Co-Sleeping With Baby : The Ultimate Guide to Parents

Sleep is an essential factor in your child’s physical and psychological development. Creating a good sleeping environment and getting your baby to sleep peacefully might be your utmost concerns when arriving home with your newborn. Perhaps, a nice nursery is waiting for your little one, or because he is yet so small and fragile, you would let him sleep in your room for the meantime or your bed perhaps?

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Let us help you decide whether to place your little one sleep alone in a separate room or let him sleep with you.

What is Co-Sleeping?

Experts recommend that infants should sleep close to their parents until their first birthday. Co-sleeping simply means sleeping with your child within proximity, near enough that parents and baby can easily see, hear, and touch each other.

​There are two types of co-sleeping:

Room-Sharing

It could be having a baby's crib, or bassinet placed right next to your bed or different beds in the same room. The crib could be in a sidecar arrangement wherein it is securely attached to the parent’s bed, and one side is lowered or removed for easy access to the mother and the baby.

Bed-Sharing

A child sleeps with parent(s) in the same bed. Some babies who sleep in separate rooms or beds and wake up at night are usually transferred to the parents’ bed to sleep with them.

Why Co-Sleep?

According to Kids Health, parents and child room-share or bed-share for one or more of the reasons below:

  • Cultural Reasons : The practice of bed-sharing is an old and common method of sleeping arrangement.
  • Practical Reasons : For breastfeeding mothers, nursing becomes more convenient when the infant is nearby.
  • Ideological Reasons : It is the goal of good parenting to make the child safe. Parents believe that a child is more secure if they can monitor him closely.
  • Economic Reasons : It is the lack of fund to buy additional sleeping area like a crib, or they might be sleeping on a small or temporary place.

This video shows some more explanation on why parents co-sleeps or bed-share with their babies:

Pros and Cons of Co-Sleeping

Co-sleeping is a controversial method. Supporters believe, and some study shows that this setup is more beneficial to mothers and babies. Anti co-sleeping advocates think otherwise. You should consider this list before deciding on your night time sleeping arrangement:

Pros of Co-Sleeping

1. It helps to develop a good sleeping cycle for the mother and her baby.

​Ever wonder why mothers often get awaken just before their babies start to cry?

Dr. James J. McKenna, Director of the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory, studied on sleep and arousal patterns of co-sleeping mothers and infant and suggested that when babies and mothers sleep together, their sleep cycle will create synchronicity to each other. Co-sleeping makes the mother's sleep becomes in sync with her baby. It means you and your baby will deep sleep and wake up at the same time.(source)

McKenna is also a Professor of Anthropology at the University of Notre Dame and author of the book,“Sleeping with Your Baby: A Parent's Guide to Cosleeping,”

2. It promotes convenience on night time breastfeeding.

The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine supports optimal nursing practices and come up with a Guideline on Co-Sleeping and Breastfeeding, that promotes bed-sharing as a method to enhance “attachment parenting” while facilitating breastfeeding.

Mother-infant co-sleeping with breastfeeding is society’s oldest, common and still the most preferred form of arrangement by most parents for their child’s maximum protection and nutrition. It is easier to breastfeed when bed-sharing as the baby is nearby. Night nursing helps maintain your milk supply, and also it may help for the effectiveness of breastfeeding as a method of normal birth control.

3. It encourages more sleep for you and your little one.

When your baby is closer, it eliminates the need to get up and walk down the hall. Having mom right beside the baby means faster feeding time and lesser awakening time. When your baby stirs at night to nurse, you can soothe her back to sleep more easily before he fully wakes up which is more of a hassle.

Some parents find that sharing a room and having constant access to the baby through the night eliminates their worry of baby’s safety and that leads them to sleep better.

​4. It helps the baby feel safe.

​Nothing can compare to the physical warmth a parent can bring. Nighttime could be scary for little people. Your baby would feel more secure if you are nearby. The proximity of a parent may lessen the infant’s anxiety which could help their body to self-regulate during sleep.

