Co-sleeping has been on the rise lately, with endorsements from celebrities such as Mayim Bialik, Kourtney Kardashian and Gwen Stefani.
With a link to the Attachment Parenting lifestyle, co-sleeping is all the rage but unfortunately, it is not without its controversies.
In this article, we will be exploring one of the most hotly debated and common forms of co-sleeping: bed-sharing.
Please note: the following guide consists only of suggestions and should not replace any advice given by a medical professional or midwife.
What is bed-sharing?
Bed-sharing is practised in a few different ways - sometimes with aids such as baby baskets or loungers.
The core concept is that a baby shares the same bed as their mother, or both parents.
Many experts and mothers believe that bed-sharing is beneficial. It promotes maternal bonding, easy breastfeeding and creates a sense of safety and well-being which encourages growth and development in babies.
Bed-sharing is nothing new and has been practised by other cultures for generations. However, to some it can seem strange and even unsafe.
What are the risks of bed-sharing?
Many people would assume the obvious. When you have a tiny, newborn person in bed with a full-grown adult there is surely one major concern. What if the adult rolls over?
This is one of the things that can cause harm to a baby in a bed-sharing scenario. However there are other ‘unseen’ dangers.
Suffocation and over-heating have both been linked to cases of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) both with bed-sharing and separate-sleeping arrangements.
Some studies have suggested a link between bed-sharing and SIDS - which for many is reason enough to avoid it. However there are many ways in which bed-sharing can be practised both safely and responsibly.
How can I make bed-sharing safe?
If you’ve spoken to your doctor and feel that bed-sharing is a suitable choice for both you and your baby, there are some important points you should consider.
Should you wish to bed-share, the following are the most important things to consider:
Is bed-sharing right for your baby?
- Bed-sharing should not be practised within the first three months, when risk of SIDS is at its highest.
- If your baby is premature, underweight or has any kind of breathing difficulties, then bed-sharing is not recommended by the NHS at any age.
- When laid down to sleep, it is vitally important that your baby sleeps on their back. Even when sleeping alone, babies sleeping in the ‘prone’ position have shown a higher risk of SIDS.
Is bed-sharing right for you?
- Parents who regularly smoke or drink should not bed-share. These intoxicants can disrupt sleep and make you less likely to wake if your baby is in distress.
- If you are a restless sleeper and tend to thrash, fidget or have night terrors, bed-sharing is not a good idea.
- Obese and overweight parents should not bed-share as these weight classes often show signs of disrupted sleep or conditions such as sleep apnoea.
In the above cases a specialist sidecar or moses basket beside the bed are far preferable. They protect your baby but still provide that lovely feeling of parental closeness.
Safe bed-sharing checklist
To bed-share safely you will need:
- A superking mattress - For a couple with a baby, only a superking mattress will provide enough room for all three to sleep safely. The space between sleepers is essential to prevent crushing or overheating.
- A mattress which is medium firmness or above - Mattresses which are soft and have a little bit of sink are not good for babies. Too much padding increases the risk that their nose and mouth being covered. A firm, good-quality sprung mattress is ideal.
- No gaps - There should be no crevices or spaces that your baby could fall down or get trapped in. Watch out for spaces between your mattress and any bedside tables or your headboard.
- No loose cushions or pillows - One standard size pillow each for both you and your partner will be fine. Loose pillows and scatter cushions all raise the risk of the baby’s face being covered.
- Ambient temperature - Ensure the room is neither too hot or cold.
Under NO circumstances should you:
- Sleep with more than one baby or child in your bed. Children move more in their sleep and are unlikely to be careful around the new baby. It can be a tough choice, but you may need to boot your eldest out of bed.
- Sleep with a baby in an armchair, sofa or recliner. It is too easy as you drop off for them to become trapped in the gaps. Then they can suffocate or overheat before you even realise it.
It is always best to go with your own instincts as a parent. If you wish to give bed-sharing a try but have some fears or doubts, talk them through with your partner, midwife or a childcare professional.
Many parents are highly positive about their bed-sharing experiences and many happy, healthy adults in the world today bed-shared with their parents.
There are so many ways to parent but only you know what is right for you and your family. For more information on getting your baby off to sleep, you may wish to visit our post how to get a good night’s sleep with a new baby.
For more on the different types of co-sleeping and the myths surrounding it, read the other article in this co-sleeping series - Co-sleeping: The Myths and Benefits.