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How to Co-sleep with Your Baby Safely
I'll just go ahead and get this out of the way--
"According to the CPSC, at least 515 deaths were linked to infants and toddlers under 2 years of age sleeping in adult beds from January 1990 to December 1997:
- 121 of the deaths were attributed to a parent, caregiver, or sibling rolling on top of or against a baby while sleeping
- more than 75% of the deaths involved infants younger than 3 months old"
Any statistic involving infant death and co-sleeping is too high, anyone would agree. But without clear insight into the how, when, and where of these statistics, it's hard to say what could, if anything, have prevented these deaths.
As an accidental co-sleeping parent, I've safely co-slept with my infant from her birth until present and can personally defend the safety of co-sleeping--with the condition of some very definite rules.
See, about three weeks before my due-date, in what I will just blame on a hormonal tirade, I got into a serious Facebook fight with some random father-of-three on some random page about the dangers of co-sleeping. I attributed it to playing "Russian roulette with your baby," to which he replied something like, "okay, Smarty-pants, let us all know how your self-righteous parenting goes once you pop that baby out."
If I could remember his name, if I could remember where this stupid argument took place I would wave my white flag.
Because mere hours after my daughter was born, I was accidentally co-sleeping. I thought, before I became a parent, that babies slept. You know that whole, "Aw, I slept like a baby!" thing--I thought that was true (I know, I know...) and you know, some babies do. Some miraculous babies sleep beautifully in their bassinet and you can find those babies on Instagram. Mine is not one of those babies and I accidentally fell asleep holding her in my hospital bed and woke up in a panic. I placed her back in her tiny baby bed and felt the warm rush of having already failed parenthood. She immediately woke up screaming. When I confided in a nurse before I was discharged that I kept accidentally falling asleep holding her she shrugged, "I mean, don't do it here. It's against policy and these floors are cement, but you know, at home you do what you gotta do."
"Well, I am not doing that again!" I vowed and she just looked at me with pursed lips and walked away.
I don't remember coming home. That's how exhausted I was. But I do remember the relief in seeing my bed, in seeing her bed--a pack n' play with a newborn bassinet--next to mine. In knowing that we were home-safe, things would go back to normal, I would sleep, she would sleep, my husband would sleep, and we'd be one big well-rested family (I know, I know...)
That delusion was knocked right out that night which I also don't remember. I can tell you there was a lot of crying, on all three of our parts. That's all I know or remember from those first few days of our new life.
Putting her to sleep was war. I mean, she actually fell asleep pretty easily nursing but she had that psycho-baby-radar that alerted her to being placed in her own bed. I tried everything. I swaddled her like they showed me at the hospital, I sung to her, I played white-noise, I undressed her, I changed her diaper, I did all of these things in every combination imaginable. Nothing worked. I tried to let her cry it out but found that she would vomit three times over before she fell asleep. All she wanted was to be on top of me. And I can't blame her. We'd been so close for so long.
Finally, physically, against my better judgement I had to surrender. There was no other answer, no other solution.
I was going to die.
So. I fell asleep. I fell asleep with my baby on top of me. It was my dirty little secret. My husband and I didn't tell anyone. We were ashamed that our daughter was sleeping in our bed, that we were bad parents, with this selfish need for sleep...and quiet, blessed quiet.
At my six-week post-partum check-up with my midwife, she asked me how the baby was sleeping and I broke down, "She's not. I mean, she is sometimes, but only because we...we co-sleep."
"Why are you whispering? Why do all new parents whisper when they say that?"
She shook her head. Clearly, I knew nothing. And I will say, in many areas, I still don't. But I can now say with confidence that I do know about co-sleeping, though I wish I'd known these things sooner.
The Do's and Don'ts Of How to Safely Co-Sleep With Your Infant
Don't Sleep With Blankets or Pillows
First and most important rule. Absolutely no blankets and no pillows. These are suffocation hazards so put 'em away and just get used to it.
The only thing that should be on your bed is a clean, tight fitted sheet. The kind with the stretch that covers the mattress and that sucks to fold.
Turn the thermostat up a bit to make up for the chill.
As your baby gets older and more mobile you'll be able to add blankets and pillows to the equation. Every baby is different, take care to gauge what your child is ready for (is she lifting her head? Is she able to roll if she's uncomfortable?).
SIDS vs. Death by Accidental Suffocation
The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development reports that over 2,000 babies died of SIDS in 2010 alone. SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) is the sudden death of an infant without easy explanation; an unknown medical issue in an otherwise seemingly healthy baby.
Co-sleeping does not increase the risk of SIDS because we don't know what causes SIDS. Babies who die while co-sleeping succumb to preventable accidents like suffocation.
Do Put Your Mattress on The Floor
This will keep everyone close to the floor in case baby learns to roll without any warning. Place the mattress away from any walls and furniture to protect your baby from becoming pinned between the mattress and anything else.
Don't Wear Loose Clothing
This includes robes, sweaters, etc. I found it easiest and comfiest to wear a tight-fitting tank top, leggings, and socks to bed. This eliminated to risk of suffocation, plus kept me warm.
Likewise, dress baby safely for bed. A sleep sack or sleeper is appropriate. Baby should not wear footies, socks, hats, or mittens to bed.
Do Sleep Separate From Your Partner
Your partner can set up a separate bed in the same room or move out to the couch. Either way, it's a bad idea to sleep two adults in the same bed as a newborn. While it may be inconvenient it eliminates the possibility of your partner rolling over baby in their sleep.
Don't Sleep Impaired
This seems obvious and simple but it's not always. Obviously you should not drink alcohol or use drugs while caring for a newborn ever.
What's less obvious is that you shouldn't use prescription or over-the-counter medication that can cause your judgement to become impaired or that debilitates your consciousness.
This would include antihistamines, sleep medication, cold medications, and even antibiotics, especially if you're not sure if you're allergic to them yet.
Do Install Bedrails or Bumpers
Bumpers and bedrails are awesome and can be installed on both sides of your bed to prevent your baby from rolling off. This is especially important as they learn to roll!
However once your child is able to lift himself up, bed rails can become a danger (because baby can flip over them) so make sure that these are used for the newborn stage only.
Don't Sleep on an Air Mattress
They aren't firm enough, predictable enough, or safe for a newborn.
Do Put Baby to Sleep On Her Back
...if you can. This one was personally always tricky for me for two reasons. First, for some reason my daughter was actually able to roll to her side and lift her head from the get-go.
So, putting her to sleep on her back ended up being futile. Second, because I was breastfeeding, she often wanted to nurse while we slept.
To remedy this, she often slept on top of me. The plus to this was that I was always super aware of her movements and knew right away if something was up.
If you follow the safe co-sleeping rules then this shouldn't be an issue.
For more information on safe co-sleeping visit the The Family Bed community on BabyCenter, read up on co-sleeping at KellyMom, and check out Dr. Sears' guidelines for safe co-sleeping.