The Department of Health’s advice on co-sleeping is clear: there is an association between co-sleeping and SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) and the best way for a baby of six months or younger to sleep is on their back, in a cot and near to you. Most parents don’t start out intending to co-sleep but surveys indicate that, when getting their baby to sleep becomes tricky, around 50% try co-sleeping in the first six months.
There are times when it makes sense to take your baby into your bed, so it’s worth knowing as much as possible about the benefits and risks involved in co-sleeping.
Pros of co-sleeping
Some parents believe co-sleeping helps their baby to relax and creates a strong bond between baby and parent. The baby is willing to drift into light sleep, reassured by the knowledge that their parent is close by and without any of the initial abandonment anxiety that can come with being placed in a cot on their own.
Falling asleep in their parent’s arms is a pleasant experience for a baby so they form a positive view of sleep. That means they’re more willing to fall asleep, which helps to establish a healthy sleep pattern. According to advocates of co-sleeping, this means the baby feels safer and sleeps longer which improves their well-being and yours.
My baby slept with me for the first 10 months and then transferred to a cot with no problems at all.
Some studies indicate that co-sleeping has long-term emotional benefits, with babies who slept with their parents going on to be happier and healthier children than those who slept alone.
Critics argue that co-sleeping is dangerous but there are experts who believe that it reduces the risks of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). They say co-sleeping babies spend less time in deep sleep which means they wake up easily and are less prone to cot death.
Added to this is the view that the co-sleeping baby learns to synchronise his breathing with the sound of his parents’ breathing, with the parent’s breaths then acting as a kind of pacemaker to regulates the baby’s.
Co-sleeping can make breastfeeding easier, as the mother is able to simply pick up the baby and feed him through the night, without the disruption of you both getting up and out of bed.
The cons of co-sleeping
The main argument against co-sleeping is that it is dangerous. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) points out that, although SIDS is rare, it is more common among babies who co-sleep.
Co-sleeping babies are at risk of overheating if the parents use a duvet. Another danger is that a parent will roll over and suffocate their baby. There’s also the risk that the baby will fall out of the bed.
Some people believe that co-sleeping makes your baby too attached to you. “You’ll never be able to get them out of your bed,” according to one Mumsnetter. Most co-sleeping children move into their own bed at around the age of two but, if your baby is used to sleeping in your arms, they might find moving out of your bed an emotional wrench and find it hard to settle at night alone.
Sometimes you simply need time to yourself for the sake of your sanity and to remind yourself that there’s more to life than feeds and nappy changes. If you have your baby in bed with you then you will have fewer opportunities to catch-up with your partner, read a book or simply declutter your mind. And, let’s be honest, it makes sex pretty tricky, too. So if you’re thinking about trying to conceive again, co-sleeping won't help (or you'll have to get creative with your locations).
If you decide co-sleeping is for you
If you like the idea of snuggling up with your baby at night (and bear in mind that the snuggly newborn stage morphs quickly into the akimbo-arms, thrashing-legs stage), you need to take the following steps:
Discuss co-sleeping with your partner and make sure you're in agreement
It's essential that you and your partner are in agreement about co-sleeping and that you're both realistic about the challenges involved. Unfortunately, there's no getting around the fact that having your baby in your bed has an adverse effect on your sex life. If you don't want that side of your relationship to disappear then you'll need to find alternative locations (which can be an adventure in itself). Be honest with each other about how this makes you feel. There's no point co-sleeping to bring you both closer to your children if it ends up driving the two of you apart.
Many people say their baby wouldn't go down in their Moses basket or cot, and that they had to bring the baby into bed, but my husband is adamant that, if the baby is in the bed, he won't be.
On the other hand, if you're experimenting with co-sleeping as a solution to an ongoing problem, such as excessive crying caused by colic, it could be that you want to try sleeping alone with your baby. This could be more comfortable. Discuss with your partner the possibility of them sleeping elsewhere for a trial period. But whatever you do, make sure you’re in agreement.
Research products that might help with co-sleeping
Manufacturers are trying to settle the co-sleeping debate by offering a range of products that could help you solve your dilemma. These products tend to provide a compromise between co-sleeping and putting your baby in a cot or Moses basket. Principal among the new products is the Co-sleeper Bedside Cot which stands beside your bed, eliminating some of the dangers of co-sleeping while keeping your child within easy reach. The Next To Me Crib has also proved popular with Mumsnetters. Check out what Mumsnetters say about these products on our discussion boards.
Take safety precautions
With time you will work out the best sleeping arrangements for your family. If you decide to try co-sleeping then there are several steps to take to do it safely.
- Always put your baby down on her back and ensure her head is above the bedding. You could try sleeping in the 'c position' where you lie on your side, with your body curled around your baby, in a c-shape.
- Keep your baby away from your pillows. Babies don’t need pillows until they are older than 12 months.
- Make sure your baby can’t fall out of the bed or become trapped between the mattress and wall. Never leave him alone in your bed – even for a brief time – as he could roll off on to the floor. Some parents put their mattress on the floor to eliminate the risk of the baby falling out of bed.
- Keep your baby cool and avoid stuffiness by using sheets instead of a duvet. Overheating is one of the main dangers of co-sleeping so don’t underestimate this risk.
- Use a firm mattress. A soft mattress increases the risk of your baby getting hot and moved about in the night but a firm mattress makes that less likely. Never co-sleep with your baby on a waterbed.
- Do not fall asleep on a chair or sofa while holding your baby. She could become trapped between cushions or against the back of the sofa, meaning that you could suffocate her while you sleep.
Rules for co-sleeping
It’s impossible to overstate how important it is to follow the guidelines below. Professor Peter Fleming (one of the world’s leading experts on cot death) has published a study showing that 54% of cot death victims were co-sleeping babies. However, the same study also showed that the majority of these deaths occurred when parents had been drinking alcohol or taking drugs or had been sleeping with their baby outside of a bed (on a chair or sofa). When these extenuating factors are removed, there is no indication that co-sleeping babies are more prone to cot death than babies who sleep in cots. For these reasons, you should never co-sleep if:
- You've been drinking alcohol or taking drugs.
- You are taking medication that makes you feel drowsy.
- You or your partner smoke. This includes e-cigarettes and applies even if you don’t smoke in the bedroom.
- Your baby was born prematurely.
- Your baby had a low birthweight.
- Your baby is suffering from a fever.
What Mumsnetters say about co-sleeping
“If you teach them early on to sleep in your bed, then nothing else will do afterwards and it seems to me you're consigning yourself to broken nights for a long time.”
“It felt like the right thing from the start. When he needed feeding, he was right by my side, so I didn't have get out of bed. And he seemed to sleep much better because he was lying next to me.”
“Both my children slept with me for the first 10 months of their life and then transferred to a cot with no problems at all.”
“My lot slept with us until they were toddlers – then the lure of a having their own bed was actually far more exciting. It's nice to be able to stretch out a bit now but we kind of miss them, actually.”
“My daughter is 21 months and only sleeps with us when she is poorly or unusually clingy now. But I love waking up in the morning to a little girl looking me in the eyes with all the love in the world, and giving me big kisses to convince me I am awake and want to play.”