​The transition to sleep from one state to another would be easy if your baby would sleep with a familiar person especially the mother. There is a fundamental underlying physiology when babies are in contact with their mothers and indeed when they are sleeping next to them.

​Here’s a more in-depth explanation : 

Cons of Co-Sleeping

1. Potential Risks

The American Academy of Pediatrics or AAP advises co-sleeping with no bed sharing to lessen the incidents of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or SIDS. Their research data shows babies who sleep in their parents’ bed are more likely to die of SIDS.

2. Less sleep for you and your little one

The constant moving or sound from your little one may distract your sleep. You might also be tempted to check on baby constantly, and you risk on waking him up.

Some parents say the noise they produce at night time like walking, closing the doors, or snoring can startle the sleeping baby.

3. May interfere with your intimate time

The possibility of spontaneous love making could set aside. The whole night of caring and holding the baby may hinder your romance.

To summarize, we provide a table for you to be able to weigh the benefits and risks of co-sleeping:

PROS

  • The closer the baby, the more convenient it is to breastfeed on nighttime.
  • Research shows it helps to develop a good sleeping cycle for the mother and her baby.
  • It encourages faster feeding time and less awakening time resulting in more sleep for mother and infant.
  • It promotes intimacy for child and working parents
  • Sleeping close to a familiar person could help the baby feel safe and secure.

CONS

  • Bed-sharing is a potential risk of SIDS, according to some research.
  • Some parents say the noise and sounds produce by them and the baby distracts each other’s sleep.
  • It may interfere with the parents’ intimate time.

The Myths and Truths

As co-sleeping often a source of arguments between parents and among medical experts, here are some of the comments we usually hear from those who oppose the method and the facts provided by some research.

  • The Myth: Co-sleeping is always dangerous.
The Truth

Take note that room sharing and bed sharing is not the same thing. When it comes to bed-sharing, it is a typical reaction to be alarmed when reputable organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the US Consumer Product Safety Commission are highly against bed sharing with babies below four months of age of which they consider a SIDS risk.

And while they are against letting your baby sleep with you in your bed, it does recommend room sharing with a safe crib or bassinet for babies to sleep within your reach. It is a way to reduce the risk of SIDS.

Research by Dr. Helen Ball, Director of the Parent-Infant Sleep Lab at the University of Durham suggests that sharing a bed with your baby could protect him. A bed-sharing mother adopts a protective position while breastfeeding by lying curled around the baby, her lower arms curved upwards and her knees bent under his feet. The protective space prevents both partners to roll over the baby.

In this video, Dr. James McKenna explains why safe co-sleeping can protect babies from SIDS:

  • The Myth: Only a few are doing it.
The Truth

A telephone survey conducted by JAMA Pediatrics, The National Infant Sleep Position Study shows a continual increase in bed-sharing throughout the 17-year study of approximately 1000 annual interviews of the 48 states. It suggests that the AAP recommendation about bed-sharing was not followed universally. (source)

Susan Stewart, a professor of sociology at Iowa State University and author of the "Co Sleeping: Parents, Children, and Musical Beds” , found out that many of the parents still bring their babies into their bed at some point or least a part of the night. There were also some parents who denied or avoid discussing it with family or their pediatrician. It is because of the stigma and shame associated with the current issue on co-sleeping.

  • The Myth: Baby will not learn independence.
The Truth

But your baby is, and that’s a fact. Your baby needs you in almost everything even on his sleep. It is his biological need to be feeling safe and secured by being close to his mother.

Sleeping arrangement alone cannot be a determinant on whether co-sleeping can develop dependence as your child grows according to Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory. In fact, most research suggests that when dependencies are met appropriately such as the need for attachment and attention, these, in fact, develop a sense of security and establishes confidence and self-esteem. (source)

  • The Myth: Babies who co-sleep are spoiled.
The Truth

Many think that this extra attention you give to your child may lead to behavioral problems later in life, but there is no scientific data to back it up. In fact, there is no evidence that co-sleeping leads to bad behavior, according to a study by the United States National Library of Medicine (source).

