Bringing a new baby home can be one of the most life-altering events a family will ever experience. And when it comes to sleep, parents often instinctively desire to keep close to their babies. This is where cosleeping, a practice recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), comes into play. In reality, the decision on how to share your bed or sleeping environment with your little one is personal, and should be looked at from all angles before determining if it’s right for your family.
What is cosleeping?
“Cosleeping” can mean different things to different people. KellyMom describes it this way: “Cosleeping essentially means sleeping in close proximity to your child. It may be in the same bed or just in the same room.” This can vary from sharing the same bed with them (often referred to as a “family bed”), or to simply sharing one room with your child’s bassinet or crib in it.
In this particular article, we’ll explore the benefits of sleeping with your baby in your own bed (bed-sharing) or within arm’s reach, and things to consider so you can set up your space to do it safely.
What are the benefits of cosleeping?
Extensive research has shown how cosleeping can help improve your baby’s physical and emotional health, not to mention your parent-child relationship. From a desire to strengthen your bond with your baby to sheer convenience, there are several reasons why you might decide to cosleep with your child.
Especially with infants, keeping your baby close by can reduce nighttime interruptions significantly, allowing everyone in bed to achieve longer periods of sleep. According to Professor James J. McKenna, the world’s leading authority on mother-infant cosleeping, the logic here is simple. If you don’t have to get out of bed for feeding, diaper changing, or soothing, then everyone can enjoy uninterrupted rest, and more of it.
For new moms, an adequate supply of breastmilk can be achieved through feeding around the clock and on a consistent schedule (source). By sleeping with your baby nearby, it takes less effort to maintain that schedule.
When babies and parents sleep close together, they tend to sleep lighter and startle more often. Although this might sound counterproductive to achieving better sleep, this state can help your baby experience more REM sleep vital to brain development in early life (source).
Dr. Bill Sears, former chief of pediatrics at Toronto Western Hospital, advises that waking up alone without a familiar face in sight can be a frightening experience for children under a year old. And because of that fear, it may be difficult for your baby to return to sleep after waking in the middle of the night. Cosleeping eliminates the anxiety associated with being alone so that your little one can be more easily soothed back to sleep.
Typically, children who cosleep may develop develop a stronger sense of independence, confidence, and emotional intelligence later in life. Despite the common assumption that bedsharing can make children overly dependent on their parents, research has shown that in fact, the opposite can be true (source).
The idea of sharing a family bed with an infant has long been a controversial subject because of the numerous safety hazards that an adult bed can pose to an infant. However, numerous experts have insisted that bed-sharing can be safe and beneficial when the proper precautions are considered.
Never sleep next to an infant on top of an exceptionally soft mattress, waterbed, sofa, or other plush surface. Doing so may cause you or your baby to roll into one another, increasing the risk of suffocating or crushing the infant (source). If you plan on bed-sharing, an upgrade to a firmer mattress is well worth the investment.
All the people in your shared family bed should have ample room to move around during the night (source). For two adults and a baby, we recommend a king size mattress to ensure plenty of wiggle room and reduced risk of impeding your baby’s space.
Dr. McKenna advises that your bed be positioned away from any walls, and that the mattress itself sits flush with a headboard or footboard. Gaps between the bed and adjacent surfaces pose a potential hazard for the baby to become trapped if they roll in the wrong direction.
While keeping in mind the ‘no gap’ rule, baby guardrails are a smart addition to your family bed. Opt for the kind that are made with mesh sides instead of slats or bars that could potentially entrap baby’s limbs or head (source).
To decrease the possible risk of suffocation, remove all pillows and loose covers from your bed and dress warmly to stay comfortable at night. Although swaddling is a common practice with newborns that reduces their startle reflex and mimics the feeling of being in the womb, babies should not be swaddled when sleeping right next to an adult. Your baby’s limbs need to be free as a means to alert you if need be (source).
Within your baby’s first year, other children or animals should not be allowed to sleep in the bed as well. According to Dr. Sears, young children and pets don’t have the same reflexes or awareness that mom and dad do to rouse them from sleep if the baby were in trouble. Also, by adding more bodies to the bed, you risk overcrowding the mattress, increasing the potential that baby could be rolled onto or suffocated by those nearby.
A cooler sleep environment is better for adults and babies alike to achieve better sleep. But a room temperature around 65 - 68 degrees fahrenheit has also been shown to reduce the risk of SIDS. Remember, your baby will warm up naturally just by sleeping next to you, so keeping the bedroom on the cooler side is a great preventative measure against overheating (source).
Once you’ve set the stage in your bedroom with the proper mattress, bedding, and room arrangements, it’s important to employ a couple of rules when it comes to baby’s positioning. Dr. Sears recommends the following:
For more resources and information on safe cosleeping, we encourage you to read the following:
CoSleeping Safely at Ask Dr Sears
Co-sleeping and Bed-sharing at KellyMom
SIDS and Other Sleep-Related Infant Deaths: Updated 2016 Recommendations for a Safe Infant Sleeping Environment at AAP Publications
Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Labratory’s FAQ Page from Dr. James McKenna
How Cosleeping Can Help You and Your Baby at Greater Good Magazine
Co-Sleeping – Making It Work and Making It Safe at No-Cry Sleep Solution
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