The topic of bedsharing and co-sleeping is one that can evoke strong feelings in parents. There are parents who are starkly against bedsharing or co-sleeping, believing that baby should be in a crib in their own room, while others prefer to keep baby in the same room, or share a sleeping surface with their baby. You can find passionate individuals on both sides of the topic.
First, let’s take a moment to define the terms bedsharing and co-sleeping, because, while often used interchangeably, they do actually mean two different things.
Bedsharing is the act of sharing the same sleep surface, often the parent’s bed, with a baby or child. Co-sleeping is defined as the baby sleeping in the same room as the parents. This could be on the same sleep surface, or, more often, it looks like the baby being on their own sleeping surface such as in a bassinet, cradle, crib, or co-sleeper.
Co-sleeping, baby being in the same room as parents, is actually recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics for at least the first six months of baby’s life as it increases success with breastfeeding, increases parental responsiveness to baby, and decreases the risk of SIDS.
Unfortunately, the topic of bedsharing and co-sleeping is one that carries a lot of stigma and shame associated with it. Studies have shown that nearly half of parents lie to their family and friends about co-sleeping arrangements due to fear of being judged. Furthermore, research shows that, in an attempt to avoid bedsharing, which parents feel shamed and judged about, many end up falling asleep in recliners or on couches with their baby, which is dangerous and can lead to accidental suffocation. The last thing new parents need is to feel judged, shamed, and unsupported. In fact, we need to be providing ample support to new parents, helping them to make decisions which will work best for their family.
And how can we do that?
We need to make sure that they are knowledgeable about their options. While the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies co-sleep on a separate sleep surface than parents, they also acknowledge that exhausted parents “may fall asleep while feeding their infant. Evidence suggests that it is less hazardous to fall asleep with the infant in the adult bed than on a sofa or armchair, should the parent fall asleep.”
Since over 60% of parents have reported bedsharing with their baby at some point, it is important for them to know how to do so safely. Even if a parent never intends to bedshare, knowing how to provide a safe bedsharing environment can help parents should a night ever come when it becomes an, exhausted, possibility.
Dr. James McKenna, director of the Mother Infant Behavioral Sleep Lab at the University of Notre Dame, has outlined safe bedsharing practices which every parent should be educated about. Dr. McKenna notes that every baby (co-sleeping, bedsharing, or in their own room) should “sleep on their back, on firm surfaces, on clean surfaces, in the absence of (secondhand) smoke, under light (comfortable) blanketing, and their heads should never be covered.”
Safe bedsharing practices include:
- Healthy, full term infant
- Breastfed baby
- Firm mattress
- No gaps or spaces in bedding
- No strings, wires, cords, or hair that the baby can become entangled with
- No medication, smoking, alcohol, or drug use by parents in bed with infant
- No swaddling if baby is in the adult bed
- No fluffy bedding, extra pillows, toys in the bed with baby
- No pets in the bed with baby
- Ensure everyone in bed is aware that there is a baby in the bed.
Dr. McKenna notes that bottlefed babies should co-sleep alongside their mother on a separate surface, with the suggestion of using a side-car co-sleeper.
Every parent should be aware of safe bedsharing practices. Only when we are informed can we make safe sleeping arrangement for our children.
Ultimately it is up to each couple to decide what is the best sleeping arrangement for their family. By giving parents all of the information, we empower them to make informed choices. Additionally, what all families need is less judgement and more support, regardless of where they choose to have their baby sleep.
American Academy of Pediatrics. (2020). Safe Sleep: Recommendations. Retrieved from https://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/safe-sleep/Pages/Safe-Sleep-Recommendations.aspx
CDC. (2018). Press Release. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2018/p0109-sleep-related-deaths.html
The Telegraph. (2016). Half of new mothers lie about sharing bed with their baby. Retrieved from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/12193136/Half-of-new-mothers-lie-about-sharing-bed-with-their-baby.html
University of Notre Dame Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory. (2020). Safe Co-Sleeping Guidelines. Retrieved from https://cosleeping.nd.edu/safe-co-sleeping-guidelines/