Co-sleeping – advantages and disadvantages

The topic of co-sleeping with your baby is one of those controversial parenting issues that divide parents into two camps: those who can’t advocate it highly enough, and those who wouldn’t touch it with a bargepole. Supporters believe it is natural and nurturing and cite that we are the only animals who don‘t routinely sleep next to their newborns, while others believe it increases the risk of cot death and promotes bad sleeping habits which are hard to break as the baby gets older. So who is right, and can you make co-sleeping safe?

The Advantages

Proponents of co-sleeping say it actually makes your baby sleep better at night, as they are comforted by you being next to them and so instead of crying for you, they just go back to sleep. It also makes night feeding easier, as mothers don’t even need to get out of bed, leading to new parents feeling less exhausted. Co-sleeping encourages women to continue with breastfeeding, as mothers can nurse their babies lying down in bed and after a while babies learn to attach themselves to the breast without the mothers fully waking. Breastfeeding has been proven to cut the risk of cot death.

Many parents find it not just more convenient, but love the closeness of co-sleeping, claiming it promotes a closer bond with their baby. Mother Julia Plant says ‘I loved being right next to my baby when she woke, and feeling her breath on my cheek. I could check she was ok anytime I wanted during the night without having to sit up. Co-sleeping was perfect for us and I really missed her when we put her in her own room.

Although co-sleeping has in the past been discouraged because of a link to cot death, supporters say that if done following certain guidelines, co-sleeping can actually decrease the risk of cot death. Although there is no evidence to suggest cot death is more likely to occur either when babies sleep alone or co-sleep, supporters point to research which has found that breastfeeding mothers release a chemical when next to their babies. This chemical makes them sleep more lightly, which means they are more likely to respond quickly to any changes in their baby’s breathing during the night. There is also evidence to suggest that babies mimic a mother’s breathing during sleep, which supporters claim make them less likely to die from SIDS than babies who sleep alone.

The Disadvantages

There are downsides to co-sleeping however. It could make your child more reluctant to go into their own bed when they get older, and some parents find that although they don’t have to get out of bed for night feeds, their sleep is more disturbed as they wake up every time the baby moves or makes a noise. Parents may also accidentally wake up the baby if they get up in the night for any reason. Co-sleeping babies may have trouble getting to sleep on their own, which they will eventually need to know how to do.

Some Rules to Follow

Still confused? Well if you’re considering co-sleeping, you must be able to adhere to certain guidelines to ensure it’s safe. You shouldn’t co-sleep if you or your partner smokes. This is because smokers sleep more deeply than non-smokers, making it harder to wake up if you roll onto your baby, or your baby falls out of bed. You also shouldn’t co-sleep if you’ve drunk alcohol (even one glass), or if you have taken any drugs. Co-sleeping is also not safe is you have a sleep disorder or are extremely tired. Most new parents are tired, if you are so tired you can’t face leaving your room, you shouldn’t co-sleep. Similarly, if you are a very deep sleeper, it’s safer not to co-sleep. Finally, don’t co-sleep if your baby was premature or has a low-birth weight.

To avoid the risk of cot death, which is caused by overheating or suffocation, make your bed safe for your baby. Don’t use a duvet, as this could cause your baby to overheat, or suffocate if they wriggle under the duvet. Use lightweight covers until your baby is a year old, after which they should be safe with a duvet. Check frequently that your baby hasn’t wriggled under the covers. Feel your baby’s cheek to check he isn’t too hot. Don’t overdress your baby to bed, and remember that if he’s co-sleeping, close body contact with you will raise his temperature.Don’t put your baby on a pillow, or don’t put pillows on either side of him, as pillows can smother babies.

Make sure there aren’t any gaps between the mattress and the bed frame that your baby could get wedged into, and don’t put a baby and other children in the same bed, as they might roll onto your baby. Don’t ever sleep with your baby on a water-bed or on a sofa, as they both contain crevices your baby could get wedged into.

It’s Up To You

Deciding to co-sleep or not is a very personal decision. Some parents love it, finding it more convenient and enjoying the closeness it provides, while others find it interrupts their sleep and are too worried about rolling onto their baby to fully relax at night. With a bit of trial and error, you’ll find a sleeping arrangement that works for you and your baby. The important thing to remember if you want to co-sleep is to follow the guidelines, your baby is at no more risk of SIDS than a baby who sleeps alone. If you want the closeness of co-sleeping, but are still worried about co-sleeping, you could try getting a bedside sleeper. These are cots with three sides and one open side that fits against your mattress, giving you easy access to your baby for cuddles and feeding during the night.

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