Many parents choose to co-sleep with their baby, whilst others have it thrust up them. Either way, co-sleeping can feel more secure and can have benefits, but there can be risks too. Here we look into the safety concerns around co-sleeping as well as how you can reduce any potential risks.
What is co-sleeping?
Co-sleeping is when one or more parents sleep in the same bed as their baby or child. Usually, it involves a baby or toddler sleeping in their parents’ bed. It’s a common practice in many cultures around the world, especially outside of Europe and North America. It used to be more common here at one time too. But babies sleeping in separate beds to their parents has become the norm over the last hundred years or so in this country.
Why do some parents choose co-sleeping?
Some families simply don’t have enough room for separate beds for babies and children. But, excluding that reason, some parents opt for co-sleeping for one, or more, of the following reasons:
- Co-sleeping gives a sense of closeness and security: Some parents are more comfortable sleeping with their baby because it gives them a sense of security to have them close at night.
- Easier night feeding: If feeding from the breast, a lot of mothers say having their baby so close makes waking to feed less disruptive.
- Better sleep: Many parents report they get a better night’s sleep from co-sleeping. Whether feeding or comforting a crying baby, parents can often get back to sleep themselves quicker if they don’t have to get out of their bed.
- Better development: There is some limited evidence that babies who co-sleep with parents may develop faster and may have better long-term emotional health. However, the evidence on this is partial and more research would need to be done to confirm these benefits.
Is co-sleeping safe?
Although there are some advantages to co-sleeping, there are some downsides too. Particularly when it comes to a baby’s safety.
- Co-sleeping increases the risk of a baby choking or suffocating: Duvets, blankets and pillows can all smother a baby or even end up in their mouth if they cover their face. With co-sleeping, this can happen all too easily as babies can slide down the bed in their sleep. Co-sleeping also puts a baby at suffocation risk if you or your partner roll over on top of them in your sleep.
- Increased risk of SIDS: Research has shown that babies who co-sleep are at greater risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), previously called cot death. This is when a baby under the age of twelve months old suddenly dies, with no apparent cause of death.
What is the NHS’ advice on co-sleeping?
Thankfully, SIDS is rare. But because co-sleeping has been associated with a greater risk of it, the NHS recommends that you don’t co-sleep with your baby.
How can you make co-sleeping as safe as possible?
Despite the NHS’ recommendations, other authorities (including UNICEF) state that co-sleeping in the right way may limit the risk of SIDS. So, if you want to co-sleep with your baby, try the following to make it as safe as possible:
Co-sleeping and your bed
- Only co-sleep in a bed with a firm mattress, never in a chair or other piece of furniture
- Place your baby down to sleep on their back
- Make sure the mattress is close to the bedframe so there’s no risk your baby can roll and become trapped between the mattress and frame
- Keep bed clothing away from your baby to make sure nothing covers their face
- Only place a light blanket over your baby – like a cellular blanket – and tuck it under their arms to make sure it can’t cover their face
- Don’t place a pillow under their head
- Don’t have other items in the bed, like soft toys
- Make sure your baby can’t fall out of the bed
- Don’t let older children or pets sleep on or in the bed
Co-sleeping and you
Don’t co-sleep with your baby if you are:
- A heavy sleeper
- A smoker
You should also never co-sleep if you have drunk alcohol, taken medication that impacts sleep, or have taken any recreational drugs.
Co-sleeping and your baby
Don’t co-sleep with your baby if they:
- Were born prematurely
- Weighed less than 2.5 kg at birth
Co-sleeping: It’s your decision
Yes, the NHS recommends against co-sleeping. And co-sleeping in the wrong way can put your baby at risk. However, if you remove all hazards from your bed and follow safe sleep practices, you can reduce the risks and enjoy co-sleeping in the safest way possible.