In many cultures, babies and grown-ups have always slept together. Some parents in western cultures, such as Australia, are now also choosing to bring their babies into their beds to sleep. This is called co-sleeping.
Co-sleeping: things to think about
Co-sleeping is associated with an increased risk of sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI including SIDS and fatal sleeping accidents) in some circumstances. But there are many reasons why parents choose to have their baby in bed with them.
For example, many parents who sleep with their baby believe that it helps their baby feel safe and secure. They like the close body contact, feel that it’s rewarding and satisfying, and believe it’s good for their relationship with their baby.
Also, some parents co-sleep because they find it more practical. Breastfeeding and resettling during the night can be easier. Parents also feel that it helps with establishing breastfeeding.
Infant sleep safety experts recommend that your baby sleeps in a cot next to your bed for the first 6-12 months. This lowers the risk of SUDI (including SIDS and fatal sleeping accidents) for your baby.
When a baby dies unexpectedly and for no obvious reason, it’s often described as sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI). This is a broad term that includes SIDS and fatal sleeping accidents. Although SIDS is better known, SUDI, SIDS and fatal sleep accidents share common risk factors.
Deciding about co-sleeping in your situation
The risk of SUDI (including SIDS and fatal sleeping accidents) is increased by co-sleeping if:
- you or your partner is a smoker
- you or your partner take drugs, alcohol or any type of sedative medication that causes heavy sleep
- your baby is less than four months old, or was premature or born small for gestational age – that is, smaller than is typical for the time baby was growing in the womb.
Don’t co-sleep with your baby if you smoke or take drugs.
Guidelines for co-sleeping
If you decide to co-sleep with your baby, these safety precautions can help you reduce the risk:
- Put your baby on his back to sleep (never on his tummy or side).
- Make sure your baby’s head is uncovered during sleep.
- Make sure your bed is firm. Don’t use a water bed, or anything soft underneath – for example, a lamb’s wool underlay or pillows.
- Use lightweight blankets, not heavy quilts or doonas. A safe infant sleeping bag can be used instead of bedding, so that your baby doesn’t share adult bedding.
- Put your baby beside one parent, not between parents, so there’s less chance of your baby slipping under the bedding.
- Put your baby where he can’t fall out of bed, but not against pillows or a wall. Babies can suffocate under pillows. And babies have died after becoming trapped between the bed and the wall.
- A side-car crib that attaches to your bed provides a separate sleeping surface but keeps your baby close for breastfeeding.
- Keep the sleep environment smoke-free.
Video Minimising the risk of SIDS
This video is available in different languages
This short video shows how to reduce the risk of SUDI (including SIDS and fatal sleeping accidents). It also includes tips on safe sleeping, sleeping baby on back, sleeping baby at the end of the cot, avoiding a flat head, and sleeping arrangements. It highlights the importance of providing a smoke-free sleeping environment for your baby.
When co-sleeping is a problem
Here are some situations in which co-sleeping might be a problem.
Parents sometimes bring a baby into bed because the baby is waking or unsettled at night. For some families, this works well. For others, it might work in the short term but can lead to problems with settling the baby later on. Also, the parents’ bed might not be safely set up for the baby.
Co-sleeping might be a problem if there’s a lack of agreement or tension between partners about co-sleeping.
Finally, a problem could come up if parents want their child to sleep in a separate bed before the child wants to move. Many parents who sleep with their children report that children usually want their own beds by the age of 2-3 years. It can take longer than this, though, and sometimes parents want to stop co-sleeping before their children do.
Co-sleeping: stats and facts
Co-sleeping with a parent is becoming a far more common experience in western societies such as the USA and Australia:
- Almost half (42%) of two-week-old babies sleep in their parents’ beds, but this figure goes down to 27% at 12 months – most of these babies co-sleep for more than two hours in each 24-hour period.
- Over two-thirds (67%) of mothers also slept with their partner, and 5-15% also slept with a second child.
- Most babies co-sleep at night, but there are some who only co-sleep during the day.
- An increasing proportion of babies who died suddenly and unexpectedly shared a sleep surface with an adult for their last sleep.