In the United States co-sleeping with your infant is an extremely controversial topic.  The American Academy of Pediatrics (or AAP) advices against bed-sharing and instead advocates for room-sharing. The Consumer Product Safety Commission agrees with the AAP and advises parents to not place their babies in adult beds. While there are definitely benefits to sharing a bed with your baby, in Western culture the risks seem to outweigh the benefits, which are as follows:

  • Easy and convenient breastfeeding
  • Sleep synchronization for mother and baby
  • Increased bonding
  • Baby can smell, hear, and feel their mother which may promote safer sleep via “protective arousal
  • Increase in nighttime sleep for both mother and baby.

The risks of bed-sharing include:

  • Suffocation
  • Entrapment
  • Strangulation
  • Rolling over onto baby
  • Knocking baby off of the bed
  • Increased risk of SIDS, in some cases.

Soft adult mattresses, loose bedding, bed frames, headboards, footboards, and positioning the bed close to walls may contribute to the risk of a baby being harmed or killed during bed-sharing.  In other cultures, where injuries and deaths related to bed-sharing are comparatively less, the cultural practices for bed-sharing are different. For example, in other cultures the mattresses may be firm and placed directly on the floor.

Infants who bed-share with siblings or with parents who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol and infants with parents who smoke could be at a greater risk for injury or death while co-sleeping.

The term co-sleeping and bed-sharing are often used interchangeably, but they have two separate meanings.   Dr. Sears offers clarification to the different terms. The term co-sleeping refers to sleeping close enough to the baby for easy comforting, while the term bed-sharing refers to mother and baby sleeping side by side in an adult bed.

Placing your baby in a safe, separate, and close sleep space offers the benefits as co-sleeping without the added risks associated with bed-sharing. In fact, the Arm’s Reach Co-sleeper Bassinet, recommended by co-sleeping advocate and pediatrician Dr. Sears, attaches to a parents bed and keeps the mother and baby close to each other while still providing the baby with a separate sleep space on a firm mattress, away from the parent’s bedding, headboard, and footboard, which can all contribute to suffocation, strangulation, entrapment, or even SIDS.

For parents who opt to bed-share, despise the warnings, they should:

  • Always put their baby to sleep on her back
  • Always ensure their baby’s head is not covered
  • Make sure that their headboard or footboard doesn’t have cutouts that could trap their baby
  • Not leave their baby alone in the bed
  • Ensure  that their bed is away from walls, which could trap their baby should he fall
  • Ensure their bed is away from blind cords and drapes to prevent strangulation.
  • Be sure that there are no crevices between the headboard and mattress, which could lead to entrapment.
  • Not use pillows, comforters or other fluffy, loose bedding

For parents who choose to co-sleep, they should:

  • Always put their baby to sleep on her back
  • Use a wearable sleep blanket, rather than loose bedding
  • Place nothing else in the bassinet or crib
  • Position the bassinet or crib away from blind cords and drapes
  • Be sure the mattress fits snugly into the bassinet  or crib
  • Be sure the bassinet or crib sheet fits snugly and securely.

So, is co-sleeping safe?

Yes. The safest place for a baby to sleep is in a safe and separate sleep space, in the parents’ room, within arm’s reach away from his mother.

Sent to us by Sara Dawkins. pb