Co-Sleeping & Bed-Sharing With Baby: Its Safety, Risks Involved

check_icon Research-backed

Image: iStock

IN THIS ARTICLE

Some parents think that their newborns should be put to sleep on their own crib, while some believe that it is safer for the baby to sleep with their parents. Co-sleeping and bed-sharing are two options that often leave parents confused. You may wonder about the safer approach and the one that may have certain risks associated with it.

Choosing the right option is crucial to keep your baby safe during their sleep and also to ensure your peace of mind before going to bed. This post acquaints you with the various aspects of co-sleeping and bed-sharing, letting you make an informed choice for your little one.

What Is Co-Sleeping?

Co-sleeping is the practice of the infant sleeping near the mother, by sharing the sleep space (1). In other words, babies have physical proximity with the mother when they share the sleeping space.

Parents often confuse co-sleeping with bed-sharing.

Is Co-Sleeping The Same As Bed-sharing?

No. Bed-sharing is not the same as co-sleeping. In bed-sharing, the mother and infant share the same bed but sleep at a distance from one another. Unlike co-sleeping there is no physical contact in bed-sharing, so the mother cannot feel the presence of the infant with her eyes closed.

Co-sleeping and bed-sharing have both been a common practice.

Why Do Parents Choose Co-sleeping?

Some parents believe that co-sleeping has advantages for both the mother and the baby, but there is lack of evidence to back these benefits. The common reasons for co-sleeping include (2):

  1. Greater adoption of breastfeeding: Infants who co-sleep have easy access to the breast for feeding. It can encourage the mother to breastfeed too.
  1. Less stress: A baby can be relaxed when sleeping with the mother. It may reduce their crankiness.
  1. Better sleep: After a session of breastfeeding, a baby who co-sleeps is more likely to go back to sleep when compared to an infant who sleeps away from the mother.
  1. Less use of transitional object: A transitional object is something like a ‘security toy’ that the baby may use for comfort. Babies who co-sleep do not have separation anxiety and are less likely to turn to an inanimate object for comfort.
  1. Maternal satisfaction: Co-sleeping allows the mother to cater to the baby’s demands as they arise. It can eventually lead to elevated maternal satisfaction levels.

Despite its advantages, experts feel that the research on co-sleeping is “lacking, contradictory, and confusing” (3). Most recommendations in favor of co-sleeping are based on societal norms and cultural practices rather than research. Such ambiguity leads to confusion among parents, which leads us to the main question.

Is It Recommended To Co-Sleep With A Baby?

It is a good practice to make your baby sleep in a separate sleeping space such as a crib. Pediatricians do not recommend co-sleeping and bed-sharing. While there is no substantial evidence to support its benefits (4), the risks of co-sleeping are well-documented.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, bed-sharing is the greatest factor for sleep-related deaths among infants (5). A study on infants’ deaths in the US across eight years found that about 70% were bed-sharing at the time of their death (6). In 2017, the US State of Arizona documented 83 sleep-related infant deaths out of which 60% were due to co-sleeping/bed-sharing (7).

Co-sleeping risks outweigh the benefits. But what makes something as simple as co-sleeping dangerous for an infant?

What Are The Risks Of Co-Sleeping?

Co-sleeping poses several hidden hazards that may not be evident initially. The following are the risks of co-sleeping and bed-sharing:

  1. Suffocation: Infants should not sleep with any bedding, blankets or pillows around them (8). But a standard adult bed has all these items. The bedding can rollover the baby’s face and may cause suffocation. Another risk can be accidental rolling over of an adult on the baby. It is most likely when the baby is sharing a bed with an adult who has medicines for sleep or is intoxicated with alcohol.

While the baby sleeps with mother, there may be a chance of baby’s face being trapped beneath the breast, as the mother falls asleep. This may lead to suffocation.

