Monday, August 1, 2011

Co-sleeping Safely

I've been wanting to write up a blog post on CSing ever since Cal was born but I never seemed to get around to it. I finally decided to sit down and write it out. Before I got pregnant with Cal I was totally against co-sleeping. I had heard all the scary stories about babies suffocating, parents rolling on them etc. While I was pregnant I researched all kinds of things to do with babies. From diapering, to feeding, to sleeping, and so on. What I discovered was surprising to me. I learned that co-sleeping can be just as safe (if not safer in some ways) than crib sleeping WHEN YOU FOLLOW SAFETY PRECAUTIONS. There's the deal breaker. Just like crib sleeping has its "rules" so does co-sleeping. Most pregnant women and moms have read about or been told about crib safety. No heavy blankets, only breathable bumpers, no pillows, keep it away from windows and curtains etc. But co-sleeping is rarely mentioned as a safe and legitimate alternative. You may still be questioning or replaying stories in your mind that you have heard or read about. I hope that by the end of this post I will have  shown that co-sleeping is not irresponsible or dangerous when done properly.

Myths about Co-sleeping
  • Increases risk for sids
  • Unsafe because parents will roll on baby, suffocation etc
  • Co-sleeping causes unhealthy attachment
Increased risk for SIDS
This is one of the top reasons that many people are against co-sleeping. The reality is that people often confuse SIDS with suffocation. SIDS is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. By definition sids is when a baby dies and upon autopsy there is no known cause of death. Therefore a parent rolling on a baby, the baby suffocating in a pillow or blanket (more on this later) etc. is NOT sids. There is a lot of evidence that shows that sids may actually be reduced by co-sleeping. In Asian countries where babies sleeping independently is basically unheard of the rates for SIDS are the lowest in the world. Babies are born neurologically immature. They are biologically programmed to be close to their mother/caregiver.

Everyone has heard the horror stories. Mother/father rolled on the baby, dog or cat killed the baby, baby suffocated, the list goes on and on. The reality is that co-sleeping deaths are not nearly as common as many would think. A good analogy would be plane crashes vs. car crashes. Everyone knows that plane crashes are far more rare than car accidents. Your odds of dying in a plane crash range from 1 in 5.4 million to 1 in 9.2 million (Source). Your odds of dying in a car accident? Car accidents are the cause of 2.2% of all deaths (source). So why is it that so many people are afraid of planes but not cars? Because plane accidents are far  more publicized! The same can be said for co-sleeping vs. crib deaths. Do co-sleeping deaths happen? Yes. But because co-sleeping is less common in our society it is of course widely publicized when a co-sleeping baby tragically dies. How often do you hear of deaths of crib sleeping babies? Not very often?  9,664 infants were injured in crib related accidents in 1996 and 54 babies died. This is not including SIDS. Crib deaths do happen, just like co-sleeping deaths. Why? Because of human error. Parents make mistakes. Whether you co-sleep or put your baby in a crib you can make one of those fatal errors. That being said...

Do I think co-sleeping is for everyone? No, but I do think that the safety precautions for those that DO wish to co-sleep should be more widely publicized.  

For anyone who's interested here are the basic co-sleeping safety "rules" (source)


