If you are a parent, there’s a good chance you’ve heard opinions about co-sleeping with baby and the controversy that surrounds it.
Parents everywhere are asking questions such as, is sharing a bed with my baby dangerous? Will my baby eventually be able to transition to sleeping alone? How do I sleep with a baby tossing and turning next to me all night? Will sleeping with my baby make nursing easier? Will co-sleeping impact future sleep training? Will co-sleeping affect my child's independence?
The answers to these questions aren’t so black and white, as each experience is going to be different. If you do choose to co-sleep, we have some advice, and general guidelines to consider following.
It is also important to become educated about the risks and concerns associated with co-sleeping before deciding if it is a good options for your and your baby. Making an informed decision can ease any worries you may have about your baby's sleeping arrangement.
What is co-sleeping?
For those of you who don’t know what co-sleeping is or may not be overly familiar with this topic, co-sleeping is when infants or babies sleep in close proximity to either one or both of their parents. This sleeping practice has been on the rise recently, as parents strive to bond with their little ones and cultivate a healthy nighttime routine for parents and babies.
Some choose to co-sleep in the same bed, and some choose to sleep in separate beds in the same room to create personal space, while still being in the presence of one another. The two types of co-sleeping are called room-sharing and bed-sharing. Here is some more information about both types of co-sleeping:
This type of co-sleeping involves the child sleeping in a separate sleeping space, usually a crib or bassinet. This is generally considered safe, as it can make breastfeeding easier and research shows that having the infant in close proximity lowers the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).
This type of co-sleeping involves a child and parents sleeping together in the same bed. Some healthcare practitioners warm against bed sharing as it may increase the risk of SIDS if not done correctly.
In some cultures, a baby sleeping in their parents bed is a completely normal and common practice. Due to certain customs and sleeping habits, the mortality rates as a result of SIDS are lower, and more easily managed. Bed sharing is a touchy topic, and there are differing opinion on it from both parents and healthcare practitioners.
Reasons for co-sleeping with baby
There are many reasons why co-sleeping is practiced all over the world, especially during the beginning stages of life, when late-night feedings and cuddles are common. A lot of bonding with your little one happens late at night so it makes sense to have them nearby right?
While this may sound appealing, if you would like to keep your baby nearby throughout the night, it is best to keep them on a sleeping surface designed for babies next to your bed, instead of in the bed with you. As mentioned above, this type of co-sleeping is called room-sharing.
Benefits of room-sharing:
Makes nighttime breastfeeding more accessible and convenient -Having your little one next to you either in the same bed or in a crib or bassinet can reduce the amount of time you are spending getting up to feed and time spent settling back down between feedings.
Can help babies fall asleep more easily -Many babies are calmer and get better sleep around their parents. Co-sleeping can also regulate your baby's sleep cycle, and lessen their night time crying and fussiness.
Can allow more bonding time for mother and baby -Being in close proximity can allow mother and baby to be at ease and connect throughout the nighttime. Bonding with your baby early on sets the stage for your relationship with them in the future, and eventually, their ability to cultivate relationships with others.
Why is co-sleeping so popular?
For a large part of our history, babies were kept in very close sensory range to their mothers throughout the night as a form of protection and to make feedings easier, and some still choose to follow this trend today. The most likely reason for this is convenience.
As a new parent, having your infant nearby makes feeding them, changing them and bonding with them accessible and practical.
The science of co-sleeping
Some studies have shown that being in sensory range can impact some bodily functions of mother and baby, such as heart rates, brain waves, sleep states, oxygen levels, temperature, and breathing.
Studies have also found that co-sleeping can cause mother and baby to wake up more frequently throughout the night. This can be beneficial because during the first few months of life, babies need constant attention and care. This lighter sleep can allow a mother to check on her baby more frequently and despite waking up more often, both mother and baby actually tend to get more sleep, due to the fact that feedings being quicker and both mom and baby take less time to settle back to sleep.
Not only is room-sharing a convenient option, but it has actually been recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), as it can lower the risk of SIDS. Putting your little one in a bassinet or crib in the same room as your bed is a great option to keep them close while following guidelines for a safe sleep environment.