  1. Strangulation: The baby’s neck may get stuck in the rails of an adult bed, which can lead to strangulation. In a rare yet plausible event, a baby may strangulate around open hair of the mother.
  1. Entrapment: The space between the edge of the bed and the mattress can pose a risk of entrapment for a baby. It can lead to some grievous injuries.
  1. Accidental fall: There are no guard rails in an adult bed. A baby may crawl to the edge of the bed in the darkness and fall.

Co-sleeping may cause sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). In the next section, we acquaint you with the best practices to keep the baby safe during sleep.

What Is The Safe Way For A Baby To Sleep?

Sleeping in a crib that is placed beside the parent’s bed is the safest way for an infant to sleep. Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend room-sharing over bed-sharing (9). Room-sharing with the baby can reduce the risk of SIDS by 50% (10).

Below are five tips to keep your baby safe during sleep:

  1. The baby should sleep on a firm surface. Choose a firm mattress for the baby’s crib. The mattress must not have gaps between the rims and should fit snugly into the crib.
  1. Have only the baby in the crib. Do not place pillows, blankets, bumper pads, and soft toys on the crib surface. If it is cold, then dress your baby in a warm onesie. Adult beds should never be used for baby’s sleep (11).
  1. Place the baby on their back. Infants must only sleep on their backs, whether it is at nighttime or daytime when they nap, until their first birthday.
  1. Breastfeed and place back in the crib. You can bring the baby to your bed to breastfeed and comfort them. Once the baby is calm, put them back in their crib.
  1. Room-sharing but no bed-sharing. Place the crib right next to your bed such that the baby stays within line of sight. Room-sharing with the baby should be practiced for the first six months or ideally for the first year of the baby’s life.

Whether or not to co-sleep and share a bed with your child has been controversial for decades. Ease of breastfeeding, lesser stress, maternal satisfaction, better sleep, etc., are some of the most popular reasons parents are inclined towards co-sleeping and bed-sharing. However, many doctors do not support co-sleeping and bed-sharing, citing the risks such as strangulation, SIDS, suffocation, and more. You can discuss your concerns and preferences with your child’s pediatrician to know what would be an ideal arrangement for your child. You may consider room sharing with your child as it is safer.

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. Thoman EB, Co-sleeping, an ancient practice: issues of the past and present, and possibilities for the future; National Center for Biotechnology Information
2. The Family Bed: The Benefits of Bed Sharing; Cornell University
3. AAM Co-Sleeping article accepted for Publishing September 2017; University of Huddersfield Repository
4. Is Co-Sleeping Safe? Do You Do It?; Seattle Children’s Hospital
5. SIDS and Other Sleep-Related Infant Deaths: Updated 2016 Recommendations for a Safe Infant Sleeping Environment; AAP
6. Is Co-Sleeping Safe for Your Baby?; Children’s Hospital Colorado
7. DCS Safe Sleep Campaign; Arizona Department of Child Safety
8. Safe Sleep for Babies; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
9. Sleep-related Death Statistics; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
10. How to Keep Your Sleeping Baby Safe: AAP Policy Explained; American Academy of Pediatrics
11. CPSC Press Release; US Consumer Protection Safety Commission
The following two tabs change content below.

Dr. Umera Zakiahmed Saiyed

(BHMS)
Dr. Umera Zakiahmed Saiyed is a homoeopathic consultant and runs her own clinic Noor. She pursued her BHMS from Yerela Medical College in Kharghar, Mumbai and worked as an assistant doctor under a gynaecologist in Surat, Gujarat. With more than 5 years of experience in gyneacpcods, assisting many labor and caesarean deliveries, she holds expertise in cases related to infertility,... more

Rohit Garoo

Rohit Garoo is a zoologist-botanist turned writer with over 8 years of experience in content writing, content marketing, and copywriting. He has also done an MBA in marketing and human resources and worked in the domains of market research and e-commerce. Rohit writes topics related to health, wellness and development of babies. His articles featured on several notable websites, including... more