As a co-sleeping parent with all three of my children, I quickly learned some people consider co-sleeping with baby to be a really dangerous and risky thing to do — and they aren’t afraid to let you know it!
The misconceptions and beliefs these people hold tend to be based on poorly presented, biased media reports about babies dying while sleeping with their parents.
After all, drama really does sell better than facts.
What’s not communicated is most of those deaths occur due to unsafe co-sleeping arrangements, which defy safe c0-sleeping guidelines. For example, a parent may have fallen asleep on a sofa with a baby. A baby can easily roll off the parent, and become wedged between the parent and sofa.
We now know a great deal more about the major risk factors for SIDS. In the early 1990s, SIDS and Kids found a major cause of SIDS was babies being put to sleep on their tummies (which can result in overheating). So they launched a campaign named, ‘Back to Sleep,’ to help educate families, professionals and caregivers about the importance of little babies being put to sleep on their backs. As a result, many countries reported a 60-70% drop in deaths from SIDS.
Another major breakthrough was first identified in a study in 1991, but has just recently become an official SIDS and Kids recommendation (in 2012), after several more large studies. Not breastfeeding has consistently proven to increase the rate of SIDS deaths by 50%, which is another big discovery with a big result. Putting it into perspective though, SIDS deaths have been dramatically declining, so the overall risk is small.
Safe co-sleeping isn’t a terrible thing to do after all. In some co-sleeping cultures, SIDS rates are very low or even unheard of. However, if you don’t know what the safe co-sleeping guidelines and risk factors are, you may be unknowingly increasing your chance of SIDS.
Risk Factors When Co-Sleeping With Baby
The SIDS and Kids website state ‘sharing a sleep surface with a baby increases the risk of sudden infant death and fatal sleeping accidents in some circumstances’.
There are some absolute no-no’s for co-sleeping which must be followed in order to reduce risk.
According to SIDS and Kids, you should not share a sleep surface with a baby if:
- You are a smoker
- You are under the influence of alcohol or drugs that cause sedation
- You are excessively tired
- Other children are sharing the bed with a baby
- The baby could slip under bedding e.g. pillows and duvets or doonas
Never fall asleep with a baby:
- Lying on her tummy on your chest
- On a soft mattress, sofa, beanbag, or waterbed — with or without a parent
There is a very high risk of a sleep accident in these cases.
Why Shouldn’t I Sleep With My Baby If I Am A Smoker?
If you smoked during pregnancy this also applies to you, as studies have shown that if you smoked during pregnancy, your baby still has an increased risk of SIDS. If the father is a smoker and the mother is not (and the baby is co-sleeping next to the mother), this has not shown to increase the risk SIDS. However keeping your baby’s environment as smoke-free as possible is important, as even second hand smoke can alter your baby’s normal breathing pattern.
Why Shouldn’t I Sleep With My Baby Under The Influence of Alcohol or Drugs?
Alcohol and drugs (prescription or social) can make you sleep deeper and therefore you will be less aware of your baby, increasing the risk of SIDS. This applies to anyone sleeping with the baby – mother or father.
Sleeping With Baby On A Sofa
Sleeping on a sofa with your baby is very risky because the baby can become wedged into the back of the sofa or cushions, and you may not notice until it is too late. This has been the result of several SIDS deaths related to co-sleeping – it is not a safe sleeping practise in several ways. When you’re tired with a new baby, it is very easy to fall asleep on the sofa, so be extra vigilant not to get too cosy or lie down on the sofa if you know you’re feeling really tired.
Creating a Safe Co-Sleeping Space
When sleeping with your baby, ensure that:
- You put baby to sleep on his or her back (while they generally tend to sleep on their backs, some co-sleeping babies will turn to face their mothers)
- Your baby does not have a pillow (pillows are not required under the age of 12 months)
- There are no soft toys or fluffy pillows on the bed
- The bed doesn’t have thick or heavy blankets
- The surface is firm and flat
- There is no loose bedding or other potential hazards on the bed which could smother or choke your baby
- You don’t overheat or over swaddle your baby. Dress your baby lightly for sleeping, in a room temperature that is comfortable for an adult who is lightly dressed. Baby should not feel hot or sweaty on touch.
More Information on Co-Sleeping Safely
Check out our other baby sleep articles: