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As you look at ways to help your little one fall asleep quickly and remain safe and secure through the night, you’ve probably come across the idea of co-sleeping.
The Internet is full of opinions on this matter, and you’re likely to see an equal representation of articles that are both for and against this sleeping arrangement. On the one hand, parents find it comforting that their infant is in the same room with them. They can directly observe them breathing, soothe them when they cry, and give them nourishment with less delay.
On the other hand, there are concerns about the possibility of a parent rolling over onto the child or the baby suffocating in a crack, crevice or under a pillow without mom or dad waking up.
If you’re a new parent, you’ve got a lot on your plate, and it’s our job to help you separate fact from fiction. Overall, this way of sleeping with your baby has a variety of benefits. As long as follow our precautions, we think you’ll enjoy having your little one nearby, at least during their first several months of life.
What is Co-sleeping?
Co-sleeping is when the baby sleeps near the parents, either in the same bed or the room with them. Co-sleeping can take a variety of forms, such as:
- Bed sharing: the baby is in the same bed with mom and dad.
- Sidecar: the baby’s bed is adjacent to and touching the parents’ bed. It could be an open-faced crib or a specific type of bed that’s designed for this function. Mom and child are at approximately the same level, and they have physical access to each other.
- Separate beds in the same room: the baby sleeps in a crib or bassinet in the same bedroom as the parents.
- The infant or child sleeps in bed with the parents as needed: in this scenario, the little one is invited to sleep with their parents when requested.
We’ll go more into depth on these types later, but for now, know that you have multiple options.
There’s no one, single correct solution for every parent, but it’s generally recommended that if parents want to keep their little ones close throughout the night, then a co-sleeper designed for a sidecar-style arrangement is typically the safest setup that still allows mom and child to be extra close all night.
Benefits of Co-Sleeping
More Sleep for Parents and Baby
Everyone wins in this scenario. New parents often express that they’re anxious when their babies are in a separate bedroom, and their only link is through a baby monitor. However, when the infant is in the same room, mom and dad can rest more easily, knowing that if anything happens, they’ll know right away.
The child also gets better rest. Inevitably, young infants wake during the night due to hunger or being startled out of sleep. When mom is nearby, then she can immediately nurse or get a bottle while soothing the baby back to sleep.
Breastfeeding is Easier
Mom doesn’t have to get up and go into another room. Instead, the infant is at arm’s length for an impromptu nursing session in a co-sleeping arrangement.
Reduced SIDS Risk
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is heartbreaking. Approximately 2,500 infants die in the US each year due to SIDS. There are several recommended steps to avoid this tragedy, including lying the infant in a prone position on a firm surface. Co-sleeping is also suggested and has been shown to reduce the risk of SIDS by 50%.
It’s important to note that the co-sleeping arrangement is technically sharing a room, not bed sharing.
Prolong the Child-spacing Effects of Breastfeeding
Women are less likely to become pregnant while breastfeeding. Likely, this is an evolutionary mechanism that allows from mom to focus on her bundle of joy without having to navigate the fatigue and potential morning sickness that goes along with being pregnant.
A bed sharing arrangement can prolong this effect even further, so if you and your partner are trying to space out the birth of another child, then co-sleeping is a helpful habit to discourage impregnation.
No Nighttime Separation Anxiety
Both mom and child may have separation anxiety. For an infant, this can be particularly terrifying. They’ve been attached to their mother for nine months, and the idea of being alone in darkness without mom’s heartbeat could be stressful.
Fewer Bedtime Hassles
No more going back and forth between rooms, changing the batteries on the baby monitor and saying, “it’s your turn” to your partner when the child cries. Since they’re already in the same bedroom as you are, things become less of a hassle.
Baby Wakes Up Happy
Cuddle time with an infant is precious. Babies tend to wake up in a fantastic mood, especially when the first thing they see is mom’s face. Enjoy this time while it lasts!
As the name implies, the baby shares a bed with parents. This practice is the most convenient, but it does come with risks, and we’ll recommend several best practices when we get the section called, “Bedsharing Dos.”
