Safe Sleeping Part 4: What about having baby in bed with me?

Bed sharing or co-sleeping means sleeping in the same bed as bubs. It is one of those issues that can evoke very strong opinions – some think it’s wonderful and some think it’s terrible.

In New Zealand, parents are generally advised to sleep baby in a separate bed. However anecdotal evidence suggests that bed sharing is common practice amongst families of many different cultures in NZ. Some of this is bed sharing by choice, for others it simply happens as mother and baby fall asleep together post-feeding. It is also possible now to get devices that combine some of the benefits of bed sharing with separation of parent and child, e.g. clip on bed, box bed etc. If you choose to bed share with baby, have a look at the safety guidelines below.

“Baby shared our bed for the first three weeks. That helped with calming him down and putting him back to sleep as he needed lots of body contact. It also helped with getting to know one another.” – Isabelle

Safety when bed sharing

When babies are sleeping they should be face up, face clear, and smokefree.

  • Bed sharing is not safe if either you or anybody else living in the house smoke (even if you never smoke around baby), or if you smoked during pregnancy.
  • Bed sharing is not safe if you (or anyone else in the bed) have been drinking alcohol or taking recreational drugs, taking medications that make you sleepy, you are extremely tired, very unwell, very overweight or are a very heavy sleeper.
  • Sleeping together on a couch is not safe.
  • Bed sharing is not recommended unless your baby is breastfeeding, as breastfeeding babies and their mums tend to sleep more lightly, wake more frequently, and end up with their sleep cycles in sync.
  • Bed sharing is not recommended for babies born prematurely as their ability to rouse themselves with breathing pauses is compromised.

If you have reviewed the above recommendations and you wish to share a bed with your baby, these are the things you can do to make it safer:

  • Make sure mattress is firm not spongy or sagging or a waterbed
  • Make sure your bottom sheet is tight fitting and can’t come loose
  • Keep covers light, and room warm (but not too hot)
  • Keep baby’s head uncovered, keep pillows & duvets away from him
  • Sleep baby on her back
  • Make sure your partner knows baby is in the bed
  • Don’t allow other young children to sleep next to baby
  • Make sure baby can’t fall out of bed or get stuck between mattress and wall.
  • Don’t use electric blankets or hot water bottle as these can cause baby to get too hot
  • Don’t let pets share the bed
  • Do not sleep together on a sofa or couch
  • Some research shows that mums are very aware of their babies while sleeping and suggests that the safest bed sharing position is with baby between mum and the wall.  (Remember to make sure baby can’t get stuck between the side of the bed and the wall).  Some parents find sleeping with baby in the middle of them works better, but the non-breastfeeding partner may not be as aware of the baby.
  • If you have very long hair you may wish to tie it back.
  • Some authors identify obesity as a risk factor.

Thinking over the options

Some cons of bed sharing

  • Bed sharing appears to be associated with a slightly higher risk of SIDS (for non-smoking families and a much higher risk for smoking families). However this is largely due to recognised risk factors that can be removed or minimised. It’s worth noting that in many cultures bed sharing is the norm and this is not associated with any higher rates of SIDS. In fact in some cultures where bed sleeping is the norm rates of SIDs are so low that they don’t even have a word for it!
  • Some parents find they are too alert or anxious when baby is in bad and do not sleep well.  “I was always too scared to have my daughter in bed with me, in case I fell asleep and smothered her”. – LM

Some pros of bed sharing

  • Recent research has suggested that the close contact of bed sharing is immensely beneficial for regulating baby’s immature brain and body systems.

  • Bed sharing can help promote better sleep for parents and babies. No more getting out of bed in the middle of the night! “We co-slept with our second baby and found sleep deprivation much less – often in the morning I had only the vaguest recollection of night feeds!” – TJ

Phew, having got to the end of all that, you’re ready for a good nap!  Hopefully baby’s sleeping so you can go for it!


Posted on July 31, 2011, in Safety, Sleep and Crying. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Nice overview, thanks!
    I think safety recommendations, rather than a blanket “don’t do it”, is the responsible approach.
    I find co-sleeping hugely beneficial to my family – my newborn feeds fairly frequently yet I still get plenty of rest and have enough energy to keep up with my toddler during the day.
    But we’ve been very careful to set up a safe co-sleeping environment.

  2. I co-slept with my three babies and found it a completely normal thing to do. We all slept better because of it.I have seen recent studies from America whose evidence shows there is no link between SIDs and co-sleeping, and in fact babies who co-sleep with their mother have proven statistically to be at less risk of SIDs. It is good to see some practical advice. A midwife and lecturer in NZ said to me that in her PhD survey, 80% of parents co-slept with their baby. We’re just too afraid to talk about it for fear of judgment, and that breeds a lack of information about it. Thanks for a good article.

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