Safe Co-Sleeping

Many parents find that bringing their baby into their bed and co sleeping helps them to care for their baby at night. One Australian study found that about 80% of babies spent some time co sleeping in the first 6 months of life. So, it is very important to think and be educated about how to co sleep safely!
There is much debate in the literature about the practice and even definition of co sleeping. For this post, when referring to co sleeping I am talking about sharing a sleep surface with a baby. Co sleeping safety is a complex subject that encompasses many factors and currently SIDS and Kids report that there is insufficient evidence to issue a blanket statement either for or against it.
Several studies have demonstrated that babies who sleep in close proximity to their mothers have better outcomes relating to successful initiation and duration of breastfeeding but they have also identified circumstances (listed below) where sharing a sleep surface with a baby increases the risk of SIDS and fatal sleeping accidents.
Current  SIDS and Kids recommendation is : having baby sleep in a cot next to the parents’ bed for the first six to twelve months of life
Babies who are most at risk of SIDS or sleeping accidents whilst sharing a sleep surface, are babies who are less than four months of age, and babies who are born preterm or small for gestational age.
So, When is sharing a sleep surface not safe?
Sharing a sleep surface with a baby must be avoided in the following circumstances:
  •  Where the baby shares the sleep surface with a smoker – Most studies show that SIDS deaths attributable to sharing a sleep surface are predominantly amongst babies whose parents smoke
  • Where there is adult bedding, doonas or pillows that may cover the baby
  • Where the baby can be trapped between the wall and bed, can fall out of bed, or could be rolled on
  • Where the parent is under the influence of alcohol or drugs that cause sedation or is overly tired
  • Where babies are sharing beds with other children or pets
  • Where the baby is placed to sleep on a sofa, beanbag, waterbed or sagging mattress.
  • Babies must never be left alone on an adult bed or put to sleep on a sofa – There is a very high risk of infant death and sleeping accidents when a baby shares a sofa or couch with an adult during sleep
  • If your baby is formula-fed, it may be safer for your baby to sleep in a cot in your room.
  • When either parent is obese
So why co-sleep? What are the benefits of co-sleeping? LOTS!
  • Skin-to-skin contact promotes the release of oxytocin, a powerful hormone and neurotransmitter that solidifies and strengthens the bond between people. It also calms the baby, regulates temp and heart rate and can soothe/calm the baby
  • Easy breastfeeding access- mothers who share a bed with their baby tend to breastfeed for longer, both exclusively and in total length. Breastfeeding is strongly and consistently associated with decrease in SIDS.
  • Co-sleeping helps mother and infants grow attuned to each other’s sleep and awakening patterns. Studies showed that co-sleepers do wake more frequently, but their awakenings tended to overlap as co-sleeping moms and babies woke up at the same time and co-sleeping moms and babies got back to sleep faster). Co-sleeping allows mums to respond to their children’s cries more quickly and accurately, thereby enhancing their ability to monitor the status of their children and, the researchers suggest, improving their capacity for caregiving.
  • Co-sleeping improves sleep. You might wake up more frequently, but each awakening is far less disruptive since you don’t have to stumble over to an entirely different room in the dark.
  • Co-sleeping normalizes the stress response in children. In response to a stressor, one study showed that the solitary sleepers secreted more cortisol than normal, while the co-slept child secreted the “right” amount. Another study found that co-sleeping had a positive effect on babies’ cortisol regulation at 12 months.

Tips for sharing a bed with your baby safely:
  • Put your baby on his back to sleep
  • Make sure your baby cannot fall out of bed or get stuck between the mattress and a wall or furniture. 
 Removing the bed frame is a good idea as baby doesn’t have far to fall if they did happen to roll out. There is lots of research that shows that the safest place for a baby is in between the mother and the wall. Moms have a 6th sense about their babies and end up being more aware of what’s going on at night
  • Make sure the bedding cannot cover your baby’s face. – Say goodbye to extra pillows and pulling the blankets up to your skin. Dress appropriately and leave the blankets lower that your breasts
  • No cords or dangling string. Tie long hair back
  • Don’t overdress your baby or cover his head. 
No sleeping bag or wrapping required.
  • Don’t use an electric blanket on a bed where your baby is sleeping.
  • The mattress should be firm, flat and clean
  • Make sure your partner knows that your baby is in the bed.

In conclusion, Co-sleeping is not for everyone. Some babies or parents just don’t like it, and that’s ok! If it just doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.  If you think it’s the best decision for your family, follow the available guidelines and tips and ensure it’s as safe as can be.
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