Co-sleeping – is it safe? Is it the same as bedsharing?

This may come as a surprise to you if you’ve read any sensationalist, click-bait articles about ‘breastfed babies being crushed to death by their sleeping mother‘. The Daily Mail (whom I refuse to send any traffic so will not be linking to) wrote the following: “Mr Pollard said that the technique to help mothers struggling to breastfeed went against national advice to avoid ‘co-sleeping’ because mothers are likely to be very tired after giving birth and at risk of falling asleep.” And this is why everyone is so confused about co-sleeping. So I’m going to clarify some points here and now and clear up any confusion.

So what is co-sleeping exactly?

Co-sleeping was previously defined as ‘sleeping in the same room as baby’. Wikipedia defines it like this:

Co-sleeping is a practice in which babies and young children sleep close to one or both parents, as opposed to in a separate room. Co-sleeping individuals sleep in sensory proximity to one another, where the individual senses the presence of others.[1]This sensory proximity can either be triggered by touch, smell, taste, or noise. Therefore, the individuals can be a few centimeters away or on the other side of the room and still have an effect on the other.[1] It is standard practice in many parts of the world, and is practiced by a significant minority in countries where cribs are also used.

Unfortunately, co-sleeping and bed-sharing are now being merged (no thanks to the media using the words interchangably) to mean the same thing, hence all the confusion. From reading up about co-sleeping from the ‘pages of authority’, it seems like we need to change our wording to be more specific and clear. So from here-on, I will be using the terms ‘room sharing‘ and ‘bed-sharing’ to distinguish the difference the methods of sleeping.

It is recommended you room share with your baby for a minimum of the first 6 months of their life. This can be any of the following:

The following set ups are heavily discouraged due to increased risk of SIDS:

So why does bedsharing get such a bad rep?

Short answer? Sensationalist headlines. When these articles come out about small babies passing away due to ‘bedsharing’ and sometimes even ‘deadly breastfeeding’, the bit that tends to be remembered by people is the headline and not everyone reads the actual article. If they did, they would read that actually it wasn’t as simple a case as the headline makes out. I will give you some examples now, starting with the most recent case.

A quote from Infant Sleep Information Source raises the point of how unsafe sleeping may have increased due to these headlines:

Why sofa-sharing deaths have increased is presently unknown, but researchers have suggested that it may be that recommendations to avoid bed-sharing have led parents to take their babies to the living room for night-time feeds, where they may have inadvertently fallen asleep with the baby (Blair et al. 2009). The use of drugs or alcohol has also been implicated or confirmed in many sofa-sharing deaths where adults fell asleep or passed out accidentally on top of babies.

So how can I bedshare safely?

List taken from Kellymom:

  • Very small premature or low birth-weight babies appear to be at greater risk when bed-sharing, but benefit greatly from co-sleeping nearby but on a separate surface (more).
  • Do not sleep with baby if you are currently a smoker or if you smoked during pregnancy – this greatly increases SIDS risk (more)
  • Do not sleep on the same surface as your baby if you are overly tired or have ingested alcohol/sedatives/drugs (or any substance that makes you less aware) (more).
  • Baby appears to be safest when sleeping beside his/her breastfeeding mother. (More info here for non-breastfeeding parents)
  • Older siblings or other children should not sleep with babies under a year old.
  • Do not swaddle your baby when bed-sharing. Baby may overheat (which is a risk factor for SIDS) and a swaddled baby is not able to effectively move covers from the face or use arms and legs to alert an adult who is too close (more).
  • Other potential hazards: very long hair should be tied up so that it does not become wrapped around baby’s neck; a parent who is an exceptionally deep sleeper or an extremely obese parent who has a problem feeling exactly how close baby is should consider having baby sleep nearby, but on a separate sleep surface (more).

It is VERY important that ALL of these guidelines are strictly followed if you decide to bed-share.

safe sleep 7
From Le Leche League website (click image for more information)

Further reading is available here from Infant Sleep Information Source.

Featured photo credit: Infant Sleep Info Source and Rob Mank Photography

More reading: 16 things I wish I had been told whilst I was pregnant

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