Whether or not cosleeping is safe is still a hot button topic in our country, with many parents having concerns around safety. Many parents do choose to cosleep and just don't talk about it because they don't want to be shamed. The more we can educate ourselves about this topic, the more comfortable we'll be sharing information openly. We were very excited to get author, top sleep expert and Licensed Clinical Social Worker Kim West to share her tips and guidelines for safe and worry-free cosleeping, (which follow the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics). Read on to find out how to create healthy sleep habits for your child.
How to Co-Sleep Safely and Comfortably
By Kim West, LCSW-C, The Sleep Lady®
Did you know that approximately 60% of all new parents will co-sleep at some point in the first year of their child’s life? Many of these parents don’t plan to co-sleep --- they have a different plan in mind from the very beginning. But sleep-deprived, weary parents will often bring their baby into their bed in order to help everyone sleep a little more.
Because of the prevalent warnings about SIDS, some parents may not want to admit they co-sleep out of fear of criticism, but we know that many do. My mission for over twenty years has been to help parents and children get the sleep they need, gently and safely. For these reasons it is important to me that I educate parents about co-sleeping safely.
Whether you have accidentally found yourself co-sleeping, or have made an intentional decision, there are some things you should consider if you decide to continue.
Deciding to Co-sleep
Co-sleeping might begin as an unplanned, bleary-eyed decision in the middle of the night. You should evaluate your decision during the day with a clear head, and if you decide to continue, proceed with a plan in mind. I recommend that my clients ask themselves a few questions before they make the decision to co-sleep, even if it’s just for a couple days so that they can get some rest.
Why are you co-sleeping? For how long? Do you want to co-sleep for a few days, months or years? Are you co-sleeping as a backup for those desperate moments before you and your baby are ready for sleep coaching? Are you and your partner or spouse in agreement? These are important first questions to consider and discuss with whomever might be sharing the responsibility.
When you share your bed with an infant or toddler, both adults are responsible to make sure that your baby sleeps safely. Take some time to discuss what co-sleeping really means for your family. If one parent wants to co-sleep and another does not, it can cause significant marital distress. Everyone should be onboard.
American Academy of Pediatrics New Guidelines
The AAP has some helpful, new sleep environment recommendations regarding co-sleeping that now include room-sharing.
Place the baby on his or her back on a firm sleep surface such as a crib or bassinet with a tight-fitting sheet.
Avoid use of soft bedding, including crib bumpers, blankets, pillows and soft toys. The crib should be bare.
Share a bedroom with baby, but not the same sleeping surface, preferably until the baby turns 1, but at least for the first six months. Room-sharing reportedly decreases the risk of SIDS by as much as 50 percent.
Avoid baby's exposure to smoke, alcohol, and illicit drugs.
The Washington Post recently wrote about the AAP’s new rules on infant sleep for parents to consider, given that new parents often get sleepy when feeding their baby during the night. The AAP recommends that it is safer to feed your baby in a bed than a chair or couch. Outside a bed, a parent can potentially either drop the baby or the baby can accidentally get stuck in between cushions on the couch.
5 Benefits of Co-Sleeping
1. A better breastfeeding relationship
Whether or not you breastfeed you can have a beneficial, healthy, co-sleeping relationship. It is extremely helpful for breastfeeding mothers to co-sleep with their child. If you’re breastfeeding and co-sleeping there is much less fuss to position yourself and baby. Studies show that infants who co-sleep and breastfeed have shorter wake times because they are able to nurse and fall quickly back to sleep with mom nearby. Mom will likely go back to sleep more easily as well.
2. Better sleep for everyone
Less transition time during nursing or feeding and diaper-changing helps everyone get better sleep. You are also more likely to be relaxed when you sleep because you know you will hear your child if he needs you. The sense of assurance that your baby is nearby and fine reassures the parents and helps everyone sleep better.
3. More time near your child
The AAP now recommends sleeping in the same room as the baby --- with a separate sleep surface --- to one year of age or at least 6 months. They have found that there is a lower risk of SIDS for those who follow this protocol.
Co-sleeping is not the only way to bond with your child, of course. Simply holding, cuddling, talking to, feeding, and singing will allow you to build a strong bond and connection with your baby. At bedtime, reading a board book or infant massage can also help you lovingly connect with them.
Still, many parents prefer to have their newborn infant nearby and, often, families enjoy co-sleeping for the extra time near their child.
4. Fast reaction times
Consider this scenario: your baby cries and instead of stumbling out of bed, across the room, or down the hall, you are able to quickly comfort your baby.
Using a separate sleep area for your baby such as a bassinet, co-sleeper, or DockATot can eliminate some of the bed-sharing safety concerns, but still keep your baby close and allow you to respond quickly. When your baby learns that you will respond to their needs swiftly and appropriately, it leads to the final benefit of co-sleeping, trust.
5. Build trust with your child
When an infant is responded to and has their needs met, they learn to trust their parents and caregivers. Co-sleeping or room-sharing makes reaching your baby simple and quick.
Each time they cry and you respond, it provides you an opportunity to strengthen that trust. Co-sleeping simply eliminates any delay.
If you do choose to bed-share, please do it safely. Here are a few things to consider:
If you breastfeed your baby you are more likely to sleep in a lighter state, more aware of your baby. This is a positive thing. You also tend to sleep in a more protective position --- with knees bent upward --- so that your child is less likely to move down under the covers.
Your baby should sleep next to Mom rather than between mother and father. Studies indicate this is a more protective place. A mother is less likely to roll onto a baby.
Go ahead and make your sleep space safe. Be careful not to fall asleep exhausted in a recliner, glider, or on a couch. Set up your bed by using side rails or bed extenders. Fill in any crevice between the bed and walls, headboard, footboard, or furniture with a rolled-up baby blanket or towel. If this is just too difficult to manage, then place the adult mattress or futon on the floor away from a wall in order to avoid both the risk of falls or creating crevices.
Only allow primary caregivers to sleep with your child. Don’t allow babysitters or siblings to sleep with an infant, and never do so if you are impaired in any way.
RELATED: How to Co-Sleep Safely
Co-sleepers are a Great Option
While having your child’s crib or bassinet in your room is a good option, a perfect middle ground is to get a co-sleeper.
Co-sleepers are terrific for having your baby nearby, at a touchable-distance. Your baby stays safely close by, but you don’t have to worry about the potential risks associated with having your baby in your bed --- pillow top, blankets and all.
Some co-sleepers attach to the side of your bed. Others, like DockATot, sit on the bed. It places the baby within close reach for feeding or calming, while maintaining the highest safety standards. The DockATot keeps baby from overheating, while also providing a safe place from adult bedding.
As you can tell, co-sleeping can be done safely. It is highly recommended to room-share instead of bed-share, but either way, please make every precaution to do so safely so that you can enjoy all of the benefits.
Kim West is the mother of two beautiful girls, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been a practicing child and family therapist for 25 years, and the creator of the original gentle, proven method to get a good night’s sleep for you and your child. As the world’s foremost expert on child sleep, her unique sleep method, "The Sleep Lady Shuffle" does not involve crying-it-out, and it’s gentle and effective with results in less than 2 weeks. For over 20 years Kim has personally helped tens of thousands of families gently find sleep. The Sleep Lady is on a mission to help 1,000,000 families find sleep by 2020. With trained Gentle Sleep Coaches® (19 countries worldwide), free articles and guides, DIY e-courses, and the bestselling book The Sleep Lady's Good Night, Sleep Tight — tens of thousands of families from all over the world have found sleep again with The Sleep Lady’s gentle sleep methods. Click here to read more about her.