Co-sleeping essentially means when a parent or parents sleep in the same bed as their babies. Babies should be slept in their own sleep space, which is safest in a cot or bassinette, however some families choose to bring their babies in the bed with them, which isn’t always safe. This is because there is an increased risk of sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI) including SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) and fatal sleeping accidents.
There are also many reasons why parents choose to co-sleep, including cultural reasons. If this is the case, below are some tips on how to do this safely to reduce risk and to create a safe sleep area for your baby.
Place the baby on their back to sleep, never on the tummy or side.
Make sure the mattress is clean and firm. Don’t use a water bed, or anything soft underneath, for example, pillows.
Keep pillows and adult bedding away from baby such as doonas, additional pillows, sheets.
Make sure baby can’t fall off the bed. You can also put the adult mattress on the floor to help reduce the risk of the baby being injured from falling off the bed.
Make sure there are no loose pillows, stuffed animals, or soft blankets near the baby’s face.
Use lightweight blankets, not heavy quilts or doonas.
Place the baby to the side of one adult, not in the middle of two adults, or next to other child or pets. This way, there’s less chance of your baby slipping under the bedding or being rolled on by a parent.
Move the bed away from the wall so the baby can’t get trapped between the bed and the wall. Babies who can’t roll are safest on the side of a big bed, away from the edge.
Dress the baby in a safe sleep suit. A safe sleep suit is one with no hood, a fitted neck and with baby’s arms out of the armholes. Don’t wrap or swaddle the baby.
Tie up long hair, remove all jewellery and remove teething necklaces so they can’t strangle the baby.
Keep the sleep environment smoke-free.
When co-sleeping can be a problem
There are, however times when co-sleeping can be a problem, so it is important to note these circumstances and to avoid them:
When the baby is overly tired or feels unwell. Parents may bring a baby into bed because the baby is waking or unsettled at night. For some families, this works well. For others, it might work in the short term but can lead to problems with settling the baby in the future. Also, the parents’ bed might not be safely set up for the baby.
One of the parents has recently drunk alcohol.
One of the parents smoke, even if they don’t smoke in the bedroom.
Baby is unwell, was premature or is small for their gestational age.
One of the parents has taken any drugs (both illicit drugs and prescription medication) that make you feel sleepy or less aware. When you are overly tired, unwell or have taken alcohol or drugs that make you drowsy, you are less likely to wake up if there is a problem, which is why co-sleeping is very dangerous in these circumstances.
Falling asleep holding baby on a couch or chair is always unsafe. Move yourself and your baby to a safe sleep environment if you think you might fall asleep.
Lack of agreement or tension between partners about co-sleeping.
Advantages of co-sleeping
There are advantages of co-sleeping, which is why parents do decide to do this:
Parents can get more sleep.
Babies can get more sleep. When the baby stirs and almost wakes up, being close and beside mum means she can breastfeed or soothe the baby back to sleep before he or she fully wakes up.
Breastfeeding during the night is easier when baby is nearby.
Breastfeeding at night helps to maintain milk supply.
Sleeping in the same room as your baby reduces the risk of SIDS by as much as 50% (3).
Night nursing also tends to prolong the child-spacing effects of breastfeeding.
No nighttime separation anxiety.
Fewer bedtime hassles.
Every family and every baby is unique, so please ensure the best decision is made for your family.