This method is what’s recommended by doctors because it allows mom and baby to access each other without presenting roll-over, suffocation or choking hazards. Similar to a sidecar to a motorcycle, a sidecar in the bedroom means that there is a crib or bassinet that’s directly next to the parents’ mattress.
When it’s a crib, one of the sides should be open so that mom and baby can reach out and touch one another. There are specific beds, including bassinets, which are made specifically so that parents can get the benefits of bed-sharing without any of the risks. Some of the most popular brands have adjustable heights and rolling wheels on the bottom for versatility and mobility.
Different Beds in the Same Room
In this co-sleeping arrangement, mom shares a bedroom with the baby, but not the same mattress. The infant may be in a crib or bassinet that’s across the room or next to the parents’ sleeping surface.
The advantage of this arrangement is that the parents can still be nearby for safety and security, but they’re allowing the child to experience sleeping alone. As the baby grows and enters the toddler stage, he or she will be better prepared for falling asleep in their own room.
Child Welcomed into the Parents’ Bed as Needed
This sleeping arrangement is the most flexible, and it allows the child to sleep with their parents when they request it. Most often, this occurs when the baby or toddler wakes up during the night and wants mom or dad’s comfort.
Take Precautions to Prevent Baby from Falling
It’s unlikely that the child will roll out of bed, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Keep your infant close, and make sure that there is no possible way to fall. You can ensure this by having a wall or guardrail on the side of your infant, so your little one is in a cocoon of safety.
Either position the mattress flush against the wall or use guardrails with mesh to keep your little one secure.
Place Baby Beside the Mother
Often parents think it’s best to place the baby between them, but we don’t recommend this. A mother is naturally more in tune with her infant, while dad may have a tendency to fling an arm or roll over unwittingly. The longer that the child sleeps in the bed, the more attuned dad will become to their presence, but there’s no substitute for the bond of mother and child.
Though this observation may sound like a generalization, it’s been studied extensively and is even more pronounced in breastfeeding moms who tend to face their babies and keep them more at eye level when they’re sleeping.
Let Baby Sleep on His Back
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has been suggesting that babies lie on their backs for decades. This decreases the risk of suffocation and choking.
Use a Large Bed
Make sure the parents and the child have plenty of room to move around in a bed-sharing arrangement. A king-size mattress is recommended, though a queen will suffice. Avoid using a full or double bed, as there’s not enough room for the child to sleep safely without the risk of being squished.
If you want, you can learn more about bed sizing here.
You are Drunk
If you’ve had any alcohol to drink, avoid bed sharing. You’re not likely to be alert, and if there’s an issue, you might not wake up to take care of it. This same advice applies to sleep medications or prescriptions that induce drowsiness. If your baby is sleeping with you, you need to be alert.
You are Extremely Obese
Extra body padding means that you might not feel your little one underneath you if you roll over onto him or her. Also, overweight people are more prone to have sleep apnea, which could disrupt the baby’s sleeping patterns.
You are Sleep-Deprived
Most new parents are, so take care if you’re behind on sleep. When people aren’t getting enough sleep, they may end up sleeping more soundly when they do get some shuteye. As a result, if an infant is in danger, then the parent might not wake up for it.
You Have a Very Soft Bed
The bedding needs of an infant are drastically different than what’s recommended for an adult. Parents may prefer a medium or plush mattress, but an infant requires something much firmer to prevent sinking in and suffocation risks. If your mattress is very soft, then try a sidecar arrangement or a separate bed as an alternative to bed sharing.
You are the Child’s Babysitter
A babysitter may be perfectly capable of watching your child, but co-sleeping is an entirely different matter. They lack the maternal bond and awareness of the baby, so bed sharing is out of the question. If you want your child’s babysitter to engage in co-sleeping, then make sure it’s a sidecar or room sharing arrangement instead.
