Co-sleeping has different meanings for different families. For some it means having your baby sleeping in the same room either in a crib or bassinet. For other families it means having their baby in the same bed with them or “the family bed.” For some parents there is no question as to where their baby will sleep once they arrive into the home. It’s simple and natural to have them snuggled securely next to them all night. Understandably though, there are still many parents who fear to share their bed with an infant.
When I brought my first one home for the first time, I was exhausted and wanted my bed. There was no second thought however when I brought my tiny infant son into bed with me and breastfed him until we both dozed to sleep. It was the most natural and logical thing for me to do. Since then, I have co-slept with all three of my sons and have enjoyed the bond and better nights of sleep it has brought me.
The Benefits of Co-Sleeping
There are many advantages to sharing a bed with your baby, and the most beneficial is sleep. Young babies often pass from deep sleep into light sleep during the night. During these periods of light sleep, when your baby is awakened he may feel alone and fearful if he is in another room. Infants do not have the understanding that mommy is in the next room, and cannot understand where you are. This can cause him to awaken fully and have a hard time relaxing and falling back into a deep sleep.
On the other hand, if your infant is nestled into your bed with you, he may never be awakened during those periods of light sleep. Feeling the warmth of your body near his, he will be comforted and secure. With a little warm breastmilk or a soothing touch, your baby will be falling back into deep sleep in no time, often without the mother or father having to fully awaken themselves.
Co-sleeping can also make it easier for breastfeeding. During the early months when your infant needs many night feedings, you will be right there to offer the breast to her. And, by having on-demand feedings at night, you can help to maintain your milk supply. Even if you are only room-sharing and not bed-sharing, having that close proximity to your child will allow you to meet her needs quickly and without too much stress on her. You will easily be able to hear her stirring into wakefulness and breastfeed her back to sleep.
Co-sleeping is not only good for mothers, but also good for dads. Fathers are often gone at work all day and don’t get as much of that precious bonding time with their baby. Sharing a family bed can allow father and child to have that closeness to each other. A father can just as easily reach out with a gentle touch to help soothe a resteless infant as a mother can.
Co-Sleeping and SIDS
Contrary to popular belief, co-sleeping can actually REDUCE the risk of SIDS. While SIDS is most certainly a real fear many parents have, it is not caused by co-sleeping. SIDS research has been mainly focused on the level of babies sleep and how it affects their breathing. It is thought that some infants are unable to arouse themselves from sleep if something threatens their well-being, such as difficulty breathing. Infants who co-sleep have increased arousability from sleep and their mothers are more alert to any potential dangers to their child.
When a mother and baby sleep side by side, they become in what is likened to a sleep-harmony. They can share the same sleep patterns and breathing patterns, becoming aware of each other’s presence. During the first six months of an infants life, they are at the highest rate for SIDS. This is the time when babies learn to have a deeper sleep, which may be more difficult to wake from. Gaps in breathing are normal in these early months; if an infant is in a deep sleep that they do not awaken from and have a breathing issue, it can be serious. The movements and sensitivity to having their mother next to them, helps them to move in and out of deep sleep more frequently during the night.
One of the biggest precautions for SIDS is to never have your baby sleep on their stomach – something that will most likely never happen while co-sleeping. A baby who co-sleeps usually sleeps on his or her side facing their mother, or on their back, so to be easily accessible for breastfeeding. The close proximity of their faces and the warmth of the mothers body can remind babies to breathe.
Making Co-Sleeping Safe
While SIDS may not be a factor in co-sleeping, there are some precautions you should take to ensure your childs safety in the family bed.
* Do not sleep with your baby if you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This can lessen your ability to wake and dimish your sensitivity to the presence of your baby.
* Do not sleep with your baby if you have other children in the bed as well. Other children may not be aware of the baby’s presence and could unintentionally hurt them.
* Do not sleep on a couch with your infant. They could fall and get trapped between the soft cushions.
* Do not sleep with your baby on a waterbed or any other soft mattress they could sink into.
* Avoid fluffy bedding, stuffed animals, or extra pillows in bed.
* Never leave a baby asleep alone and unattended on an adult bed. They could become covered by a blanket or pillow or unexpectedly roll off of the bed.
* Do not let another care taker sleep with your baby. They may not be as aware of your child’s presence while sleeping.
* Do not overheat your infant. A baby sleeping with a parent does not need as much warmth and clothing as a baby sleeping alone.
* Have your baby sleep next to the mother with a rail or in a co-sleeper, not in the middle of the bed.
Is Co-Sleeping Right For You?
Only you and your family can decide if co-sleeping is right for you. Whether you choose to share a family bed or simply have your baby sleep in the same room as you, the benefits can be bountiful. Just the joy of waking up to see your precious angel smiling every morning can make it right for you. I have co-slept with all three of my sons, and while it can have it’s trying moments, I don’t regret it at all.