Thinking about co-sleeping with your little one but not sure if it’s safe, or the right thing to do? It’s a controversial topic with many different opinions but we’ve researched the facts, pros and cons to help you make an informed decision that is best for you and your family.
It’s an old practice
Adults sleeping next to their babies has been going on for centuries all over the world and in many different cultures. In fact, it used to be necessary for their survival with co-sleeping allowing children to be kept warm and safe, easily fed, and their cries soothed so as not to attract predators to the tribe (they probably didn’t have the luxury of a lot of room either).
Sleeping independently from children only came about as recently as the 19th century in western society, but has quite recently become popular again.
Why parents do it now
Many parents like to co-sleep with their babies and toddlers because of the loving bond it can create and because it allows them to attend to their child’s emotional and physical needs more immediately.
Anxiety is another reason, with some mothers wanting to keep their baby safe and close by in case they stop breathing. While others do it purely out of necessity because they can’t get their baby to sleep on their own and need the rest, or mum is recovering from a caesarean and needs her baby close by for breastfeeding.
The dangers of co-sleeping
Unfortunately studies show that co-sleeping with young children does increase the risk of suffocation or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) by five times!
Premature or small babies and those under the age of four months are most at risk, although it can occur much later than this.
Of those who sadly do die around 60 percent are boys. Co-sleeping is also even more dangerous if you or your partner smokes, or either of you sleep under the influence of alcohol, drugs or any medication which might cause deep sleep.
How to make co-sleeping safer
Experts advise that if you’re wanting to co-sleep with your child, it’s best to follow these guidelines:
- Have your baby in your room for the first 6-12 months, but in a separate bassinet or cot, and not in your bed until they’re older
- Place your baby on their back to sleep, never on the side or tummy
- Don’t smoke, take drugs, alcohol or medication that will cause you to sleep deeply
- Don’t sleep with your baby if you’re excessively tired
- Make sure their head is uncovered (so no blankets, toys, cushions or anything else near their mouth)
- Don’t sleep together on the couch
- Don’t have more than one child in the bed at the same time
- Put your child next to one parent, not in the middle of both parents (to avoid them falling under the covers)
- Have a firm mattress and use lightweight blankets
- Make sure they’re safe from falling out but don’t place them next to the wall or a pillow, a bed rail is best
Whether you’ve chosen to co-sleep with your child (or children!) or have been doing it out of necessity, there can be a few other negatives associated with the practice. One is that if you decide to stop, the habit can be very hard to break which can result in stress and poor sleep for everyone. It can also mean your sex life takes a dive with the bed now not being an option for alone time with your partner.
On the positive front though, studies have proven that co-sleeping actually makes children become more independent individuals due to the security they feel from being close to their parents. Also in many cases, parents who co-sleep have reported that they actually get more sleep than those who don’t – not having to get up each time to attend to their needs meaning less interruptions.
Alternatives to co-sleeping
If you’re keen to co-sleep but too worried about the risks, you can try pushing a three-sided cot next to your bed so your baby has somewhere of their own to sleep but is also near you. Another option is to simply place their cot or bassinet next to you also, so they are within reach and you can easily hear them.
Small children can be noisy when they sleep which can be disruptive to your own sleep, however having your baby in the room has also been proven to help reduce the chance of SIDS because you are more easily alerted when something goes wrong.
Need some more baby sleep advice? Our Parent School sleep experts can help. Click to find out more or book a one-on-one session.