As well as breastfeeding, co-sleeping is one of humankind's oldest forms of attachment parenting. Attachment parenting is a philosophical outlook that favors the attachment of an infant to their mother. The term was first coined by the American pediatrician Dr. William Sears. This form of parenting is nostalgic in some ways because it was during the 20th century that parenting began to be less detached to the child. This happened due to cultural and technological progress. Many new mothers chose bottle-feeding over breastfeeding, and having the newborn in a cot or crib instead of sleeping with the parents.
The debate about whether or not it's safe and beneficial for a baby to co-sleep is ongoing. Some circles promote it, while others strongly reject it as dangerous. Let's examine co-sleeping in more detail, including the benefits and potential dangers of it:
What is Co-Sleeping?
Co-sleeping is when a child sleeps close to their parents. The child can be of any age, ranging from newborn to school age. Some people assume co-sleeping means the child sleeps in the same bed, while others think it simply means that they're sleeping in the same room. Then there is a third way of technically co-sleeping: having the baby or infant in their bed that can literally attach to the parents bed. Hence, they are sleeping close to the parents but still have their own enclosed space.
None of the descriptions are essentially wrong, but for the sake of this article, we're going to examine the idea of a newborn, infant or child sleeping in the same bed as their parents.
The Benefits of Co-Sleeping
It's difficult to really tell if co-sleeping is a good or a bad thing. Sure, there are benefits, but let's take a look at SIDS, which pops up in both the benefits and the potential dangers:
Sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, is when a baby dies for no apparent reason. It usually happens when they are sleeping and can happen to healthy babies who have no symptoms of illness of any kind. Other terms for SIDS are crib death or cot death because a lot of these unexplained deaths happen to a baby while in their crib.
The co-sleeping debate is very confusing indeed. Here I am listing the prevention of SIDS as a benefit of it, while down below you'll also see that some experts believe co-sleeping actually causes SIDS. The only thing that's clear is that co-sleeping has to be done in a safe way, and it depends on a number of factors that can cause it to be a cause or a prevention of SIDS.
It is generally believed that a baby who sleeps with their parents in the same bed develops a closer bond with them. This is particularly true if the mother also breastfeeds. The human body works in cycles, and a breastfeeding mother and her baby have a cycle that is more in sync with each other. This means that the body will instinctively tell the mother when the baby is awake and asleep. It also means that their breathing and heart rhythms are more in sync during the night than a mother who chooses bottles over breastfeeding.
Therefore, this would suggest that co-sleeping is safer if the mother breastfeeds. If she uses a mother, there is a risk that her body is not in sync enough with the baby and will not wake up when it stirs in the bed.
The Potential Dangers of Co-Sleeping
We've seen the good side of co-sleeping: now let's examine the potential dangers of it:
Some researchers believe co-sleeping actually causes SIDS. The reality is that it would only increase the danger of SIDS if the parents sleeping beside or on either side of the baby are exceptionally deep sleepers. Advocates of co-sleeping assert that while their baby is beside them they're very aware and only sleep lightly. In this sense, there would be little danger of SIDS, because many cases of it are actually when the baby suffocates. They are usually found face down on the mattress. A parent who sleeps lightly and makes sure to keep the baby on their back will ensure they don't die unexpectedly.
The other main concern about co-sleeping is that it will make an infant grow up to be a dependent, clingy child who has problems socializing. This seems to be a bit of a melodramatic assertion. For one, what do kids really remember about being a newborn baby? Yes, the psychologists will have you believe that memories from as far back as the womb are buried deep in the subconscious, but this is a highly debatable claim.
It's the same as the breastfeeding versus bottle-feeding debate, really: a breash-fed baby will grow up to clingy, and you see those horror stories of kids who are ten years old suckling on their mother's teat. The best thing to do is to use your own discernment and decide what method of sleeping you will choose. You can always go half-way and get your baby a crib that attaches to the bed. This is perhaps the best solution: the baby is right there with you, but there is no danger of you flapping an arm in his or her face while they sleep.
How to Co-Sleep Safely
Yes, there may be potential dangers of co-sleeping, but because the research is so varied you can't outright claim that co-sleeping is definitely harmful to a child. If you are a parent who has considered both the pros and cons of co-sleeping carefully and still want to give it a try, here are tips to help you do it as safely as possible:
The sleep position of the newborn, infant, or child is incredibly important in order to ensure that they can sleep safely and soundly. It is best to place him or her on their back.
The best type of mattress to use if you're going to have your child sleeping with you is a firm mattress as opposed to memory form or anything that doesn't support the baby's back.
Yes, the sheets are important too. The safest sheets for co-sleeping are ones that fit nice and tight, so make sure you don't buy a size that's too big for your bed. It's significant to note that different retailers have a slightly different measurement for their sheet sizes, so it's best to actually measure the length and width of your bed and see which fits it most closely. This is especially applicable when you're not sure if your bed is a queen or a king-size.
In order to ensure the safety of your child, make sure there aren't any objects acting as an obstacle to their breathing. In other words, keep loose pillows and spare bedding as far away as possible. Also, take care that you don't pull the comforter over their head during the night, as this can cause them to overheat and have difficulty breathing.
More often than not, in some households, you find that there is a space between the mattress and the wall. To an adult, it's not a significant gap, but never put your baby on this side of the bed as they are a lot smaller than you and might find themselves getting an arm or a leg trapped there during the night.
The nightclothes you put on your baby can also impact their safety when co-sleeping. It's best to dress them in a light cotton sleepsuit so they stay nice and cool. Don't dress them in wool or fleecy material, especially during the summer months, as they are liable to get too hot. This is something you really don't want, as overheating is one of the possible causes of SIDS.
It might sound cruel, but sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind! Never, ever allow your infant to bring any toys to bed. This even applies to stuffed toys. Think about it: what happens if you're fast asleep and they start putting their toy in their mouth during the night? They could choke on the stuffing, so be safe and keep the bed completely free of toys and clutter.
Extra Tip for Newborns
If you and your partner have more than one child, be careful how you choose to co-sleep. Ideally, there should not be more than one child in the bed at one time. This is particularly true when you have a newborn. A newborn, or in fact a baby that is less than one years old, should never be in the bed at the same time as an older child. The older child may kick and toss their arms as they sleep, and this could hurt the baby. Be extra careful with infants who are less than one years old.