Considering it is the most natural thing in the world – something that humans have been doing right for millennia – there’s an awful lot of controversy that surrounds parenting. When it comes to seeking advice about decisions you should make regarding your own children, it’s far too easy to come across two diametrically opposed points of view. What’s more confusing is that they both seem to have research to back them up – so how is a first-time mother supposed to choose?
While the most obvious example of this is breastfeeding, another controversial subject that’s bound to get people talking is the idea of bed-sharing, or co-sleeping as it’s often called. While this is seen as generally acceptable for older children, for babies? Well, then you get into a riot of arguments, with feelings running high between the pro and anti groups.
Rather annoyingly, this is once again an argument that both sides seem to be able to win. If you take the below two facts in isolation, you would believe them immediately:
Proponents of bed-sharing point out that in regions of the world where it is a common cultural custom, there is a lower rate of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Also, once the baby is over 6 months, the risk of SIDS whether you co-sleep or not is the same. So clearly, the issue is not with bed-sharing alone, but with the way it is done.
That’s a zinger, isn’t it? Argument won: all you need to do is make sure you’re bed-sharing with your newborn in a safe way, especially when you add onto it that babies tend to thrive with skin-to-skin contact with their mother. Oh, and bed-sharing makes it easier to breastfeed at night…
However, those against bed-sharing will point out that studies show the practice actually increases the risk of SIDS. In fact, for SIDS-related deaths, it’s believed that bed-sharing is the single most common factor.
So you’d read that and think: “well, I’m definitely not bed-sharing then! Or….?”
As the arguments from both sides begin to stack up, it can feel almost impossible to make a decision. Both participants in this debate have believable points, but let’s try and strip it down to the basic facts rather than struggling with competing viewpoints.
- If you do want to bed-share with your baby, then do it as safely as possible. This means sleeping on a mattress made of traditional springs or foam, with a fitted sheet or well fitting loose sheet. The mattress can’t be too soft. Also limit pillows, comforters, and anything else that could cause your baby to overheat (a major contributor to SIDS), or pull over their face. Don’t cover the baby with your duvet, and be careful of pillows. Absolutely no smoking, either you or your partner, and avoid alcohol or drugs. Bed sharing is safer when you breastfeed day and night time. Baby should be healthy and full term. Don’t swaddle or cover the head. Use a bed guard, rail or bedside cot. See the below infographic from the LLL which helps.
- It has never been studied, but it’s theoretically possible to bed-share in a safer way if you introduce measures like a ceiling fan – which have been proven to reduce SIDS-related deaths.
- If you don’t want to bed-share, then that’s fine too! This is very much a personal decision that has no right or wrong answer; what works for some families might not for others. As long as you make a decision that you feel comfortable with – and take the appropriate precautions to ensure your decision is as safe as possible – then you’re in good shape.
- A compromise for a lot of families is having a cot or crib that attaches to the bed so that you can put the baby to sleep next to you, but in their own bed. I liked my bednest I hired, although admittedly he didn’t sleep in it much!
- A good plan of action is to know the risks of bed-sharing and plan precautionary measures. Then, on the other side, have a few workarounds for the difficulties you may experience with night feeding if you choose not to bed share. Armed with both possibilities, speak to a doctor for a second opinion; and then go with what works for you.
Disclosure: collaborative post. Not intended to replace medical advice.