Co-sleeping: things to think about
Co-sleeping is associated with an increased risk of sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI) including sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and fatal sleeping accidents in some circumstances. But there are many reasons why parents choose to have their babies in bed with them.
For example, many parents who sleep with their babies believe that it helps their babies feel safe and secure. They like the close body contact, feel that it’s rewarding and satisfying, and believe it’s good for their relationships with their babies.
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.
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 sleeping accidents share common risk factors.
Baby sleep arrangements: what experts say
Infant sleep safety experts recommend that your baby sleeps in a cot next to your bed for the first 6-12 months. Another option is a side-car crib, which attaches to your bed and provides a separate sleeping surface but keeps your baby close for breastfeeding. Both of these options lower the risk of SUDI including SIDS and fatal sleeping accidents for your baby.
You can read more about the benefits of sharing a room with your baby.
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 uses drugs, alcohol or any type of sedative medication that causes heavy sleep
- your baby is less than three months old, or was premature or smaller than most babies when he was born.
Safety and co-sleeping
If you decide to co-sleep with your baby, these safety precautions can help you reduce the risk:
- Put your baby on her back to sleep (never on her 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. You can use a safe infant sleeping bag 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 or being rolled on by a parent.
- Put your baby where he can’t fall out of bed, but not against pillows or a wall where he could become trapped and suffocate. Babies who can’t roll are safest on the side of a big bed, away from the edge.
- Keep the sleep environment smoke-free.
When co-sleeping is a problem
Here are some situations when co-sleeping might be or become 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.