Amongst all of the excitement and anticipation of having a baby there are many decisions to make.
One of the more important decisions is where am I going to put my baby to sleep?
Many parents and parents-to-be love the idea of having their baby sleep close to them but have some fears around bed-sharing.
The Co-Sleeping Debate – The Benefits of Infant-Parent Proximity
So, what some of the benefits of close infant-parent proximity?
What are some of the dangers that can be associated with bed-sharing?
We also offer a solution that offers the best of both worlds. You can have the benefits without the dangers.
Close infant-parent proximity has been the subject of many studies over recent times and the research shows that it has many benefits for the mother and infant.
- Assisting in maximising breastfeeding
- Helping the development of the infant
- Reducing the risk of SIDS
- Helping in the secure attachment between infant and parent
- Assisting in less sleep disruption during the night
Breastfeeding & Co-Sleeping
Several studies have demonstrated that babies who sleep in close proximity to their mothers have better outcomes relating to successful initiation and duration of breastfeeding (ref 1-4).
Breastfeeding is especially important because breastmilk contains all of the nutrients an infant requires for the first 6 months of life. It also helps an infant’s resistance against allergy and disease.
As breastmilk is readily available and does not take time to prepare it means there is less sleep disruption to both the mothers and the infant.
The benefits that breastfeeding provide means that both SIDS and KIDS and the Australian Breastfeeding Association recommend breastfeeding and infant where possible(ref 5-6) and this is made easier when the mother and infant sleep in close proximity.
Aside from making breastfeeding more convenient, having parents and infants sleeping in close proximity has health benefits to the infant.
At birth, an infant’s brain is only 25% developed and because of that they depend on the proximity and contact with the parents. This is because the infant has immature organs, an immature immune system and central nervous system (along with their other systems that are closely tied in with these) and close proximity with a parent represents an important form of physiological regulation to compensate for and to help develop these immaturities.^7^
The infants’ dependence on this close proximity and the importance of it has recently been recognised scientifically (see Barak et al. 2011 Should Neonates Sleep Alone).^7^
Reducing the risk of SIDS
Professor McKenna sights three epidemiological studies^7^, (Carpenter et al. 2004; Mitchell and Thompson 1995; Blair et al. 1995) that provide evidence that close infant-parent proximity reduces the risk of an infant dying of SIDS.
These studies suggest that if the parent (or other committed caregiver) and infant are sleeping in close proximity and exchanging sensory stimuli (these include touch, smell, breathing sounds, vocalisations) that the infants chance of dying from SIDS reduces by between 33% and 50%.
Research conducted in 20098 also showed that breastfeeding an infant in the first 6 months decreases their risk of SIDS by up to 50%.
Whilst it may not be obvious, the communication between an infant and their parent(s) is not random. In fact there is a mutual atunement between the infant and parent that means that the communication can be used to share feelings from a very early stage in the relationship^9^. This early, constant communication reportedly forms the basis of mutual infant-parent attachment which is a requirement for the healthy development of the infant development.^9^ 10
Furthermore, the world renowned paediatrician Dr William Sears and Associate Clinical Professor of Paediatrics at the University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine discusses ways to help new mums to bond with their baby. He insists touching, gazing and talking with baby along with rooming with your baby are integral parts of the bonding process^11^. It stands to reason of course that these can only be achieved by close infant-parent proximity.
Less Sleep Disruption
When parent and infant sleep in close proximity the parent can respond more quickly to the infant which in turn means that there is a better chance that the infant can be re-settled before fully waking. This will lead to both the mother and infant receiving more sleep and better quality sleep. 12
Infants that are slept apart from their parents spend less time in deep stages of sleep which can lead to arousal deficiencies. Infants cry significantly less when sleeping in close proximity to their parents, which then means that they have more energy to put into other areas of development such as growth, maintenance and protective immune responses.^12^
So if there are so many benefits to having a parent and infant sleeping in close proximity why is there such an issue with the concept of Co-Sleeping?
First, we have to understand that there are different forms of Co-Sleeping. Often when someone uses the term Co-Sleeping they are actually referring to bed-sharing.
Bed-sharing is the form of Co-Sleeping where the parent and infant share the same sleeping surface (e.g. sleep in the same bed together). This is the form of Co-Sleeping that many public health messages warn against. The Australian Breastfeeding Association and SIDS and KIDS warn against bed-sharing in some situations as it increases the risk of SIDS or SUDI (Sudden Infant Death in Infants). Some of these situations include: 4,^13^
- The absence of a firm mattress (e.g. .waterbed),
- If either parent is a smoker,
- If either parent is under the influence of alcohol or drugs,
- If a parent is obese,
- If baby can get caught between the wall and bed
- In the early months of life of an infant born prematurely
- When sleeping on a sofa/couch/armchair/beanbag or similar (i.e. furniture not designed for sleeping on)
How To Have The Best of Both Worlds!
Many new parents and parents-to-be love the idea of sleeping in close proximity to their newborn but are concerned about the dangers that can be associated with bed-sharing, but there is a solution ” use a bedside sleeper.
A bedside sleeper attaches to the side of the adult bed (like a sidecar), with one side open to allow parents easy access to their baby. You can have all of the benefits of infant-parent proximity and you baby can sleep safely in their own sleeping space.
Bedside Sleepers have been available in other parts of the world for up to 15 years and are now available here in Australia. One of the most popular worldwide is the Arm’s Reach Co-Sleeper®. To find out more about it you can go to www.justfor.com.au
A mother and baby bonding whilst cuddling up together is one of the very special parts of being a new mum and should be encouraged. However, there are situations that can make the practice dangerous. For a full list and explanation of these potentially dangerous practices go the following link from the Australian Breastfeeding Associations website:
1: McKenna J, Mosko S, Richard C. (1997) Bedsharing Promotes Breastfeeding. Pediatrics 100(2): 214-219
2: Young J, Pollard, KS, Blair PS, Fleming, PJ, Sawczenko A, (1998) Night-Time Behaviour And Interactions Between Mothers And Infants Of Low SIDS Risk: A Longitudinal Study Of Room- Sharing And Bed-sharing. Pediatric Pulmonology 26(6): 447.
3: Ball HL, M P Ward-Platt MP, Heslop E, Leech SJ, Brown KA. (2006) Randomised trial of infant sleep location on the postnatal ward. Archives of Disease in Childhood. 91(12): 1005-1010
4: SIDS and Kids. National Scientific Advisory Group (NSAG). 2007. Information Statement: Sleeping with a baby. Melbourne, National SIDS Council of Australia
5: SIDS and Kids. National Scientific Advisory Group (NSAG). 2012. Information Statement: Breastfeeding. Melbourne, National SIDS Council of Australia
6: Australian Breastfeeding Association. 2009. Position Statement: Breastfeeding
7: University of Notre Dame website
8: Vennemann M, Bajanowski T, Jorch G, Mitchell E. Does breastfeeding reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome? Pediatrics 2009; 123: e406-10
9: Lewis M, Havilland J. The Handbook of Emotion. New York: The Guilford Press, 1993
10: JJ McKenna, T McDade ” Why Babies should never sleep alone. Paediatric Respiratory Reviews, 2005
11: Dr William Sears website
12: University of Notre Dame website – https://cosleeping.nd.edu/frequently-asked-questions/#29
13: Australian Breastfeeding Position Statement: Safe Infant Sleeping