Co-sleeping is when babies sleep on the same surface as another person, like a parent or sibling.
Co-sleeping can be planned – for example, when parents bring their babies into bed with them to sleep. Co-sleeping can also happen unintentionally – for example, when parents fall asleep on a couch holding their baby.
Co-sleeping can help with breastfeeding and make it easier to respond to babies during the night. It can also be good for bonding with babies.
If you’re planning to co-sleep, there are ways to reduce risks and make co-sleeping safer.
Safe sleep recommendations for babies
Red Nose recommends that a safe sleep environment for babies is in a safe cot, on a safe mattress, with safe bedding in a safe sleeping place, both night and day.
Whether your baby co-sleeps or sleeps in a cot, they must be able to breathe easily. And your baby can breathe easily when their airway is clear. A safe sleep environment keeps your baby’s airway clear and reduces the risk of sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI) including sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and fatal sleep accidents.
When not to co-sleep
It’s recommended that you don’t co-sleep in the following circumstances:
- You or your partner smokes.
- You or your partner uses alcohol or other drugs or any medicine that causes heavy sleep or makes you less aware and able to respond to your baby. This includes prescription medicine.
- You’re extremely tired or you’re unwell.
- Your baby was born pre-term or small for their gestational age.
- Your baby is unwell.
In these situations, it’s important to plan how to put your baby in their own clear sleep space – for example, a cot, bassinet or portable cot in the same room as you.
Sleeping with a baby on a couch or chair is always unsafe because it can obstruct the baby’s airway and lead to suffocation. Move your baby to somewhere safe if you think you might fall asleep in a chair or on a couch while holding your baby.
Co-sleeping: how to reduce risks and make it safer
There are things you can do to reduce co-sleeping risks and make co-sleeping safer.
Your baby’s position in the bed
- Place your baby on their back.
- Place your baby on the side of the bed, away from the edge and to the side of one parent.
- Avoid placing your baby between parents or next to other children or pets. This reduces the chance of people, pets or bedding items covering your baby’s head and face.
Sleep space: surface, size, height and position
- Make sure the mattress is firm, flat and level.
- Consider whether the sleep space is big enough. It needs to fit everyone who sleeps there, with room for a clear space around your baby.
- If the sleep space isn’t big enough, consider alternatives. For example, if your family sleeps together in the same room, use a separate mattress for older children.
- Move the mattress or bed away from the wall, so your baby can’t get trapped between the bed or mattress and wall.
- Consider putting the mattress on the floor if there’s a chance your baby will roll off the bed.
- Don’t use a waterbed or anything soft underneath your baby – for example, a lamb’s wool underlay, folded blankets or pillows.
Pillows, bedding, bedclothes and other items
- Make sure your baby’s face and head are uncovered. Remove any bonnets, beanies, hats or hoods before sleep.
- Keep your baby’s sleep space clear. For example, remove things like pillows, sheets, blankets, doonas, toys, pram cocoons, sleep positioners or anti-roll pillows. You can use a safe infant sleeping bag so your baby doesn’t share adult bedding.
- Never wrap or swaddle your baby.
- Remove anything that might create a strangulation risk for your baby. This includes jewellery, teething necklaces, dummy chains and so on.
- If you have long hair, tie it back.
Keep your baby’s environment completely smoke free. Exposure to second-hand and third-hand smoke harms babies, and adult smoking increases SUDI risk. If you want to quit smoking and you’re finding it hard, call Quitline on 137 848. You could also speak to your GP or child and family health nurse.