Co-Sleeping With a Baby: Guide & Safety Tips
Co-sleeping with a baby is a topic every newborn parent will encounter when bringing their infant home.
But what exactly is co-sleeping with a baby, and is it safe for your child?
We’ll define the types of co-sleeping and its benefits. We’ll also provide tips on how to do it safely with your infant.
Related: Separation Anxiety in Babies - What is it & How to Deal With It
What is Co-Sleeping?
Co-sleeping is when parents share their bed with a baby. Many parents like co-sleeping because it lets them feel closer to their baby.
However, some health experts warn that sharing a bed with your baby increases the possibility of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), suffocation, and strangulation.
Some of the reasons that sharing a bed can be riskier for an infant include the following:
- Loose Bedding, Pillows, or a Soft Mattress Can Strangle / Suffocate an Infant
- Parents Can Accidentally Roll Over on Their Child
- Baby Could Become Trapped Between Wall and Mattress
- Infant Could Fall Out of the Bed
- Baby Could Get Caught Up in Nearby Objects Like Cords and Strangle
What are the Benefits of Co-Sleeping?
Co-sleeping appropriately can offer many benefits for the infant and the parents. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of co-sleeping.
Reduced Stress for the Baby
It’s not uncommon for a mother and child to suffer from separation anxiety which can be particularly stressful on an infant. For example, a study from 2011 indicated that even though babies weren’t crying out by their third night of sleep training, their stress and cortisol levels remained high.
A less stressed infant is also less likely to cry during the night because mothers who sleep close by can notice their signs of hunger or need to be changed and take care of the baby’s needs more quickly.
Babies Develop Better Daytime and Nighttime Sleep Patterns
Infants often have trouble distinguishing days from nights. This confusion means many babies can sleep well during the day but be restless at night.
Co-sleeping helps to keep the baby close at night and keeps them in a quiet and dim environment, which can help them to associate night with rest. Infants also sleep better when they feel secure when they sense the presence of their parents nearby.
Better Sleep For Everyone
Experts believe that co-sleeping helps both parents and their babies sleep better because it takes less time for parents to get up and check on the baby. In addition, many mothers do not sleep well when their babies sleep in separate rooms.
Like infants, mothers are wired to be close to their infants and even release oxytocin when close to them. Not only does oxytocin improve sleep quality, but it also helps with breastfeeding.
Helps With Breastfeeding
Typical newborns sleep in one or two-hour increments, meaning they wake up several times overnight, sometimes hungry. When you have your baby close to you, it is much more convenient to breastfeed.
The mother won’t have to get up and go to another room to breastfeed when the baby is co-sleeping close to them.
Help Infants Rouse Themselves
Infants aren’t designed to fall and stay asleep overnight. Sleeping babies frequently rouse themselves when they are close to their mothers. While they don’t wake fully, they are in a lighter sleep, which is much safer for infants.
Babies who rouse themselves learn to react instinctively to their environments, like being too warm or cool or if their breathing becomes irregular. The ability to easily rouse themselves may help reduce their risk of SIDS.
It Helps to Build Better Bonds and Secure Attachment
The secure attachment between a caregiver and an infant is an emotional bond that helps the infant feel cared for and protected. When this secure attachment is fostered in infancy, as the child develops, they will understand that their caregivers will always come back to take care of their needs.
Children with secure attachments show less stress when their parents leave, are happy when they return, and are better able to handle different situations appropriately.
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Types of Co-Sleeping Arrangements
Parents can choose three primary co-sleeping arrangements from sidecar, sharing the parent’s bed, or sharing the room.
Sidecar Co-Sleeping Arrangement
The sidecar arrangement is perfect for parents who want to try co-sleeping but are wary of completely sharing their bed. With the sidecar arrangement, you place the baby’s bed or crib adjacent to and abutting the parent’s bed with one end open at the same level.
The extra space in the baby’s crib keeps them away from some of the hazards in the parent’s bed, like pillows and blankets.
With the mom and the infant at the same level, it’s easy for them to have physical access to one another.
Sharing the Parent’s Bed Sleeping Arrangement
Sharing the parent’s bed is what many people visualize when they are thinking about co-sleeping.
Parents should clear a space on a firm mattress much as they would with a cot when they share the bed with their infants. Babies should be placed on the back on top of the mattress without any blankets, toys, or stuffed animals.
Sharing the Room Sleeping Arrangement
Sharing the same room is for many parents as it allows for an infant to sleep in their bassinet or crib, within arm’s reach of their parents, without being in the same bed.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends room-sharing with your baby until they are at least six months old to help protect against SIDS.
Related: Things Every New Parent Should Know About Newborn Sleep
Tips for Safely Co-Sleeping In The Same Bed
There are several guidelines to consider when safely co-sleeping in the same bed with an infant. Here are some tips for safely co-sleeping in the same bed.
