Many people and authorities will tell you that you should never sleep with your baby. That you will risk rolling over on your infant, or they could fall off the bed, or get caught up in the blankets and pillows. You may remember the public health campaign from several years ago where there was pictured a sleeping infant in an adult bed, with lots of pillows and blankets around the baby, and a scary looking knife laying next to the infant. The message was clear even without the heading - if you let your baby sleep with you, you are putting them in danger.
However, what these kinds of campaigns, and well-meaning experts don’t seem to understand, is that tired and loving parents fall asleep cuddling their babies every day. This happens even if you don’t mean for it to. Breastfeeding hormones are soothing and relaxing to the mother as well as the baby. You are snuggled in and warm with your baby, and you both drift off to sleep while your baby is breastfeeding, both of you settled into the safety and comfort you find in each other. This is totally normal and natural.
There are studies that have shown that sharing a sleeping space with your infant can have many benefits for your baby. If you are going to share a bed with your baby, you need to be informed about how to do this safely. You do have to make modifications to your sleeping space, but you can safely share a bed with your infant if that is your choice. Or you could choose to co-sleep, which is defined as having your baby in the same room as you throughout the night. This could be in a sidecar bassinet or a crib or other safe sleeping space.
Just as there are safe sleeping guidelines for children and adults, there are safe sleeping guidelines for the different options for infants. Keeping your baby safe throughout the night, no matter where they sleep, helps everyone in the family to be well rested.
Safe co-sleeping means that you create a safe sleeping space for your infant that is in the same room you sleep in. This could be a crib or bassinet that is right next to your bed, or a across the room. Either way, you are sharing the same sleeping space, but without being in the same bed. Co-sleeping still provides many of the same benefits as bed sharing and allows you to respond to your baby throughout the night. Feeding is simplified by the closer proximity and you may be able to sleep more soundly knowing that your baby is close. Co-sleeping is a wonderful option for parents who don’t feel comfortable having their baby in bed with them, but still want them close throughout the night.
Bed sharing means that your baby sleeps in the same bed as you. Although there has been a big push against bed sharing in the United States, infants and their parents have been sharing sleeping spaces for thousands of years. In many cultures, this is still the norm. There is evidence to support the idea that safe bed sharing offers many protective benefits to the infant, such as lower incidences of SIDS, better breastfeeding outcomes, thermoregulatory benefits, and more secure attachments. Your baby wants to be close to you. And it is completely normal for you to want your baby close. You can create a safe sleeping environment where you are all getting your needs met in a supportive and nurturing space.
There are some common sense guidelines that will help to ensure that your infant is safe, and it is good to be proactive about these things before your baby is born, rather than realizing afterwards that you want your baby to sleep with you. Use these guidelines as a place to start.
Bed sharing is safe when you are exclusively breastfeeding. This connection to your baby gives you a kind of hyper-awareness of your infant. In fact, many mothers report that they will often stir and begin to awaken before their baby wakes, allowing you to respond to their needs before they completely wake up.
Ideally, your sleeping surface should be directly on the floor and away from any walls. This means there is a clear space completely around the mattress. If the bed is pushed against a wall, your infant could become trapped in between the mattress and the wall. A side rail isn’t recommended either because of the same risk of entrapment. Most regular bed frames have crevices or spaces around the mattress or between the mattress and the headboard that are safety hazards for infants.
You should have a minimal amount of blankets and pillows. One pillow each for the adults and one light blanket for all of you. You don’t want anything that could cause your baby to be covered up by a pillow or blanket. Your baby should never have anything over her head. Dress your baby and yourself so that you would be comfortable without a blanket if need be.
The infant should be between the nursing mother and the side of the bed - not between the mother and a partner, or between the mother and another child. Breastfeeding gives the mother a hyper awareness of the infant that the father, children, or other partners do not have.
Nobody in bed should be under the influence of any alcohol or drugs that could impair their ability to wake up. Even if the medication is prescribed, if it impairs your ability to awaken, you should not sleep with an infant.
Never sleep with a baby in a recliner, on a couch, or any other type of furniture. Although we have all seen the sweet pictures of the baby asleep on their parent’s chest while they nap on the couch or in a recliner, this is a very unsafe way to sleep with a baby. They could easily fall onto the floor or in between the adult and the back of the couch.
It is very common for tired parent’s to fall asleep with their babies. And there is nothing wrong with this, as long as you follow safe sleeping guidelines. Trust your instincts, and if your instincts tell you to bring baby to bed with you, know that you can do so in a way that is safe for all of you. In the end, what really matters is that you and your baby get the best sleep possible. You are your babies first home. Babies interact with the world through their senses in a way that we don’t. They depend on you for everything they need. You are a comfort to them that no one else is.