A question I often hear on a new mum’s lips, is this: is it OK to co-sleep with your baby? The short answer is yes, it is your decision how you choose to parent your baby and as a baby professional, I would always want to help you make well-informed decisions.
Co-sleeping in fact, can be lovely ways for parents and their babies to enjoy their time together. We also know that most parents will co-sleep with their baby at some time, whether planned or not. However, co-sleeping does carry some risks that you need to be aware of, to make this as safe as possible for your baby.
settling into parenthood: is it OK to co-sleep with your baby?
Co-sleeping is when your baby sleeps in bed with you rather than in a cot or bassinet. It is a practice that many parents have already formed a strong opinion on before the birth of their baby, but can change once your baby is born based on many factors. For some new parents, they really look forward to co-sleeping with their baby, for others they would prefer that their baby sleep in a cot or bassinet.
Red Nose and other sleep experts recommend that the safest place for your baby to sleep is in a full-sized cot in your room for the first 6- 12 months. This recommendation is based on years of research and significantly reduces the incidence of sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI) such as a fatal sleep accident or sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). I know this is a scary thing to think about, but it is important that all new parents understand the risks and make an informed decision that best suits their family.
However, in reality, we know that many parents choose to sleep with their baby for many different reasons, and that many parents co-sleep out of desperation as they are not able to get their baby to settle in a cot.
Where you decide to sleep your baby is a very personal decision and one that only you can make and that may change over time.
reasons parents choose to co-sleep
- baby feels safe with parent and settles more easily
- feel it improves the bonding relationship and makes their baby feel more secure
- can breastfeed on and off without getting out of bed
- because they enjoy it
- out of desperation for sleep themselves
how to make co-sleeping safer and reduce the risks:
- always sleep your baby on their back, this protects their airway
- reduce bedding around your baby (to keep their face and head uncovered), a simple blanket rather than a doona or use a sleeping bag with their arms out
- don’t swaddle or wrap your baby if co-sleeping
- place baby on the outside side of the bed, not between two adults where bedding is more likely to cover them and overheat them
- keep pillows away from baby
- the mattress must be firm, no water beds or woollen underlays
- don’t place your bed next to wall as baby can get stuck between the bed and wall
- consider placing your mattress on the floor to avoid baby falling out or use a barrier on the side of the bed
- tie up long hair and remove any possible strangulation risks such as dummy chains, teething necklaces, and jewellery
don’t co-sleep if:
- you are unwell or very tired
- if either parent is a smoker
- if either parent is affected by alcohol or drugs, particularly sedating drugs
- if your baby was premature or small for their gestational age, it is best not to sleep in these situations.
sleeping on the couch with baby?
Many parents fall asleep holding their baby on a couch or chair, this often occurs during night feeds and can be dangerous. Try to stay awake while holding your baby and return them to a safe sleep environment soon after feeds before you fall asleep yourself.
co-sleeping out of desperation?
Many parents tell me they are only co-sleeping out of complete desperation and need for sleep. Their babies won’t settle in a cot or bassinet, and they are exhausted (I know I have been there too). In these cases, the risk is greater as you may not have set up your bed in a safe way. Please try to adhere to the same principles.
Another issue is that your baby will learn to sleep with you, and it may be difficult to transition them back to sleeping in their cot as this will be all they remember and their preference moving into the future.
If you are only co-sleeping because of exhaustion, it is a good time to look at some other settling strategies to help your baby learn to sleep in their cot. Talk to your child health nurse about options and support available or go to https://raisingchildren.net.au/ the Australian Parenting Website for options, fact sheets and videos to help.
Sleep is a common challenge for the majority of parents and babies at some stage throughout the first few years. Please ask for help if it is becoming a problem. The earlier you intervene, the quicker the problem is solved for you and your baby. Remember even babies who sleeps well most of the time will have disturbed sleep when they have a cold or are teething, but it should not last forever. So, try to go back to their normal pattern as soon as possible so that bad habits don’t form.
It’s important to always remember that some baby’s sleep better than others, just as some adults sleep better than others. Some methods work better for some babies and families and sometimes you just need to cut yourself some slack. This period will not last forever. You will get through this, but you don’t have to do it on your own!
when to move baby into their own sleep space?
Again, this will be a very personal decision and it will depend how you are all experiencing co-sleeping. If it is working there is no need to change this. If some or all of you are struggling to get enough sleep, then it is important to consider other options. Moving your baby into a cot or one parent moving into a separate bed to get a better sleep themselves can be helpful.
Some parents find it can be hard to agree on sleep methods for their baby, so it is important to keep the lines of communication open and to listen to each other. Remember: every family and baby are different and unique. You need to make the right decisions for parenting based on your own family. You can be guided by health professionals, but ultimately it is your choice - and you shouldn’t feel judged for this. Most importantly, this is the time: to enjoy your baby.
Belinda Joyce is a midwife, maternal & child health nurse, author of 'Survive and Enjoy Your Baby' and mum to 4. She has a passion for supporting new parents to find their own path to parenthood, as every Mum, Dad and Baby are different. Belinda loves creating programs and resources for new parents, click here to download a FREE pack of printables and checklists including a feed and sleep tracker, essential equipment, what to put in the hospital bag, nappy bag, childcare and travel bag and a newborn sleep flowchart so you can all get more sleep.