Like so many other aspects of parenting, everyone seems to have an opinion on co-sleeping.
It’s an unnecessary risk that dramatically increases your baby’s danger of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome); or it’s an ancient and beautiful practice that’s perfectly safe and promotes parent-child bonding.
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It’s the only possible way to get sleep as a new parent; or it destroys any chance of getting sleep two years from now when you’re trying to get your kid into his own bed.
The American Academy of Pediatrics opposes bed sharing due to the risk of suffocation and SIDS, although it does recommend sharing a room with your baby.
However, whether you’re a strong philosophical proponent of co-sleeping or simply find yourself taking your baby into your bed night after night just to get a few hours of sleep, you might find yourself breaking those rules. If you do, there are a few simple and important steps you can take to minimize the risks to your child’s health and enjoy a night of baby snuggles.
Stop Drinking And Smoking
If you smoke, stop. Smoking is already a risk factor for SIDS, but it becomes even worse if you co-sleep. Stop drinking or using sleep aids before bed as well, since alcohol and depressants make you sleepier and less aware of the fact that you may be rolling onto your baby.
Prevent Traps And Falls
Your bed needs to be completely free of spaces where the baby can be trapped; it also needs to be set up to prevent falls.
If there’s a crevice between your mattress and the headboard, take the headboard off. If the top of your bed isn’t completely flush against the wall, push it in until it is. In a CPSC survey of co-sleeping deaths in adult beds, 73 percent occurred when the baby became trapped between the bed and a wall, headboard or piece of furniture.
If you’re going to have the baby between the mother and her side of the bed rather than between both parents, a practice that co-sleeping advocate William Sears recommends that side of the bed needs to be flush against the wall or have a guardrail.
Another way to prevent traps and falls is to make sure you ONLY co-sleep in your bed. A baby can easily be trapped between your body and the back of a couch or roll out of your lap if you fall asleep in the rocking chair.
Safe Mattresses And Blankets
Just like with crib mattresses, your bed’s mattress needs to be firm for a safe sleeping environment. Never co-sleep in a waterbed; the surfaces sink too easily and can entrap a baby. A queen- or king-size mattress provides you with plenty of room to avoid accidentally rolling onto your baby; if you have a full-size bed try to upgrade.
If possible, dress in warm pajamas so you don’t need to use blankets, as the baby can become tangled in the blanket or suffocate by accidentally covering her nose and mouth.
If you need to use blankets, use lightweight ones rather than thick, heavy comforters, and place the baby on top of the blanket. If you uncertain whether the blanket is thin enough to be safe, try covering your own nose and mouth with it and seeing if you can breathe.
Stay Cool To Stay Safe
Overheating is a risk factor in SIDS and is one of the lesser-known dangers of co-sleeping; after all, if you’re sleeping with your baby, you’re adding your own body heat to his usual sleeping temperature.
Dress the baby in one or two fewer layers than you normally would to make up for the difference.
Keep Other Kids Out
Surprisingly, in a 2003 study of behaviors that increased SIDS risks, the most dangerous thing that parents could do was putting two children in the same bed. It’s unclear how many of these cases involved parents sleeping with a baby and an older child, sleeping with twins or just putting twins in a crib together; regardless, it isn’t worth the risk.
If you’re going to co-sleep, co-sleep with just one child.
Back To Sleep
It’s as true in an adult bed as it is in a crib: It’s much safer for a baby to sleep on her back than it is for her to sleep on her stomach. Make sure your baby is lying on her back when she sleeps with you.
These warnings may sound dire, but they’re important. As Dr. Sears puts it, “Co-sleeping is as safe as the conditions you practice.”
Parents’ beds can be a place of love or a place of danger for their babies, and maintaining the right conditions helps you to keep your precious little one safe.