Child rearing has been a natural process of parenting for most of human history. According to experts, babies are designed to be nurtured and it is important to their development. It is how they thrive- physically and emotionally. They don’t manipulate because they still don’t know how. They only wanted to sleep- near you.

  • The Myth: It encourages unwanted attachment
The Truth

Just like some people who will tell you babies need to sleep alone, or it may become hard for you to get him out of your room or out of your bed in the future.

In this situation, you should ask, “does a still and quiet room could promote a good sleep to my baby?” Dr. James McKenna says, “No. It doesn’t help for your baby's senses. It is normal and primitive that babies learn to react, hear, and listen. Babies need to build relationships. Closing the door with the baby alone in a room does not help baby learn and develop those distinctions.

In the case of getting him out of your bed, let’s get back to the research (source) that has shown kids who are securely attached and met their needs for attention are a lot more independent. It would relieve you at least for now on getting him relocated to his room without difficulty in the future.

Co-Sleeping and SIDS

We cannot completely discuss co-sleeping without talking about the controversial issue about the Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

1. What is SIDS?

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports on 2015 about 3,700 cases of SIDS in the United States whose cause of death is not clear before investigation. The CDC recently proposed that such incidents be called SUID (Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy) for a more scientific clarity (source).

SIDS, according to Mayo Clinic is an unexplainable death of a baby younger than one-year-old. Infants often die in cribs, so it is sometimes known as crib death.

The cause of death considered unknown because the baby is seemingly healthy before death, though it appears to associate with infant’s breathing control and sleep arousal.

2. Risk Factors

Researchers from the National Library of Medicine identified some factors associated with SIDS that might be an extra-risk and these are a combination of biological and environmental elements. Studies also show some babies are more vulnerable to others. These include:

  • Age. Being premature increases your baby’s risk. The study also shows peak incidents occur at second to fourth month, a critical period of infant’s immaturity of arousal from sleep.
  • Sex. Boys are more likely to develop SIDS.
  • Weight. Babies with low birth weight are at higher risk.
  • Race. For some studies, non-white babies are more likely to die of SIDS.
  • Family History. Some babies who died of SIDS also have a family member with the same fate.
  • Sleep Position. Infants placed to sleep on the stomach or side might have more difficulty breathing than those placed on their backs. Doctors consider pressure on the airways might play a role, and lower levels of oxygen caused the brain not to respond to internal signs as well as to stimulate waking up.
  • Tobacco Smoke. Babies who live with smokers have a higher risk.
  • Pregnancy History. A mother who is young during pregnancy, uses alcohol or drugs, smokes, or has a poor prenatal care considered at risk for a SIDS baby.
  • Genetics. A type of gene which is affected by the functions of the autonomic nervous system observed at infants who developed sudden death.
  • Infections. 80% of sudden infant death has a mild viral respiratory infection.
  • Cardiovascular. According to AAP, mutations of the cardiac ratio from genetic disorders are responsible for the loss of heart function.
  • Bed-sharing. Sharing a bed with parents or siblings increases the risk of SIDS.
  • Overheating. Elevated room temperature and excessive clothing may increase the risk of SIDS.
  • Sleep Surface. Excessive bedding, soft mattresses, and stuffed animals might be a cause of suffocation or overheat.
  • Infant Feeding. A study of some pediatric experts suggests that breastfeeding lowers the risk of SIDS for the reason that breastfed infants aroused from sleep easier than formula-fed infants, which may contribute to protection against SIDS. Also, breast milk supports the immune system to fight against infections (source)

Although risks' identified, the syndrome’s biological process as a potential cause is yet to be named.

