Throw the word ‘co-sleeping’ into your mama group chat and I’m sure it will draw out all the opinions. Those that swear by it and those that fear it. Yes, there are safety precautions you should take if you choose to bed share with your baby – just as there are with placing a baby in a cot at night – but ultimately, it is a choice that you should feel empowered to make if it best supports your family.
What the experts say about co-sleeping
Notice, I’ve said experts here. Not your nosy mother-in-law, know-it-all colleague or neighbours’ brothers ’did-a-sleep-course-once’ cousin. You may hear a lot of strong (read: forceful) thoughts on the topic, but if you’re seeking impartial guidance, I strongly urge you to switch off from the noise and seek out information from trusted sources.
The Lullaby Trust, a charity that raises awareness of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and provides expert advice on safer sleep for babies, says:
Baby Sleep Information Source (BASIS), who provide research-based evidence about infant sleep for parents, say:
There’s a lot of controversy around co-sleeping and I want to help you cut through all the scare-tactics and culture-led opinions. Because once you start delving into the published journals, statistics and openly-available public health advice, there is one clear message – co-sleeping is perfectly normal, it is a choice and it should not be feared or disregarded.
How to co-sleep as safely as possible
Just as you may have learned in your antenatal or NCT class about the safest ways to put your baby to bed in their cot (eg. always on their back, no loose covers etc) there are precautions you can take too when it comes to co-sleeping.
Some are more obvious than others, but to practice safe bed sharing it is widely recommended to:
- Never bed share with your baby if you/anyone else sharing the bed have recently drunk alcohol.
- Keep the sleeping space around your baby free of any pillows, blankets, duvet covers.
- Do not sleep with your baby if you/anyone else sharing the bed is a smoker.
- Never leave your baby in your bed alone.
- Make sure there is no risk of the baby getting trapped between the mattress and the wall and that they can’t fall out of bed.
- Not bed-sharing specifically, but do not sleep with a baby in your arms on the sofa (this statistically has a greater risk of SIDs and is not advised).
Three benefits of co-sleeping
Contrary to popular belief, there’s plenty of evidence-based pros to co-sleeping with your baby.
1. Supports breastfeeding
If you’re breastfeeding your newborn through the night and are experiencing multiple wake-ups, bed sharing with baby can help facilitate, settle and ensure you’re getting enough sleep too.
I talk about this a lot in my Transitioning from Breastfeeding to Sleep Masterclass. While it’s important to respond to your baby’s feeding cues, it doesn’t have to be at the sake of your sanity. I recently heard from a mother who watched my webinar live and she said:
“When I fed her [baby] to sleep she would wake up after every sleep cycle 3-4 times until I joined her in bed – now I can go up whenever (we still co sleep and I intend to for the foreseeable future) but I love it!! Sometimes she wakes and comes up to me, gives me a kiss and a cuddle and falls asleep on me.”
2. Keeps baby and parents in tune with one another
In the Western world, it is not the ‘norm’ to co-sleep – and that is a reflection of the culture more so than scientific evidence. There was a huge shift in attitude (dating back 500-odd years) and what we learn today is likely to be influenced by opinions that suggest that keeping a baby in a cot is ‘good’ and fosters greater independence while co-sleeping is the ugly sister which hinders all that hard work.
Well, it might blow your mind to know that in other parts of the world this is flipped the other way. Co-sleeping is the best place for baby, nurturing the bond, providing safety and comfort and being more in tune with baby’s needs. Reports even go as far to show that when parents and babies sleep together, their heart rates, brain waves, oxygen levels, temperature and breathing influence one another. Who knew?
3. It can help you all get a good night’s sleep
Sometimes parents co-sleep by accident and often wake up from an impromptu nap feeling guilty, scared and anxious. If you’re not prepared, the fear is real – but it won’t be that way if you are intentionally co-sleeping.
If it is a choice that feels right for your family and baby, then setting up a safe sleeping environment and gently encouraging baby to go back back to sleep (without having to leave the comfort of your bed) will help everyone get a longer and more restful night’s sleep.
Looking for bespoke, non-judgy, actionable advice? I’d love to be able to help you. It all starts with a call…