- Baby appears to be safest when sleeping beside his/her breastfeeding mother. (More info here for non-breastfeeding parents)
- Older siblings or other children should not sleep with babies under a year old.
- Do not swaddle your baby when bed-sharing. Baby may overheat (which is a risk factor for SIDS) and a swaddled baby is not able to effectively move covers from the face or use arms and legs to alert an adult who is too close.
- Other potential hazards: very long hair should be tied up so that it does not become wrapped around baby’s neck; a parent who is an exceptionally deep sleeper or an extremely obese parent who has a problem feeling exactly how close baby is should consider having baby sleep nearby, but on a separate sleep surface
- Your bed must be absolutely safe for your baby. The best choice is to place the mattress on the floor, making sure there are no crevices that your baby can become wedged in. Make certain your mattress is flat, firm, and smooth. Do not allow your baby to sleep on a soft surface such as a waterbed, sofa, pillow-top mattress, beanbag chair, or any other flexible and yielding structure.
- Make certain that your fitted sheets stay secure and cannot be pulled loose.
- If your bed is raised off the floor, use mesh guardrails to prevent baby from rolling off the bed, and be especially careful that there is no space between the mattress and headboard or footboard.
- If your bed is placed against a wall or against other furniture, check every night to be sure there is no space between the mattress and wall or furniture where baby could become stuck.
- An infant should be placed between his mother and the wall or guardrail. Fathers, siblings, grandparents, and babysitters don’t have the same instinctual awareness of a baby’s location as do mothers. Mothers: Pay attention to your own sensitivity to baby. Your little one should be able to awaken you with a minimum of movement or noise — often even a sniff or snort is usually enough. If you find that you sleep so deeply that you only wake when your baby lets out a loud cry, seriously consider moving baby out of your bed, perhaps into a cradle or crib near your bedside.
- Use a large mattress to provide ample room and comfort for everyone.
- Do not wear nightclothes with strings or long ribbons. Don’t wear jewelry to bed, and if your hair is long, pin it up.
- Don’t use strong-smelling perfumes or lotions that may affect your baby’s delicate senses.
- Do not allow pets to sleep in bed with your baby.