This investigative report shows common factors on SIDS babies:

3. Bedsharing and SIDS

Given the other factors, the issue that I want to discuss more is the bed-sharing method that is often a source of arguments between some medical experts and even parents who often unknowingly judging each other.

Co-sleeping, particularly bed-sharing, is claimed by some authorities as an element for the increasing incidents of SIDS. Studies show that most SIDS accidents happen at the time of infant sleeping with an adult by bed-sharing and other factors. This prompts the AAP to launch a campaign to discourage parents from sleeping with their infants.

Dr. William Sears, author of askdrsears.com and a co-sleeping parent himself wrote the latest research on how sleeping with your baby is safe which urges you to consider the epidemic of the syndrome as a whole. Data shows that of about 4250 cases of actual SIDS each year, 65 cases are said to be accidental deaths that occur in an adult bed, and that is only 1.5% of the total cases. Another critical data to consider is the actual crib deaths which are dramatically higher than in parents’ bed.

The numbers of babies who sleep with their parents should also be taken into account. We shouldn’t be quick to assume that only a few are doing it

Dr. Sears
Author of Askdrsears.Com

Data shows that verified deaths due to bed sharing are often due to accidental smothering by an adult, suffocation on soft mattresses, and getting trapped between mattress and headboard.

​According to Dr. Sears, if safely and wisely practiced, bed sharing can lower the risk of SIDS. He believes that it is not factual to tell parents not to sleep with their babies, rather educate them on how to sleep with their babies cautiously.

Safety Guidelines on Safe Sleeping

1. The Infographic

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2. The Summary

We compiled a summary of the Safe Sleep Checklists excerpted from medical experts and professional organizations like the AAP (source) to ensure a safe sleeping environment for your infant. These are the guidelines a parent must adhere to before engaging in any co-sleeping method, either room-sharing or bed-sharing.

  • Place your baby on his back to sleep. Always lay your baby in a supine position. Side or prone (tummy) are unsafe. If you are breastfeeding in bed, make sure the baby is on his back after every feeding.
  • Make sure your baby is sleeping on a firm surfaceYour baby should always sleep on a firm mattress with tight fitting sheets and no quilts. Sagging mattresses like waterbeds and bean bags are not safe as these are risks for suffocation and overheating. If you are using a crib, make sure the mattress is snugly fitted.
  • Remove any obstructions like pillows, blankets, or stuffed animals that can cover his face. Do not allow anything soft or fluffy in your baby’s sleep space. It may cause suffocation.
  • Use a firm angular pillow and a light blanket or a sleep suit. Avoid the use soft pillows, duvets, and thick blankets that can flop over and cover your baby’s face or nose. A sleeper like a sleep sack is ideal to use.
  • Place your baby’s crib or bassinet near your bed for protection and easy feeding. If you are using a crib or bassinet for your baby, place it beside your bed so you can monitor him closely, breastfeed easy and will not make the baby completely awake.
  • Use a crib that meets safety standards. Good choices are portable cribs and play yard style cribs. Make sure to use a firm, thick mattress with a tight-fitting sheet.
  • Provide your baby a smoke-free environment. A parent who smokes is not allowed to bed-share with the baby as well as mothers who smoked during pregnancy.
  • Keep the thermostat at a slightly low temperature. Make sure the room must not be too hot especially if you are breastfeeding. It is because your own body will provide heat for your baby.
  • Make sure that the bed and mattress fit with no space in between. The ideal setup would be a mattress in the middle of the room without a frame. If this is not possible, make sure that there are no holes or spaces between your bed and walls or furniture that may cause them to fall and get stacked.
  • Do not bed-share if a parent is under the influence of any drug such as alcohol or medications that can cause drowsiness. Sedatives, medications, alcohol, or some substance can cause altered consciousness and makes you unable to arouse easily from sleep
  • Do not bed-share if a parent is obese. Avoid sleeping next to your baby if you are extremely obese. Using a co-sleeper is ideal.
  • Do not bed-share if a parent is ill or exhausted. Avoid bed-sharing if either of the parents has an illness or condition that would be difficult to respond to your baby or in any case, affects your awareness of the baby.
  • Do not leave your baby in an adult bed alone and unsupervised. Never leave an infant unattended on an adult bed. You will never know what can happen in a split of a second.
  • Do not overdress your baby. Always use light clothing to your baby especially when he is sleeping next to you as close bodily contact increases body temperature. It is to prevent overheating.
  • Do not bed-share on a small bed. It is quite logical. If you and your partner seem stuffed in your bed like your movements are restricted, then the odds of rolling to your baby is likely to happen.
  • Do not wear nightclothes with ties or strings. Long strings pose a strangulation risk to your baby. Even your long hair could be a risk.
  • Do not let other children sleep with your baby. When your baby is sleeping in your bed, you should keep the other children out especially if they do not yet understand the risks of suffocation.
  • Do not allow your pets share a bed with your baby. Pets are not allowed if a baby is sleeping in your bed.

