Is Co-Sleeping With Your Baby Safe?
Bed sharing is a no-no for good reasons. There are safer ways to nurse, soothe and bond with your newborn
Tucking your tiny one next to you at bedtime may seem like the sweetest way for you both to get a good night’s sleep. But sharing a bed with a baby is controversial at best. Although it’s common in some cultures, research shows it’s dangerous, putting infants at an increased risk of suffocation, strangulation and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
In fact, a recent study found that bed sharing is the biggest risk factor for sleep-related infant deaths.
Some parents still believe it’s the best way to bond with their baby, make nighttime breastfeeding easier and help their infant sleep well. But there are better, safer options.
Related: The Sleep-Safe Baby Guide
Defining the dangers
“During the first couple of months after a baby is born, parents are sleep deprived. It can be hard for them to make sure their baby is safe in their bed,” explains Gena Lewis, MD, a pediatrician at UCSF Benoit Children’s Hospital in Oakland, California.
Lewis cites incidents of babies rolling out of bed or being pushed into the crack between the mattress and the wall.
Pillows, blankets and other bedclothes add to the danger. The Consumer Products Safety Commission found that between 1992 and 2010, more than 700 infants under 12 months died in incidents involving pillows, thick quilts and overcrowding in the baby’s sleep space.
Napping on the sofa with your baby is no safer. Often, exhausted parents who breastfeed or try to comfort a colicky baby on a couch inadvertently fall asleep. A 2014 study found that of the nearly 8,000 SIDS cases in the United States, about 12 percent involved infants sleeping on a sofa. The study also found that babies who died sleeping on a sofa were nearly twice as likely to have suffered from suffocation or strangulation as babies who died sleeping elsewhere.
Related: 8 Signs Your Day Care Center Is Safe
Safe alternatives to bed sharing
Although sleeping in the same bed with a baby is a bad idea, sharing a room has benefits. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advocates that parents sleep in the same room as their infant for the first six to 12 months.
According to the AAP’s most recent report about co-sleeping, “There is evidence that this arrangement decreases the risk of SIDS by as much as 50 percent and is safer than bed-sharing or solitary sleeping (when the infant is in a separate room).” The report adds, “room-sharing without bed-sharing allows close proximity to the infant, which facilitates feeding, comforting and monitoring of the infant.”
To safely share a room with your baby:
Set up a bassinet or crib near your bed. You can also purchase a special type of bassinet, often called a co-sleeper bassinet, that attaches to the side of the bed. That way your baby will have a safe place to sleep and you’ll have easy access to her.
Make up a safe bed for your baby. “Babies should sleep on a flat surface that is firm and covered by a fitted sheet, with no other bedding or pillows,” Lewis says. “To keep an infant warm at night, swaddle her with a blanket or dress her in a fitted sleep sack.”
Find other ways to bond. “Many parents believe that bed sharing helps them to bond better with their infant,” Lewis says. “But bonding is a process that happens over time. It can be done by touching your baby, responding when she cries, holding her close and making eye contact and breastfeeding.”
Learn what will soothe her to sleep. A baby, especially a very young one, may need help drifting back to Dreamland after waking up to nurse or take a bottle. Swaddling can help. So can offering a pacifier. (Note that if you’re nursing your baby, it’s best to hold off on using one until after breastfeeding has been established.)
Adds Lewis, “Running a fan can also help a baby to sleep better. In fact, both pacifiers and fans have been linked to a lower risk of SIDS.”