How to safely co-sleep with baby
We have covered some of the positive aspects of co-sleeping, but there are still many valid concerns that parents and doctors have about bed-sharing.
The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend bed-sharing, especially during the first six months when there is an increased risk of SIDS.
That being said, there are many parents who still choose to bed-share, and it is a common practice in many cultures, so it is important to mitigate the risks to the best of your ability. Evidence suggests that sleeping in a bed with your baby is safer than on an armchair, couch or other furniture.
Conditions that can increase the risk of sids when bed-sharing:
Sleeping between two parents
Parents who smoke
A parent who has recently used alcohol or drugs
Loose bedding such as pillows or bedcovers
Other children or pets in the bed
Safe sleeping guidelines:
These guidelines should be followed to ensure your little one is in a safe sleep environment. As a general guideline, always put your baby to sleep in their own bed that has been made with infant safety in mind, and avoid bed-sharing as much as possible.
Your baby should sleep on their back (not on their tummy or side)
Remove anything that could be a strangling risk (jewelery, teething necklaces, etc...), and tie back long hair
Move the bed away from the wall
Keep babies head and face uncovered
Dress baby in minimal clothing (to avoid overheating)
Avoid falling sleeping on couches, recliners or rocking chairs with your baby
Avoid drugs, alcohol or anything that may cause drowsiness or reduce alertness
How do you know if co-sleeping is right for you?
We all know that sleep plays an important part in our health, so we want to make sure that sleeping arrangements work for both parents and babies. Co-sleeping with your baby is not going to work for everyone, and for many parents, the risks outweigh the pros.
Regardless of sleeping arrangements, it is important to understand the nighttime needs of your baby, create positive sleep routines, and monitor your babies behaviour to know if they are getting the right amount of sleep.
If you are struggling with your baby's sleep, and you are not comfortable with co-sleeping, there are many safe methods to help your little one get the sleep that they need.
Safe techniques to help your baby sleep:
Look for cues that your baby is tired, and act on it -Putting your baby down to sleep when melatonin is elevated in their system will help them get to sleep quickly and allow them to sleep longer. Timing is critical, as allowing your baby to get overtired can make this process more difficult. Some signs can that they are ready for sleep are pulling at their ears, yawning and fluttering eyelids or difficulty focusing.
Use noise to your advantage -White noise is your friend! This calming sound can drown out any of the background noise that could potentially wake your sleeping baby.
Create healthy sleeping habits -Having a consistent bed and nap routine can let your baby know that sleep is on the way. This routine can consist of bathing, cuddling, reading a book, listening to calm music. Try and do this before they get overtired, as keeping them awake for this routine would be counterproductive.
Be prepared for quick feeds and changes -Keep late night changes and feeds simple by having everything you may need prepared in advance. Having fresh diapers on hand, as well as extra sleepwear or swaddles will keep these moments short and sweet, which will hopefully allow both mom and baby to fall back asleep quickly.
At the end of the day, it is up to each parent to decide what is best for their child. Choosing to room-share can be done safely and offer a convenient alternative to more conventional sleep practices. This can lead to quality bonding time and easier nighttime breastfeeding, which has the potential to positively impact the health and well-being of both mother and baby.
However you choose to set up your baby's sleep environment, the most important thing is that your little one is safe and cared for. The sleeping location does not matter as much as the relationship you cultivate with your baby throughout all the special moments.
While co-sleeping in the same bed is not recommended, it is important to be transparent with your pediatrician so they can advise you on the risks and offer constructive advice.
Bed Sharing. KidsHealth. June 2022
Joint Statement on Safe Sleep. Government of Canada. October 8th, 2021
Co-Sleeping With Your Baby. The Australian Parenting Website. January 17th, 2022
Tired Signs in Babies and toddlers. The Australian Parenting Website. March 31st, 2021
Please be aware that this information is based on general trends in babies, and it is not medical advice. Your doctor should be your first source of information and advice when considering any changes to your child’s formula and when choosing your child’s formula. Always consult your pediatrician before making any decisions about your child’s diet or if you notice any changes in your child.
Breastfeeding is the best nutrition for your baby because breast milk provides your child with all the essential nutrients they need for growth and development. Please consult your pediatrician if your child requires supplemental feeding.