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Co-Sleeping With Baby: Risks, When And How To Stop It

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Parents have the innate tendency to keep their babies close at most times, including during naps and bedtime. Co-sleeping is when babies and parents share the same bed or sleep surface. While co-sleeping is quite prevalent, it is not recommended by experts. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends room-sharing but advises against co-sleeping or bed-sharing for the baby’s safety (1).

Co-sleeping is often a convenient option, especially if you are breastfeeding the baby. So should you stop co-sleeping with the baby? Read on to learn about the potential risks and benefits of co-sleeping and how to stop co-sleeping with your baby if you are already doing it.

Is Co-Sleeping Beneficial?

Despite the contraindications, co-sleeping may offer the following benefits to the parents and baby (2)(3).

  • Makes nighttime breastfeeding convenient
  • Syncs the sleep cycles of the parents and baby
  • Babies who co-sleep may feel more secure and comfortable
  • May reduce stress for babies
  • Parents and babies may sleep longer and better when they share a bed
  • Better sleep leads to well-rested parents, reducing stress

Risks Of Co-Sleeping With Your Baby

Co-sleeping or bed-sharing may offer convenience and comfort, but its risks outweigh its benefits. Co-sleeping may increase the risks of the following detrimental scenarios for the baby (4).

  • Increased risk of the baby suffocating under pillows or bed covers
  • Increased risk of entanglement with blankets or bed covers
  • High chances of the baby rolling off the bed
  • Increased risk of injury due to a sleeping parent rolling over
  • Risk of persistent dependency on the parent

The following situations could increase the probability of risks’ occurrence (5).

  • You or your partner are unwell or too tired
  • You or your partner smoke or consume alcohol regularly
  • You or your partner are on medications
  • Your baby was born premature (before 37 weeks)
  • Your baby had a low birth weight (2.5 kg/5.5 lb or less)
  • You co-sleep with your baby on a sofa, lounger, or armchair

When To Stop Co-Sleeping With Your Baby?

You must avoid co-sleeping with the baby right from their birth and place them in a separate crib for sleep. However, if you have been co-sleeping with your baby, you must stop doing so immediately. Place the baby in a crib, which can be placed in the parent’s bedroom. There is no specific age when you may co-sleep with your baby. It is ideal to room-share with your child through their infancy and toddlerhood.

How To Stop Co-Sleeping With Your Baby?

It could be challenging to stop co-sleeping if you have been practicing it since the baby was younger than six months. You may consider the following measures to ease out co-sleeping gradually (6).

  1. Initiate room-sharing: Purchase a crib and place it next to your bed so that your baby can see you all the time while lying down. It could give the baby a feeling of co-sleeping since they are close to your bed and you. It also makes it easier for you to breastfeed or comfort the baby without leaving the bed.
  1. Be patient with your baby: Some babies may grow cranky at bedtime when you stop co-sleeping. It is usually more likely with babies who have been co-sleeping for more than six months, especially since birth. Be calm and establish a bedtime routine to make the transition easier. Follow a bedtime routine of giving a bath, feeding, and reading a book to the baby before placing them in the crib. It can signal the baby that it is time to go to sleep in their crib, making them used to sleeping alone gradually (7).
  1. Teach your baby to fall asleep on their own: Encourage your baby to self-soothe and fall asleep by themselves. Self-soothing reduces the baby’s dependence on parents to fall asleep, letting you place the baby in the crib without you having to stay on the bed (8). You may try swaddling the baby or offering them a pacifier. Another option is to place a toy within the baby’s line of sight, but not inside the crib, to calm them down. You may read more about self-soothing here.
  1. Be consistent in your approach: Stick to the bedtime routine and other measures to transition the baby out of co-sleeping. Do not cave in to your baby’s tantrums by placing them back on your bed to soothe them. Remember, it will take longer for the baby to let go of the habit if they were co-sleeping for several months. Consistency is vital for achieving the desired results.

Co-sleeping is an instinctive choice of most parents when it comes to placing the baby to sleep. Despite its convenience, it is not recommended due to its potential to cause harm to the baby. Thankfully, room-sharing is a suitable alternative to co-sleeping and may seem no different than co-sleeping to a baby. Babies used to co-sleeping learn to room-share instead eventually.

References:

MomJunction's health articles are written after analyzing various scientific reports and assertions from expert authors and institutions. Our references (citations) 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. Safe Sleep: Recommendations; American Academy of Pediatrics
2. Everything You Need to Know About Co-sleeping; SleepOrg
3. Diana Divecha, How Co-Sleeping Can Help You And Your Baby; Greater Good Magazine; University of Berkeley
4. Co-Sleeping With Your Baby; Raising Children Network
5. Co-Sleeping With Your Baby; Lullaby Trust
6. Frequently Asked Questions; Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory; University of Notre Dame
7. Sleep 6 months- 3 years; Healthy WA
8. Sleep in Infants (2-12 months); Nationwide Children’s Hospital