  • Take precautions to prevent baby from rolling out of bed, even though it is unlikely when baby is sleeping next to mother. Like heat-seeking missiles, babies automatically gravitate toward a warm body. Yet, to be safe, place baby between mother and a guardrail or push the mattress flush against the wall and position baby between mother and the wall. Guardrails enclosed with plastic mesh are safer than those with slats, which can entrap baby's limbs or head. Be sure the guardrail is flush against the mattress so there is no crevice that baby could sink into.
  • Place baby adjacent to mother, rather than between mother and father. Mothers we have interviewed on the subject of sharing sleep feel they are so physically and mentally aware of their baby's presence even while sleeping, that it's extremely unlikely they would roll over onto their baby. Some fathers, on the other hand, may not enjoy the same sensitivity of baby's presence while asleep; so it is possible they might roll over on or throw out an arm onto baby. After a few months of sleep-sharing, most dads seem to develop a keen awareness of their baby's presence.
  • Place baby to sleep on his back.
  • Use a large bed, preferably a queen-size or king-size. A king-size bed may wind up being your most useful piece of "baby furniture." If you only have a cozy double bed, use the money that you would ordinarily spend on a fancy crib and other less necessary baby furniture and treat yourselves to a safe and comfortable king-size bed.
  • Some parents and babies sleep better if baby is still in touching and hearing distance, but not in the same bed. For them, a bedside co-sleeperis a safe option.
  • Do not sleep with your baby if:
    1. You are under the influence of any drug (such as alcohol or tranquilizing medications) that diminishes your sensitivity to your baby's presence. If you are drunk or drugged, these chemicals lessen your arousability from sleep.
    2. You are extremely obese. Obesity itself may cause sleep apnea in the mother, in addition to the smothering danger.
    3. You are exhausted from sleep deprivation. This lessens your awareness of your baby and your arousability from sleep.
    4. You are breastfeeding a baby on a cushiony surface, such as a waterbed or couch. An exhausted mother could fall asleep breastfeeding and roll over on the baby.
    5. You are the child's baby-sitter. A baby-sitter's awareness and arousability is unlikely to be as acute as a mother's.
  • Don't allow older siblings to sleep with a baby under nine months. Sleeping children do not have the same awareness of tiny babies as do parents, and too small or too crowded a bed space is an unsafe sleeping arrangement for a tiny baby.
  • Don't fall asleep with baby on a couch. Baby may get wedged between the back of the couch and the larger person's body, or baby's head may become buried in cushion crevices or soft cushions.
  • Do not sleep with baby on a free-floating, wavy waterbed or similar "sinky" surface in which baby could suffocate.
  • Don't overheat or overbundle baby. Be particularly aware of overbundling if baby is sleeping with a parent. Other warm bodies are an added heat source.
  • Don't wear lingerie with string ties longer than eight inches. Ditto for dangling jewelry. Baby may get caught in these entrapments.
  • Avoid pungent hair sprays, deodorants, and perfumes. Not only will these camouflage the natural maternal smells that baby is used to and attracted to, but foreign odors may irritate and clog baby's tiny nasal passages. Reserve these enticements for sleeping alone with your spouse.
Use common sense when sharing sleep. Anything that could cause you to sleep more soundly than usual or that alters your sleep patterns can affect your baby's safety. Nearly all the highly suspected (but seldom proven) cases of fatal "overlying" I could find in the literature could have been avoided if parents had observed common sense sleeping practices.
It is also a good idea to not allow pets in the family bed with a young infant. My biggest precaution while co-sleeping with Cal is positioning. I put Cal's head up close to the very top of the bed. My pillow is level with his waist (or his legs when he was littler). This is a good way to reduce the risk of rolling on the baby. I also do not allow him to sleep next to John because I know that my husband is a very heavy sleeper. 
Use common sense. If you know you are a heavy sleeper for example; use a crib, sidecar, or co-sleeper.
Unhealthy Attachment
I could go on forever about this one. Studies have actually shown that the more "attached" you allow your child to be in early years the more independent he/she will be later in life. Reason being that he/she has a greater sense of security knowing that if he/she wants to come to you for snuggles etc. it will be allowed. So a co-sleeping child may take longer to sleep through the night, or to adjust to sleeping alone. But because he/she will go to bed knowing that you will respond if he/she needs you there will be a greater sense of security. Everyone has their own comfort level for when it will be cut off. But every kid will eventually sleep alone and want their own space. 

So to wrap this up I guess all I'm saying is; co-sleeping isn't for everyone. But when done safely it is a great option. I enjoy co-sleeping, and I do it safely. Someday when my son is off at college or married and living away from home, co-sleeping is just one of the many things I will look back on and say "I miss that."

1 comment:

  1. Great Post : )

    I could not imagine breastfeeding without cosleeping, it was a life saver!