One of the most debated topics for new parents is the question of whether or not it’s preferable, or even safe, to co-sleep with baby. The pros and cons of co-sleeping are often conflated by differing definitions of what co-sleeping actually is. Add to that conflicting science-based recommendations and cultural practices, and you’re left with a very difficult decision to make about the best way for your little love to sleep.
In October 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released new safe sleeping recommendations for baby mamas and papas, addressing the need for an updated approach to minimizing the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS. While the instance of SIDS is very rare, it remains the biggest cause of infant mortality in the United States, claiming 3500 lives each year.
So, what are the new AAP recommendations? What are the reasons behind the recommendations? And, how can parents make the most informed decision about co-sleeping?
What Is Co-Sleeping?
Co-sleeping can mean a few different things:
Parents and baby co-sleeping in the bed at nighttime.
This tends to be the most common understanding of what it means to co-sleep with your little one. In many cultures around the world, co-sleeping is a given. Families live in smaller quarters and everybody shares the sleep space together. In the West, some families have adopted this method of co-sleeping by choice.
Parents and baby co-sleeping on the couch at naptime.
New mothers are routinely advised to sleep when baby is sleeping, and some of the best naps happen on the couch, after all! Being a new parent is exhausting, and it’s tempting to opt to have feeding time on the couch in case we fall asleep mid-feed.
Parents and baby co-sleeping in the same room but in different beds.
Parents that keep baby’s crib or bassinet in their bedroom are same-room co-sleepers. The little one has her own bed, but stays close to her two favorite people all night.
Basics Of The AAP Recommendations
Sleep in the same room, not the same bed.
The Academy found that co-sleeping in the same room but in different beds for at least the first six months (ideally for the first year) reduced the risk of SIDS by 50%.
It’s important to note that the recommendation is NOT to sleep with baby in the same bed or, especially on the couch, sofa, or soft chair where the cushioned surfaces greatly increase the risk of smothering.
However, if you feel you may fall asleep while nursing, the recommendation is to nurse on your bed rather than on a couch or soft chair where the cushions and nooks are a greater potential hazard.
Keep a bare crib.
The recommendation here is to remove blankets, pillows, and toys from the crib. According to the AAP, the crib should contain only a firm mattress covered with a tight fitting sheet, and nothing else. The reasoning is to avoid anything that could obstruct breathing or cause overheating.
If you’re worried about baby getting cold, the AAP says to maintain a comfortable room temperature, and add a light layer of extra clothing over baby’s onesie for a little extra warmth.
Back sleeping only.
The AAP specifies that babies should be put down on their backs at bedtime and naptime.
Offer a pacifier at nap and bedtime.
This is an unusual one, but the reasoning behind it is that sucking on a pacifier may keep babies a little more alert breathing-wise.
Additional recommendations for reducing the likelihood of SIDS, include skin-to-skin contact within an hour after birth, as soon as mama is ready, and to breastfeed if possible.
Co-Sleeping Pros And Cons
The obvious argument in favor of co-sleeping in a bed with your baby is the sense of intimacy and closeness, and increasing the amount of time spent together – especially for parents who work during the day. It also makes breastfeeding during the night more convenient, and it might help sync the whole family’s sleep cycles.
On the other hand, co-sleeping in the same room with parents in bed and baby close by in her crib, has many of the same pros as co-sleeping in the same bed. Night feeds are easier, and when baby stirs in the night it helps her fall back to sleep faster knowing mama and papa are right there in the room with her.
The perceived risks and the actual risks of co-sleeping in the same bed are largely misunderstood. Parents are often tempted to put pillows or wedges around their little one to prevent her from rolling off the bed, or to prevent themselves from rolling onto baby – but it’s precisely these types of soft surfaces that the AAP warns will increase the risk of SIDS.
The other arguments against all types of co-sleeping are: you may wake more often in the night with baby in the room with you; you may become over-attentive to every movement and sound and wake baby unnecessarily; and then there’s the issue of new parents needing intimate time alone together.
It seems that co-sleeping in the same room is the ideal compromise. You are close enough to experience the benefits of same-bed co-sleeping, but without any of the risks. You can snuggle together until your little love is asleep, then put him down on his back in the crib, and keep your hand on his belly until he fully settles, then take yourself to bed.
If you do really want to co-sleep in the same bed, bear in mind best practice advice and recreate a sleeping habitat that is as close to the firm mattress, tight sheet, no soft adornments crib situation as recommended by the AAP. Have a frank conversation with your pediatrician about the risks and what you can do to minimize them.
And definitely avoid couch and sofa naps with baby – there are too many precarious breathing obstructions there.