The Infant Should Be Older Than Three Months
For infants under three months of age, it’s better to set up a crib in your bedroom so they are in the same room but aren’t at increased risk of SIDS.
Parents Should Not Be Smokers
If you or your partner smokes, they should not sleep in the same bed or next to the baby. It’s also a good idea to keep other strong-smelling irritants like perfumes, deodorants, and hairspray out of the baby’s room.
Parents Shouldn’t Use Alcohol, Drugs, or Medications
Parents shouldn’t sleep next to an infant in the same bed if they have consumed alcohol, medications, or other drugs. These substances can make it harder for parents to wake up. As a result, they may accidentally roll over onto their infant or not hear them if they are distressed.
Parents Shouldn’t Be Extremely Tired Before Going To Sleep
Because being a parent with an infant can make it difficult for parents to get adequate sleep. Therefore, parents should be cautious when they are extremely tired and looking to share the bed with an infant. When in doubt, the same-room method is always a viable option instead of sharing the bed.
Only Parents Should Share the Bed With an Infant
Infants should only share the bed with a parent. Other caregivers like siblings, relatives, and babysitters watching the child overnight should use a crib in the same room instead of sharing the same bed.
Only One Person Should Share the Bed With an Infant
The AAP recommends that infants only share the bed with one person rather than both parents. For couples who share a bed, this means that a separate bed is better for the baby and that room sharing is the safest choice.
Infants should never be allowed to sleep on a bed by themselves. Pets and other children should also not share a bed when sleeping with infants.
You Should Have a Firm, Safe Bed Space
You should sleep on a bed with a firm mattress with plenty of room to accommodate your and your baby when sharing the bed. In addition, the mattress should be firm and devoid of hazards like pillows, blankets, toys, or comforters.
The mattress and bedding should also be free of any cracks or crevices a baby could get stuck in. The infant’s side should also be flush against a wall so it can’t roll off or become wedged between the mattress and the wall.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you use bed rails for infants co-sleeping in a bed?
While bed rails might seem like a good idea to keep your baby from falling off of the bed, the American Academy of Pediatrics says that you should not use portable bed rails when sharing a bed as infants can get trapped or strangulated in them.
Can you safely co-sleep with a newborn?
It would be best if you did not share a bed with a newborn. For an infant’s first six to twelve months, it’s recommended that infants sleep in a cot, or crib, in the same room next to the parent’s bed.
At what age is co-sleeping considered safe?
After the age of one, co-sleeping is considered to be safe. The older a child gets, the less risky it is, as they are more capable of moving, rolling over, and freeing themselves from entrapment or restraint.
What type of bedding should I use for my baby when co-sleeping?
You should always have a firm mattress with a tight-fitting sheet as bedding for co-sleeping in the same bed as your baby.
You’ll also want to keep any extra items off of the part of the bed that you settle them down on, like no pillows, blankets, duvets, stuffed animals, or toys.
What’s the best type of co-sleeping?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, room-sharing is the best and safest choice for co-sleeping. Room-sharing reduces the risk of SIDS by as much as 50%. And room sharing prevents infants from getting trapped, strangled, or suffocated when sharing the same bed with their parents.
What is co-sleeping vs. bed-sharing?
Bed-sharing is a type of co-sleeping where a child and a parent share the same bed. Some parents will also use the sidecar method. With this method, they pull a sleeper like a crib or a bassinet up next to the bed at the same level so that the parent can easily access their child with them being in a separate bed.
Room-sharing is another type of co-sleeping, the preferred version in most cases, where a child sleeps in their own crib or cot in the same room as the parents.
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Co-Sleeping Can Be Great For Baby and Parents If Done Safely
Co-sleeping involves parents and infants sleeping close to one another. While many people think of bed-sharing as co-sleeping, that is just one method of co-sleeping.
In addition to bed-sharing, parents can also use the sidecar method, where they pull their baby’s cot or crib next to their bed at the same level so they can quickly reach their child.
Room sharing is also a version of co-sleeping that many pediatric and child safety groups prefer. Because it lets the infant sleep in their cot or bed, in the same room as the parents, but separately, this gives the parents the ability to respond quickly to their infant’s needs overnight. And they can do this without having the risks of sharing the same bed with their infant.
Many benefits come from co-sleeping, like helping infants regulate their sleep and building stronger bonds between infants and parents. Co-sleeping also makes breastfeeding more manageable for the mother by being closer to their child.
It’s always best to talk with your pediatrician to see which style of co-sleeping they recommend. When co-sleeping is done safely, it can not only reduce the chance of SIDS. It can also have long-term developmental benefits for the infant while providing peace of mind to the parents.Related: Games for Babies: Play Time That Encourages Development