Here is some additional information on how to sleep safely with your baby:

Safe Co-Sleeping Products You Can Buy

Though the AAP discourages parents about bed-sharing, they, however, suggests room-sharing with the use of cribs or bassinets that meet the safety standard of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (ww.cpsc.gov) and with the recommendation that the crib or bassinet should come with a firm mattress and a fitted sheet designed.

The Arm's Reach® CO-SLEEPER® is one of the brands recommended by some experts and physicians. It offers an alternative arrangement for parents who are unsure or cannot provide a safe bed sharing environment for their infants but still want to have them nearby.

Some of the benefits of co-sleepers are:

  • It provides convenience- You do not have to get out of the bed to check or feed your baby.
  • It is breastfeeding friendly- one side can be dropped thus allowing the bassinet to be pushed up and placed right next to mom’s side.
  • Parents and infants stay connected- the ability of the bassinet to be attached to parents’ bed allows the parents and child to be closer and aware of each other’s presence.
  • Babies sleep better- it provides your baby comfort, ventilation for better breathability, and feeling of security knowing that you are nearby.
  • It provides a safe sleeping environment- It includes fitted sheets, attachment straps, and resistant plates.
  • Storage design- it comes with pockets or compartments with easy accessibility.

You can opt for Arm's Reach Concepts Mini Ezee 2-in-1 Bedside Bassinet which is made specifically for your infants safe sleeping or Arm’s Reach Concepts Ideal Ezee 3-in-1 Bedside Bassinet which can be converted into a play yard when your baby gets a little older.

​Watch this video of Dr. James McKenna’s recommendation of the Arms Reach Bedside Co-Sleeper:

The Bottom Line

Society must realize that it is not okay to judge parents for their chosen sleeping arrangement. Many parents share sleep with their babies. In many parts of the world, co-sleeping is a norm. Mothers and babies have been co-sleeping ages ago and still up to this writing.

Cradling your baby to sleep is a basic approach to parenting. Modern devices like baby monitors can never replace the protective benefits of co-sleeping. If proper precautions are observed, it could be done safely.

​The effect of every sleeping method varies from family to family. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, and there is no right or wrong place for babies to sleep. Some find co-sleeping helpful for them to sleep better. For others, the opposite is true.

Conclusion

We already gave you the information you need to be able to choose what method of sleeping is perfect for your baby. Being informed is important to analyze the risks and benefits of co-sleeping. Whatever night time arrangement you choose, it is essential to educate yourself to weigh on what you’ve learned and what you think works best for your family.

Therefore, we do not recommend any particular sleeping arrangement to parents. It’s for you to consider all the possible choices and find solutions that are suitable and convenient. As a parent, you have the right to decide what is right for you and your baby.

Stacy Belk
 

My name is Stacy Belk, I am a nurse, midwife and mother of two children. I would like to share my experiences in taking care of children including activities to do together, recipes to cook, good products to buy and health protection to your family. Do a search now if you like, all you need is here.

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