Firstly, to avoid confusion, by Cosleeping, I mean bed sharing with your baby. Cosleeping can also mean sharing a room with your baby, but a separate sleep space, for example having baby in a bassinet beside the bed.
Cosleeping is natural, normal, and nothing to be ashamed of. Most people will share a bed with their baby and some stage. According to the Australian Breastfeeding Association website “One Australian study found that 80% of babies spent some time co-sleeping in the first 6 months of life.” Which is why it’s important that healthcare professionals inform parents about the safest ways to sleep with their baby, because even when parents don’t plan to cosleep, sometimes it’s the only way anyone can get any sleep.
By making cosleeping seem like a shameful parenting choice, when people imply or even openly say that cosleeping is selfish, lazy and that parent who choose to cosleep are willfully endangering their children’s lives, parents may be less likely to seek information about safe cosleeping.
If health care professionals provided unbiased information about safe cosleeping, readily and without judgement, then parents would be able to make an informed decision about how and where their baby sleeps, knowing the risks associated with the decisions they’re making. All parents are going to assess these risks differently and may reassess their decisions as their circumstances change, which is why it’s so important to keep communication about safe sleeping practices open and judgement free.
With our first baby I didn’t expect to cosleep at all, I didn’t even know it was a thing that people chose to do, but I had been warned to not sleep with baby in the bed, because he might get caught under the pillows or blankets and suffocate. When he was a couple of weeks old he became a very unsettled baby, he’d only sleep while held. I’d spend hours every evening rocking him, singing to him, feeding him, until at last he’d go to sleep in my arms, then I’d flop down onto the couch and fall asleep!
I had opted to sleep on the couch rather than the bed because I’d been told that it was unsafe to sleep with him in the bed, I had honestly believed the couch was a safer option, because there were no pillows, or blankets, just me and baby. A friend gently informed me I was wrong, and from there I looked up what safe cosleeping entailed. I just didn’t know what I didn’t know.
Even SIDS and Kids does not conclusively state that cosleeping is unsafe. In fact “Most studies have shown no increased risk from babies bed sharing with non-smoking mothers” (SIDS information statement “Sleeping with Baby”)
How to make cosleeping safer?
1. Do not cosleep if you have been drinking, smoking, taking drugs or medications which have a sedative effect or if you are severely sleep deprived.
2. Baby must sleep on their back. Be mindful this includes sleeping on their belly on a parents chest, while this is a lovely way to cuddle your baby, if you are feeling sleepy, place baby on their back, in a safe sleeping space, before you fall asleep.
3. Arrange your sleep space as you would a baby’s sleep space.
• Have a firm mattress.
• Use light and minimal blankets.
• Keep pillows away from baby.
• Do not put anything soft under baby – such as sheep skin rugs.
• Do not allow pets or other children to share your baby’s sleep space.
4. Baby should not sleep in between parents.
5. Baby shouldn’t sleep too close to the edge of the bed to avoid injury from falls. Some parents sleep on a mattress on the floor for the early months to prevent this.
6. Do not have the side of your bed against the wall, as baby could become trapped between the mattress and wall.
7. Do not have bed railings on your bed, even though it’s tempting to prevent falls, baby may become trapped between you and the railing, or the railing and the mattress.
8. Do not leave baby alone on an adult bed.
9. Don’t sleep with your baby on the couch, because baby can become trapped between cushions or between parent and the back of the couch.
10. Consider using a Side car cots, or “cosleepers”. For example an “Arms Reach cosleeper” are a great alternative to sharing the bed with your baby, as they give you a little bit of extra room, baby cannot fall out of bed and they provide easy access for feeding and settling.
Some more tips from my experience.
Night Light. I always felt safer if I could see baby, by having the hallway light on, or a dull lamp placed on the floor beside the bed, to let just enough light in that we could easily check on baby throughout the night.
Breathing monitor. For peace of mind, we had a movement monitor that could attach to baby’s nappy – we had a Snuza monitor, another similar option is a Respisense monitor. We only had a few false alarms, but these happened while baby was feeding, so I was well aware she was breathing, she’d just squirmed around so much latching that she’d dislodged the monitor from her nappy.
Adult onesies. They may not ideal for fashion, but they’re great for cosleeping, as you can be dressed warmly all over without the need for excessive bedding, and most adult onesies open up at the front for easy access for breastfeeding.