Sleep environments: what safest for babies?
It’s safest for your baby to share a room with you, sleeping in a cot next to your bed, for the first year of life or at least for the first six months.
Co-sleeping: things to think about
Co-sleeping is when parents bring their babies into bed with them to sleep.
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 parents choose to have their babies in bed with them for several reasons.
For example, some parents who co-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. Some parents 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 all share common risk factors.
Factors that increase co-sleeping risks
Co-sleeping always increases the risk of SUDI including SIDS and fatal sleeping accidents. Co-sleeping increases this risk even more if:
- you’re very tired or you’re unwell
- you or your partner uses drugs, alcohol or any type of sedative medication that causes heavy sleep
- you or your partner is a smoker
- your baby is unwell
- your baby is less than three months old, or was premature or smaller than most babies at birth.
Sleeping with a baby on a couch or chair is always unsafe. Move your baby to a safe sleep environment if you think you might fall asleep in a chair or couch while holding your baby.
Reducing the risk of SUDI including SIDS and fatal sleeping accidents
There are some things you can do to reduce the risk of SUDI including SIDS and fatal sleeping accidents if you choose to co-sleep with your baby:
- Put your baby on their back to sleep (never on their tummy or side).
- Make sure the mattress is clean and firm. Don’t use a waterbed, or anything soft underneath – for example, a lamb’s wool underlay or pillows.
- Keep pillows and adult bedding like sheets and blankets away from your baby. Make sure your bedding can’t cover your baby’s face. Consider using a safe infant sleeping bag so your baby doesn’t share adult bedding.
- Use lightweight blankets, not heavy quilts or doonas.
- Never wrap or swaddle your baby if you’re co-sleeping.
- Tie up long hair and remove anything else that could be a strangling risk, including all jewellery and teething necklaces.
- Move the bed away from the wall, so baby can’t get trapped between the bed and wall.
- Make sure your baby can’t fall out of bed. The safest spot is on the side of a big bed, away from the edge. Consider sleeping on your mattress on the floor if it’s possible your baby might roll off the bed.
- Place your baby to the side of one parent, never in the middle of two adults or next to other children or pets. Your baby might get rolled on or overheat.
You can also check out our illustrated guide to reducing the risk of SUDI including SIDS and fatal sleeping accidents.
Settling and other problems associated with co-sleeping
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 child does.
If you’re experiencing any of these problems, co-sleeping might not be the best option for you and your child. There are other options for settling your baby to sleep.