Two very important topics that we cover in our BabyNatal Practical Baby Care classes and in our BabyNatal Sleep workshops are co-sleeping and baby-sharing. Whilst these terms are often used interchangeably, we like to make a distinction between the two and clarify that bed-sharing is a form of co-sleeping.
What is co-sleeping?
Co-sleeping refers to the practice of sleeping in the same room as your baby. This can be achieved in several ways. Some popular options are for your baby to sleep in:
- a bedside crib;
- a bedside crib or co-sleeper – with these, you can normally take one side down, so that they are effectively attached to your bed;
- a Moses Basket;
- a cot or cot bed;
- the same bed as you – this is called bed-sharing.
Co-sleeping in the first six months of your baby’s life makes it safer for them, and it protects from the risk of cot death, or SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). The current recommendation is that the safest place for your baby to sleep is in a cot or Moses basket in the same room as you, for the first six months of their life. This is true for nap time as well, so if you live in a house, it’s advisable to have your baby nap in the same room where you are, even during the day.
When it comes to attending to your baby during the night (for feeds and nappy changing, when required), having your baby in the same room as you also makes it easier and quicker for you to be alerted to their needs, so that you can care for them in the best possible way.
What is bed-sharing?
Bed-sharing refers to the practice of sharing the same bed as your baby. Bed-sharing is a form of co-sleeping.
Is bed-sharing advised against?
The Lullaby Trust’s current stance on this is as follows: “We do not tell parents to never bed share. However, as a charity committed to reducing the number of babies dying from SIDS, we try to give parents the best advice we can, so they know the things they should never do, and what are the safest ways to look after their baby so they can make informed choices. The Lullaby Trust and the NHS, and many professional and parenting organisations all agree that the safest place for a baby to sleep is in their own cot or Moses basket in their parents’ bedroom until they are at least six months old.”
Whilst we understand that this isn’t the right option for every family, and that you may have not planned to share a bed with your baby, there may be times when you find it easier to bring your baby into your bed to comfort them, feed them, and settle them there. It is therefore very important to know when bed-sharing isn’t safe, as well as to know how to make sure your bed is set up for safe co-sleeping.
So, if you do choose to share a bed with your baby, here are some key safety considerations to be kept in mind.
- Never fall asleep with your baby on a sofa or armchair. This poses risks of suffocation and overheating, and the consensus on this is unanimous. It is one of the most high-risk sleep situations for your baby, and one that should be avoided.
- To reduce the risk of SIDS, you should never share a bed with your baby if either you or your partner:
- Smoke or use e-cigarettes.
- Have taken any alcohol, medications, or drugs that could make you drowsy, affect your memory, or make you unaware that your baby is in bed with you.
- Your baby was born prematurely (before 37 weeks), or had a low birth weight of less than 2.5kg or 5.5lbs, or is younger than 3 months old.
- Keep bedding light and to a minimum. A baby does not need a duvet or pillow, so it is strongly recommended that your baby is kept safely away from them. You can even consider removing them from your bed altogether, as these could be a suffocation hazard, but if you decide not to, special care should be taken to ensure that any duvets or pillows are kept away from your baby’s head, so they don’t interfere with their breathing or cause them to overheat in any way.
- Choose a firm mattress.
- Position your baby where they cannot accidentally fall off the bed, so away from the sides or headboard.
- Try and sleep with your baby assuming the ‘C position’ – you lie on your side, facing your baby, and draw your knees up under your baby’s feet. If you have long hair, make sure to tie it up.
- Keep your baby warm, but not too hot. Remember that being close to you will keep them warmer, so bear that in mind when thinking about clothing for you and your baby.
- If you have older children, keep your baby and their sibling away from each other whilst sleeping.
- Ensure your baby is not left alone in your bed when you’re not there.
Nigh-time breastfeeding in bed
When these safety considerations have been successfully met, if you are breastfeeding your baby, feeding them in bed could be a great way for all of you to get more sleep as a family. After all, when your baby is right next to you, neither you nor your baby need to wake up ‘fully’ or potentially get up (unless a dirty nappy needs changing) for a feed. In fact, you may even find that the baby latches on at the first sign of stirring and continues to sleep peacefully after a feed. That means that you and your baby will find it easier to go back to sleep after a feed, and as an added bonus, your partner might even be unaware that the baby woke up in the first place!
I’d love to share a bed with my baby, but I’m too scared
With so many safety considerations to be kept in mind to reduce the risk of SIDS and avoid exposing their baby to the additional risks of suffocation, overheating, or injury from falling, a lot of parents feel too nervous and anxious to be able to share a bed with their baby.
This is completely understandable, and you should never feel pressured to do something that does not feel right for you, for whatever reason. Whilst working with families during the postnatal period, especially when delivering our BabyNatal Sleep workshops, we see that families do experiment with different solutions, before they find something that works for them. Some of the options you may want to consider are:
- Placing your baby in the middle of your bed inside a purposely designed baby nest or baby pod.
- Placing a firm mattress directly on the floor, if you have the space, and sleep there with your baby.
- Sleep in a separate bed alone with your baby, while your partner and other children, for example, sleep in the family bed.
Whatever you decide to do, when it comes keeping your baby safe when they sleep, we recommend that you always do your own research first and familiarise yourself with the resources offered by The Lullaby Trust. On their website, you will be able to find the latest recommendations on room sharing and co-sleeping, as well as a wealth of other information that will help you keep your baby safe in their sleep.
What option did you choose for your children? And if you haven’t had your baby yet, what options are you considering?