For the last 3.5 years, I have been co-sleeping with my two kids. It has been easy, difficult, comfortable, unpractical, fun, and annoying. Co-sleeping with a baby meant good sleep and bad sleep, depending on circumstances. My babies slept on my left side and right side, above my head and at my feet, and on me. Overall, I enjoyed waking up next to a smiling child, and photos of those precious moments are my favorite ones.
Many mothers think that co-sleeping is for those who breastfeed and often mistakenly reduce it to bed-sharing. But bottle-feeding mothers can co-sleep with their babies too. In fact, co-sleeping refers to different ways in which children and parents (mostly mothers) sleep close enough to respond to each other’s sensory signals and cues. There are four different types of co-sleeping: bed-sharing, sidecar arrangement, separate baby crib in the same room, or the child sleeps in a different bedroom but is welcomed into parent’s bed when wants to.
Co-sleeping is a cultural norm for approximately 90% of the world’s population. Almost 80% of breastfeeding moms at some point practice bed-sharing because it makes nighttime nursing more convenient. Babies love co-sleeping too because they are biologically designed to do so. Born with only 25% of brain volume and being the most neurologically immature among primates, infants respond positively to the closeness of their mother’s body, smell, and touch. Co-sleeping regulates their breathing, body temperature, hormone levels, immune system, and oxygenation. This is why co-sleeping babies cry less. Last, but not least, benefits of co-sleeping include additional bonding opportunity, especially for those parents and children who are separated during the workday.
There are many concerns about co-sleeping with a baby too. The main reason is the assumed link between bed-sharing and the Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) among children less than one year of age. Therefore, if you decide to co-sleep with your baby, you will have to consider certain infant sleep security arrangements and to choose safe co-sleeping positions to reduce the risk of SIDS:
1. Safe surface. Infants should always sleep on their backs, on firm and clean surfaces to reduce the risk of SIDS. Many adult beds do not meet infant safety standards.
2. No smoking mother, sober parents. Do not sleep on the same surface as the baby, if you are overly tired, have smoked or have ingested alcohol/sedatives/drugs.
3. No sibling in the same bed. Older siblings or other children should not share beds with babies under one year old.
4. No overheating. Overheating is a risk factor for SIDS, so do not swaddle the baby when bed-sharing.
5. Loose long hair may become wrapped around baby’s neck.
6. Extremely obese persons may have difficulty feeling how close their infant is in relation to their own body. Sidecar, perhaps, is a better option for them.
7. Pre-term infants should not bed-share for the first few months.
8. Co-sleeping on a sofa or armchair increases the risk of SIDS dramatically. If you are going to fall asleep with your baby, choose safer co-sleeping arrangement of the bedroom.
The link between co-sleeping and SIDS is challenged by followers of attachments parenting theory who claim that SIDS rates are lower in countries where co-sleeping is the norm. Several renowned pediatricians like William Sears even argue that co-sleeping may actually reduce the risk of SIDS. SIDS is mostly caused by baby’s inability to arouse himself from sleep, but studies show that co-sleeping synchronizes mother’s and baby’s sleep arousal patterns and helps the mother to subconsciously feel, if her baby is in danger, and wake up.
There is no one perfect sleep solution for all: what works for one family may not work for another. It is not about parenting done right or wrong, but about comfortable sleep arrangements for the entire family and parents’ shared responsibility for the safety of their children.
What is your opinion about co-sleeping? How did you arrange your baby’s sleep and what practical recommendation would you share with other mothers?