You're exhausted and you have a brand-new cuddly baby who is regularly waking to feed.
Chances are you're thinking about bed-sharing.
Then you remember your cousin, Sally, and her fearful warning, or perhaps that Public Service Announcement in a magazine.
You may be worried about rolling onto your baby and wondering if co-sleeping is a safe choice.
Is Rolling Onto Baby While Co-Sleeping A Real Safety Concern For Me and My Baby?
All of our parental decisions have potential risks. They also have potential benefits. There is no 100% risk-free infant sleep zone, just like there is no 100% risk-free way to travel. We take precautions and we do what provides us with the best benefit vs risk ratio. We also use a lot of common sense along the way!
First, how do we sleep safely with an infant? According to Professor James McKenna, these are safe bed-sharing guidelines:
- Both parents should be aware of baby and in agreement with baby being in the bed
- Do not bed-share while under the influence of drugs, alcohol, sedatives or medications. If you are excessively unable to arouse baby should sleep on another surface
- Mothers with very long hair should keep it tied back
- Infants under one year should not bed-share with other children
- Extremely obese parents that might be unable to feel baby's proximity, should co-sleep with baby on a separate surface rather than bed-share
- Babies should be put to sleep on their backs on a firm surface, with light blanketing, no fluffy items and in the absence of smoke.
- Parents should never sleep on a couch with an infant
- Shared adult beds should be free of entanglement and entrapment risks. Remember that adult bed frames were not designed with infant safety in mind
- If an infant is not breastfeeding parents should co-sleep with the infant on a separate sleep surface
- Attention should be paid to baby's temperature. When close to parents a baby has a higher body temperature than when it sleeps alone. Do not over bundle baby or use heavy blankets
- Babies should never sleep on top of or near pillows
- Mothers who smoke or smoked during pregnancy should not share a sleep surface with baby as smoking increases the risk of SIDS
You may be thinking: “Okay, we see there are guidelines for safe bed-sharing, but how does that answer the concerns? Even with the above, how do you know you will not roll onto your baby?”
Consider this, when was the last time you fell off of your bed? It's likely not happened since childhood. Your body knows what's around it, and it knows if it rolls too far, you will fall. In that same manner, your body can know baby is nearby.
Mothers and infants are designed to be close. This includes closeness at night. We know that nighttime breastfeeding is an important part of the breastfeeding relationship. It makes sense that mothers and infants are designed for nocturnal closeness.
One would think if mother baby pairs are designed to be close, then they would also be designed to do so safely. Fortunately we don't just have to assume this, research backs this up. Developmental and anthropological studies suggest that mother baby pairs respond to each other’s presence through all stages of sleep.
Professor James McKenna's Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory of The University of Notre Dame has found:
- No record of healthy breastfeeding mothers unable to sense the proximity of their babies in order to avoid smothering them
- Breastfeeding mother baby pairs (2-4 months of age) are very sensitive to the movement of each other throughout the night
- Healthy 2-4 month old babies are able to respond to instances with the potential to block their air passages by effectively alerting their mothers
- Healthy 2-4 month old babies are able to maneuver out of danger under normal circumstances
If there is evidence of bed-sharing being safe, where does the concern come from? Why do some healthcare providers or agencies advise against it?
- Though mother baby pairs are designed to be close, not all modern sleep surfaces are safe for infants
- Some social and living situations can increase risks
- Some physical and medical conditions can increase risk
- Statistics on infant death while sharing a sleep surface do not always decipher between planned bed-sharing of a healthy breastfeeding pair and accidental napping on the couch with baby (which is very dangerous)
- It's easier to say no bed-sharing than to educate about when and how it can be done safely given the many possible variables in each family and home
Professor James McKenna believes no healthcare provider should tell families how they need to sleep. Rather, they should be given accurate information to make the decisions that are right for them. Only a family knows exactly what is going on in their home and the options in their home for safe infant sleep surfaces.
If you are a breastfeeding mother of a healthy infant, following safe bed-sharing guidelines, the risk of rolling onto your baby is very low. For many families, bed-sharing remains a popular and safe choice. One that facilitates a healthy breastfeeding relationship and more sleep.
Do you worry about rolling onto baby while sleeping? How do you sleep with your baby? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.