When you have a new baby, one of the many decisions you have to make is where your baby sleeps. Some families choose to put their baby to sleep in her own room, others – in the parents’ bedroom. Still others like to keep their baby close to them at night, either in a cot next to their bed or in bed with them. This latter set up is what is called co-sleeping.
There are many reasons families choose to co-sleep. For some it’s simply the most practical decision: co-sleeping makes it easy to reach their baby when she wants to nurse at night. Often, if both the new mom and the baby have mastered nursing, co-sleeping allows them to nurse without leaving the bed, meaning mom can more sleep that way – and parent sleep is invaluable for everyone’s wellbeing during those early baby months.
Other parents choose to co-sleep as a way to bond with their baby, and to make sure she is safe and secure at night.
When not to co-sleep
First, you should know that experts believe that in some cases, co-sleeping may be associated with an increased risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). However, there are ways to make this set up as safe as possible, and certain do’s and don’t you should keep in mind.
Importantly, if any of the following factors are true for you, you should not co-sleep with your baby, as they significantly increase the risk of SIDS:
– You or your partner is a smoker
– One of you uses drugs or some type of sedative medication to help you fall asleep
– You are under the influence of alcohol
– Your baby was born premature or had a lower than average birth weight.
– You are sleep deprived. Exhaustion from sleep deprivation lessens your awareness of your baby.
How to co-sleep safely
If none of these apply, there are still certain precautions you should take. Make sure your bed is firm – it is unsafe to have your baby with you on a very soft mattress or a waterbed. Put your baby to sleep on her back, use a light blanket and make sure her head is uncovered. Put your baby on the side of one parent (usually the mom), not between parents, as that can increase the likelihood of her being trapped under the bedding. Make sure there is no way for your baby to fall out of bed. Putting them between you and the wall is not a good idea, as she can get trapped between the wall and the bed, however, you can put her on the side but far from the edge (provided your baby can’t roll over yet). You can also attach a guardrail to your mattress to prevent your baby from falling out (the ones that are enclosed with plastic mesh are safer than those with slats).