Older Siblings to Sleep with a Baby Under Nine Months
The logic behind this is the same as why we don’t recommend bed sharing for babysitters. Siblings don’t have the experience or sense of responsibility to pay as much attention to dangers like rolling over, getting stuck and suffocation.
Don’t Sleep on the Couch
Couches are way too cushiony and plush for a baby to sleep on unsupervised. And yes, if you’re sleeping, then the baby is, in essence, not fully supervised. In addition to the overly soft surface, there are crevices between and behind the cushions that present a significant hazard.
Ditch the swaddling and heavy blankets if you’re co-sleeping in the same bed as your little one. Babies need a temperate climate to keep their temperatures regulated. Many parents want to bundle them up to keep them warm, but you should always monitor for signs of overheating like flushed cheeks and sweating.
Don’t Wear Lingerie with String
All those straps and strings can potentially choke a little one. It may seem unlikely, but it’s still a potential threat. Save the lingerie for nights when it’s just you and your partner in the bed.
Avoid Hairsprays, Deodorants, and Perfumes
Babies have more sensitive noses and airways. Avoid strong-smelling hairsprays, deodorants, and perfumes that can make it difficult for them to breathe or cause coughing and choking.
How to Create a Safe Sleep Area for Your Baby
Whether you’ve chosen to sleep in the bed with your infant or place them in a crib, many of the same rules apply when it comes to creating a safe sleep area for your little one.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- The bedding surface should be firm. As your baby enters the toddler stage, they can graduate to a softer mattress, but in their early months, an infant needs a firm sleeping surface to prevent suffocation.
- Back sleeping is recommending. Until a baby can roll over on their own, they shouldn’t be placed on their side or stomach.
- Both the bedding and the mattress should be secure with no cracks, crevices or ways for a baby’s limbs to get stuck. The surface of the bed should be flush against the wall so that a baby can’t roll off or become wedged.
- Keep pillows, blankets, and stuffed animals out of the bed until your baby is old enough to exert enough motor control to move them if they cover the face.
- Never let your infant sleep on the sofa, a futon, recliner or any other piece of furniture that has nooks, crannies and bendable areas for them to get trapped.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do you recommend it for newborns?
Co-sleeping is ideal for newborns, especially if mom is nursing. It allows for seamless transitions for feeding and helps the baby to feel and secure now that he or she is no longer in the womb.
Are bed rails recommended?
Yes, bed rails are recommended. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that they shouldn’t be slatted with slots where a baby’s limbs can get stuck. Instead, we suggest having mesh bed rails that provide a soft surface to protect an infant from rolling off the mattress.
What sleeping position is best for co-sleeping?
The best position for co-sleeping is on your side facing your baby. That way, you can instantly see them when you wake up, and you’ll be able to easily reach out to hold, touch or comfort them. Also, side sleeping poses less of a risk of rolling over than back sleeping does.
What age is it safe?
As long as parents take precautions, co-sleeping or bed sharing is safe at any age. Again, make sure that the surface of your bed is firm enough if your baby is sleeping in it and avoid making mistakes like sleeping with your infant when you’re intoxicated or on medication that affects your sleep.
There’s no one right way to sleep with your infant, but as you’ve learned, there are some incorrect methods. Much of what we’ve shared is common sense, but if the idea of co-sleeping is new to you, then you might not have considered some of these hazards until today.
If you’re like most new parents, then you’re probably constantly worried about keeping your baby safe. By having your newborn in the same room as you while you sleep, you’ll be able to respond instantly to any emergencies, and your little one will probably appreciate having mom and dad nearby.
Author: Sleep Advisor
Our team covers as many areas of expertise as we do time zones, but none of us started here as a so-called expert on sleep. What we do share is a willingness to ask questions (lots of them), seek experts, and dig deep into conventional wisdom to see if maybe there might be a better path towards healthy living. We apply what we learn not only to our company culture, but also how we deliver information to our over 12.7M readers.
Sleep research is changing all the time, and we are 100% dedicated to keeping up with breakthroughs and innovations. You live better if you sleep better. Whatever has brought you here, we wish you luck on your journey towards better rest.