Moms

Ask! Considering co-sleeping

Q. My husband and I plan to let our baby share our bed after she's born in a few months, but my parents are horrified by the idea, claiming we might roll over on the baby in our sleep. What's the best decision here?

A. New parents and parents-to-be are faced with a myriad of decisions to make, one of which is likely where the baby will sleep.

Choices may include a crib in a separate room, a crib in the parents’ room, a sidecar sleeper next to the parents’ bed, or bed sharing, also known as co-sleeping.

There is no one right decision, except to be sure that wherever your baby sleeps is a safe environment for infant sleep.

Though co-sleeping gets a lot of bad press, the fact is that many of my clients either make a conscious decision to share sleep with their baby or do so out of desperation (accidental co-sleepers). It's not for everyone, though. Each family needs to find the parenting practices that work best for them.

Experts such as Dr. James McKenna, who heads up a sleep lab at Notre Dame University, say that much of the criticism aimed at co-sleeping is flawed, including the assertion that it contributes to sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS. In fact, studies show that breastfeeding protects against SIDS, and nighttime breastfeeding is one of the main reasons mothers will bring their babies into bed. If you want more details on Dr. McKenna’s research, go to his website at http://www.nd.edu/~jmckenn1/lab/.

If it seems like a good fit for your family, parents can take steps to increase the safety of co-sleeping. Here are some important tips:

  • Make sure your mattress is firm and fits tightly in the frame.
  • Sheets should fit snugly.
  • Consider a crib or sidecar next to the bed as an alternative to bed sharing.
  • Make sure the bed is tight against the wall or far enough away that a baby cannot become trapped.
  • Keep bed low to the ground or even on the floor temporarily.
  • Keep pillows and blankets away from baby's face.
  • Place baby on his or her back to sleep.
  • NEVER share sleep with your baby if you’ve been drinking alcoholic beverages, take drugs, are obese or if you take medications that make you less alert.
  • If possible, keep baby next to mother only, as mothers seem to be especially aware of their babies in bed.
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