When my eldest was born, I wasterrified to sleep with her in the bed with me,even though it seemed like the only thing that would settle her. The hospital had given me a leaflet about SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) that warned of the potentially devastating consequences of bed-sharing.
After a few days – and a scary trip back into the hospital – we learned that the reason our baby wouldn't settle was my very low milk supply. We bottle fed after that, and never did bed-share, with her or our youngest … but since toddlerhood, they’ve slept in our bed occasionally.
Plenty of parents sleep with their babies in bed with them every night, though.For some, it's a deliberate choice: perhaps they like the "attachment parenting" philosophy, or they simply enjoy having their baby close. For others, it might be done more from necessity: maybe their baby simply won't settle in a crib.
If you are going to sleep with your baby in your bed, here's what you need to know about keeping your child safe.
Different professionals have different opinions on this. Advice from organizations likethe Lullaby Trust andUnicefmakes it clear that parents shouldn’t be toldnever to co-sleep, but that it is crucially important for parents to make sure they’re co-sleeping in as safe a way as possible.
While co-sleeping has beenidentified as a risk factor in some infant deaths, the chance of this happening is still extremely low.
So please don't let all of this scare you as much as it scared me in those early days. If you follow co-sleeping guidelines, the risk is small, and you may well feel that the benefits of co-sleeping (for your baby and for you) are worth it.
You may find that co-sleeping means:
On the other hand, you may find that:
To keep your baby safe, there are a few crucial do's and don'ts. When infant deaths have occurred during co-sleeping, 90% have been due to the co-sleeping taking placein one of these “hazardous” situations.
You can see some tips in this video(warning: it starts with the mention of an infant death):
If you’re a regular smoker, you shouldn’t co-sleep with your child, as this raises the risk of SIDS due to the harmful chemicals that they’ll inhale from your skin, breath, and hair.
Evensharing a room with your child means they suffer from third-hand smoke, so if you can’t quit, it’s best to put your child to sleep in their own room.
You’ll likely be avoiding alcohol anyway if you’re breastfeeding, but if you’ve had a glass or two of wine in the evening, you shouldn’t co-sleep with your child.
The alcohol can make you sleep more deeply: you’ll be less aware of your baby. The same applies to any illegal drugs, and also to any medications that can make you drowsy.
One of the biggest risk factors for SIDS is sleeping with your child on a chair or sofa: your baby could easily become wedged face-down in a crevice or with their face in a squashy cushion and suffocate.
They could also easily roll off the chair or sofa and have a nasty bump. If you’re tired, it’s much better to take your child into your bed with you.
You should also never co-sleep on a waterbed: again, your baby could easily roll and get stuck or end up with their face completely pressed into the surface.
If your partner is asleep in the bed,don’t place your baby next to them without telling them.Anyone sharing a bed with a baby should be aware that the baby is there.
I’m sure it goes without saying, but it’s also important that both of you agree to co-sleep: don’t force this on a reluctant partner.
If you co-sleep with more than one child – which we’ll look at in more detail later on – thenyou shouldn’t let your baby sleep next to an older child in your bed.
Children flail around much more in their sleep than adults (as you’ve probably noticed!) and they could easily accidentally injure your baby.
Your child should have their own bedding, rather than sharing yours – and it shouldn't be possible for them to slip underneath it. Remember, an infant can't roll over to free their face from the covers. It’s also important that your baby doesn’t get too warm.
The safest option is to put your child in a baby sleeping bag.We used these for our daughter until she was big enough to unzip them and scramble out – they're great! Get one that unzips from the bottom and you'll be able to handle middle-of-the-night diaper changes without disturbing your child.
Breastfeedinghas been shown to lower the risk of SIDS … so if you can breastfeed your baby, it’s recommended that you do. (Note that the risk of SIDS is still very low, even if you bottle feed.)
There’s even research suggesting that breastfeeding mothersnaturally adopt a protective position around their baby during the night (sometimes called the “cuddle curl” position). This helps protect babies from dangers like being accidentally rolled on top of, or suffocating in a pillow or blanket.
There were several reasons we didn't co-sleep with our children when they were babies, but for me, a key reason was that I really like my space at night!
I need room to be able to sleep without worrying about accidentally bumping my baby ... and without being squished up at the edge of the bed.
While my husband would probably have been happy to co-sleep (he’s happy to occasionally sleep cuddling our nearly-4-year-old), having a child in bed never results in a good night’s sleep for me.
If you like the idea of co-sleeping but you don’t want to have your baby in bed with you all night, every night, there are other options!
When my daughter was born, we were on a tight budget. We had a traditional Moses basket handed on from family for her to sleep in. If I'd been able to splash out, though, I'd have been very tempted by one of these bedside bassinets:
This one is from ComfyBumpy, and has a nifty design where the side folds down so you can use it up against your bed … or you can use it entirely separately. There are seven different height settings so you can adjust it up or down to suit your room and your bed.
Having your baby at the side of the bed could be the best of both worlds. You'll be able to reach out and cuddle them, pick up a lost pacifier and so on ... and you'll be able to easily bring your baby into your bed for feeds during the night.
You get to keep all your own bed space – and you know your baby is safe and comfortable on their own mattress.
Co-sleeping with a small baby might seem like a great option … but what if you also have a toddler or preschooler too?
Firstly, you might want to invest in a larger bed!My husband and I have a super-king bed and it's big enough for us and both our kids, who are almost-four and five (and both big for their age, too).
It's no fun trying to sleep perched on the edge of your bed with your legs at an awkward angle, so if you've got the space and the money for a large bed, go for it.
Abedside bassinet could also be an ideal solution if you have a toddler or preschooler who comes into bed with you: your older child can go in the middle of the bed, and your baby can be safely separated from them.
The decision to co-sleep is entirely up to you.
Some parents feel strongly that they want to have their baby in bed with them, or in a bassinet beside their bed; others want to have their baby settled in the nursery as soon as possible.
If you do co-sleep, make sure you keep your child safe by:
If you’ll be co-sleeping on a fairly regular basis,a bedside bassinet might be the perfect way to enjoy all the benefits of co-sleepingand the benefits of your baby having their own crib.
Do you co-sleep with your baby (or plan to)?Share your thoughts and tips in the comments below.