Introducing a new member to the family often means making important decisions and changes. A significant change usually involves sleeping arrangements, in which you may find yourself losing sleep or adapting to new sleep patterns.
To aid in this transition, many new parents or caregivers decide to practice co-sleeping, which involves sleeping with your child within the bed or close to your bed. Although co-sleeping has existed around the world for centuries, it has also been met with controversy. Below we will explore the advantages and disadvantages of co-sleeping and how to practice it safely.
In summary, safe co-sleeping is when a parent decides to share their bed with an infant or young child. Many parents choose to co-sleep as it can allow them to feel closer to their child, as well as help their infant feel more safe and secure. In addition, it may help with nighttime awakenings and breastfeeding.
However, co-sleeping remains controversial despite its popularity, and many experts advise against the practice. Some believe that co-sleeping may encourage anxious behaviour or dependency issues, although scientific evidence for this is mixed or lacking. Whatsmore, it could have a negative impact on sleep quality for the parents.
With that being said, before considering co-sleeping, it's worth discussing the advantages and disadvantages with a medical professional to be sure you make the right decision for yourself and your child.
Co-Sleeping Pros & Cons
For those contemplating co-sleeping, it's important to think about the pros and cons to determine whether this could benefit you and your baby. While the information may vary depending on your circumstances, below are some useful considerations before deciding on the appropriate sleeping arrangements.
|✓ Monitoring: Taking care of a newborn can be an anxious time, especially for new parents. Co-sleeping allows for closer monitoring of your baby throughout the night and may offer some peace of mind by watching out for any potential dangers.||✗ Relationship: Co-sleeping means that all your focus is on your baby and leaves little time for private or intimate moments with your partner. Research✓ has shown that persistent co-sleeping is linked to marital and parenting distress.|
|✓ Breastfeeding: Most babies will need to be fed during the night, so co-sleeping offers convenience and minimises nighttime disruption for the baby and mother. Whatsmore, a review✓ of 21 studies found that co-sleeping was associated with higher breastfeeding rates.||✗ Sleep Quality: While time may be reduced when tending to your baby, the heightened awareness linked to co-sleeping may have a negative impact on sleep quality. A study✓ involving 152 families found that mothers engaging in co-sleeping reported poorer sleep and increased sleep disturbances.|
|✓ Parent Sleep Duration: It's common for babies to awaken during the night, and many parents lose sleep when tending to the baby. By co-sleeping, the time taken to reach your baby and go back to bed is reduced significantly and may result in more sleep.||✗ Smoking Parents: Smoker parents and co-sleeping could increase the likelihood of third-hand smoke caused by smoke particles on skin, clothes and hair. A study✓ involving 1123 babies found that babies who shared a room with a smoker parent had nicotine levels three times higher than babies who slept in a different room.|
|✓ Sense of Security: Some believe that close contact with your infant will make the child feel more safe and secure. This closeness may also create a deeper bond and attachment with your baby.||✗ Risks: There are plenty of risks associated with co-sleeping, which is why many experts advise against bed-sharing. If not practised safely, co-sleeping can increase the risk of SIDS, overheating, injury and suffocation.|
Co-Sleeping & SIDS
Despite varying evidence, one of the main arguments against co-sleeping is that it could increase the chances of SIDS✓ (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). Although rare, it is estimated that 200 babies die from SIDS every year, which involves the sudden death of a healthy baby.
The exact cause of SIDS is often unexplained; however, factors such as unsuitable bedding and breathing obstructions are believed to raise the likelihood. In a four-year population-based study✓, it was found that 54% of SIDS infants died while co-sleeping. However, it was revealed that these deaths often occurred under hazardous conditions, such as co-sleeping on the sofa or with a parent who had taken alcohol or drugs.
Important to note:
UNICEF UK states that it is inaccurate to say that co-sleeping is directly linked to SIDS. There are many benefits to co-sleeping when practised safely with the necessary precautions.
When practised safely, there is little evidence that co-sleeping directly causes SIDS; however, there are several precautions you can take to reduce any risks. You should avoid sleeping on a sofa or chair with your baby as the child could become wedged and unable to breathe properly. In addition, drinking alcohol or taking drugs is not advised as it can reduce awareness.
If you want to try co-sleeping, there are several steps and precautions you can take to ensure your baby's safety and to receive the benefits you and your child can gain from bed-sharing.
- Bedding: Keep any loose bedding or soft pillows away from your baby, as this can increase the risk of overheating and suffocation. In addition, a waterproof cover is recommended to maintain hygiene.
- Smoking: If you or your partner is a smoker, it is strongly advised against sleeping with your baby. There has been research that shows co-sleeping with smoker parents can increase the risk of SIDs.
- Co-Sleeping Bed: You can purchase a co-sleeping attachment for those who want to try co-sleeping but prefer their own space. This bed or crib attaches to the side of your bed and allows you to be close to your baby without compromising space or safety.
- Mattress: A firmer mattress is recommended for infants as it reduces the risk of suffocation and can be beneficial for development. A solid surface can allow the baby to build resistance as they learn to roll over and push up against the mattress.
- Safety: You should ensure all gaps in and around the bed are sealed, so your baby doesn't get trapped. Moreover, to prevent your baby from falling, you can attach mesh guard rails around the edge of the bed.
How To End Co-Sleeping
Transitioning to their own bed or sleeping space can be difficult for both parent and child; however, there are some steps you can take to encourage a smoother move. However, your methods and approach can differ depending on the child's age and needs, so don't be afraid to adapt and encourage positive communication with your child.
Firstly, you should ensure that your infant has a suitable sleeping environment✓. This includes a dark room with minimal noise at a slightly cooler temperature. To make the transition more exciting for older children, you can also decorate their room to suit their preferences and give them soft toys to cuddle at night.
After creating a relaxing bedtime routine and bedroom environment, you can take different approaches. You can take the gradual approach, having your child sleeping close to you or staying by their side before falling asleep. Alternatively, you could also go 'cold turkey', which may take patience as you may be met with resistance; however, consistency and persistence are key.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is co-sleeping?
Co-sleeping involves a parent or caregiver sharing their sleep environment with their child. This could be in the same bed, with a co-sleeping attachment or in the same bedroom.
How to stop co-sleeping?
This can differ amongst children; however, it's essential to be patient and consistent when transitioning to a new sleeping arrangement. Make sure your child is comfortable, and engage in positive and encouraging communication.
What age is co-sleeping safe?
To minimise injury and other risks, it is advised that you wait until your child is at least six months old or one year old to be extra safe.