It can feel heartbreaking when your baby clings to you whenever you put him to sleep in his crib at night. And if you are breastfeeding, co-sleeping with a baby seems like the easiest way for both of you to have better sleep. But bed-sharing has become a hot topic in recent years.
Caring for a newborn poses a dilemma for parents. It comes with sleepless nights, both for the baby and the parents, especially for a breastfeeding mom. But it is also a time when sleep is most needed. The infant needs it for development, while the parents need it for physical and mental health.
These and other factors contribute to the decision of whether co-sleeping with a baby is best. On the other hand, safety is also an important factor. Arming yourself with information about co-sleeping safely, as well as the pros and cons of co-sleeping can hopefully help you in making your choice.
What is co-sleeping?
There is a difference between co-sleeping with a baby and bed-sharing, though these terms are often used interchangeably.
Bed-sharing means sleeping on the same surface with your baby or literally sleeping in the same bed. Meanwhile, co-sleeping means being in the same vicinity or sleeping with your baby in the same room.
Bed-sharing is one form of co-sleeping.
However, some experts do not recommend bed-sharing. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), while recognizing that bed-sharing does happen, does not encourage this practice.
This is because this type of co-sleeping with a baby poses several risks. The baby can suffocate, fall off the bed, or get strangled by the sheets. They strongly recommend the crib as the safest place for a baby to sleep.
But advocates say that co-sleeping with a baby is not inherently dangerous and is actually a widespread practice in non-Western parts of the world, including the Philippines.
Such are the findings of anthropologist James J. McKenna, director emeritus of the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame. He is also the author of Safe Infant Sleep: Expert Answers to Your Cosleeping Questions. McKenna says that there is a way for bed-sharing or co-sleeping safely to happen.
Both the AAP and McKenna have recommendations on safe co-sleeping which we will also discuss below.
Co sleeping benefits
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The AAP recommends co-sleeping with the baby or room-sharing until she is at least six months old, optimally until she turns one. However, it is important to note that their recommendation is for the baby to sleep in the same room but in his own crib or bassinet.
On the other hand, advocates for bed-sharing say there are benefits to this type of co-sleeping too. These include:
Easier for breastfeeding moms. This is because they do not have to get up throughout the night to nurse the baby. As a result, both mom and baby sleep well.
Developing a closer bond with the baby. Skin-to-skin contact is important while your baby is a newborn, and sleeping next to the baby often helps them fall asleep faster. This is important for working mothers because they see it as a way to make up for time apart from the baby while they are at work.
Safe for both parents and babies. McKenna and his colleagues found that though adults and babies sleep more lightly and rouse more often when they sleep together, this is safer.
This is because the parents have more opportunities to check on their baby. Meanwhile, the infants have more chances of recalibrating their breathing to their parents’ breathing.
There is also an added benefit. Rapid Eye Movement or REM sleep, is important as well for synaptogenesis (the fast formation of synapses between neurons) in newborns.
Furthermore, a study conducted in the Philippines also found that fathers who practice bed-sharing or co-sleeping with their baby experience a drop in testosterone compared to fathers who don’t.
This may affect their relationship with their children as men with lower testosterone have a tendency to be more sensitive and be more responsive parents.
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Crib sleeping vs co sleeping: Which is best?
The AAP strongly recommends crib sleeping for newborns and babies. This is because bed-sharing or co sleeping increases the risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy (SUDI).
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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the CDC, about 3,500 babies in the U.S. die every year because of sleep-related causes. These causes include SIDS and accidental suffocation.
In relation to this, the AAP recommendation is for a baby to sleep on a firm sleeping surface like a mattress in a crib, covered only by a fitted sheet. There should be no other bedding or soft objects including blankets, pillows, or crib bumpers that may increase the risk for SIDS and suffocation.
A newborn sleeping in the crib right away can be just as beneficial for the mother as when bed-sharing or co sleeping with baby. This is because you still have quick access to your infant throughout the night, while you can be sure that you won’t accidentally roll over and suffocate him.
Other benefits of baby sleeping in crib include easier transition to sleep training, should you decide to do this once your baby is more than four months old. Moreover, maintaining the bed as a space for the parents reduces the risk of decreased intimacy.
Aside from those mentioned, co sleeping with baby may not be the best choice if:
- You are not feeling well or are very tired during bedtime
- Parents or caregivers are using sedatives, prescription medication, smoke, or have taken alcohol and other substances
- You or your partner are extremely obese or may find it difficult to feel where or how close the baby is from you.
- Your baby is sick
- Your baby is a newborn or premature
Safe co-sleeping practices
Whether you choose crib sleeping for newborns or co-sleeping with a baby, there are guidelines you can follow to ensure your little one will be safe.
McKenna’s recommendations for co-sleeping safely include:
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Additionally, The AAP’s recommendations for safe co-sleeping (in the form of room-sharing) include:
- Breastfeeding, which significantly helps protect your baby against SIDS
- Putting baby to sleep on his back
- Co-sleeping in a firm and clean surface
- There should be no secondhand smoke
- Light and comfortable blanket
- Never cover the baby’s head
- No stuffed toys or pillows around your baby
- Do not make the baby sleep on a pillow or soft bedding
- Do not use waterbeds as this can be dangerous for the baby
Parenting has never been so easy and so difficult at the same time. It is great that we now have a lot of information in our hands. As parents, we have to carefully consider co-sleeping with the baby outweighs the benefits of the baby sleeping in a crib.
But ultimately, what’s important is you arrive at the decision together with your spouse or partner. Should you decide on co-sleeping, this must be a choice that you are both comfortable doing.
Additional information from Romy Peña Cruz
- Not sleeping on a couch or armchair as this may cause suffocation
- Ensuring there is no obstruction to your baby’s breathing like pillows, blankets, and other soft objects. Safe co sleeping positions include staying away from all types of beddings.
- Should you fall asleep while feeding your newborn or baby, place them on their back immediately after you wake up.
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