Co-Sleeping is an issue that divides not only mothers, but also health care professionals. The notion of having one or both parents sleeping close to a baby or young child sparks an intense debate, fuelled in many ways by our intuition, conflicting facts and experiences. As always, when we address these divisive issues of good parenting we try to be as objective as possible, and for this blog post on Baby Co-Sleeping, Daisy Baby only want to list the accumulated arguments for and against this night time habit..
What attracts many parents to the idea of Co-sleeping, co-sharing, sleepsharing or whatever name you'd use for it, is convenience. Frequent feeding becomes a much easier task to manage when our little ones are just centimetres away. There is a general agreement between many Mums that breastfeeding, once you're able to do it on your side, is less tiresome when your sleep cycle is in sync with your baby. In many cases you'll barely wake up when its time to feed. This might seem particularly attractive to mothers who have trouble during daytime breastfeeding, perhaps because the mother is more relaxed at night, and her milk-producing hormones are more effective.
For contemporary family households, baby co-sleeping also provides a unique form of convenience. With busier lifestyles than ever before, and more and more mothers becoming separated from their children for good portions of the day, sleeping together at night allows them to reconnect and account for lost time from the day. Likewise, those more relaxed milk-producing hormones are a good remedy for the high tension of a busy day's work.
The relationship between bonding and co-sleeping seems obvious, and is pleasantly well supported. As well as providing a way for fathers to tap into the unique physical closeness brought about by nursing, sharing a bed creates its own "sleep harmony". One idea is that the Mother acts as a breathing pacemaker, with her presence increasing the baby's awareness. It's common to hear stories of mothers actually waking up moments before their children do.
In the long term, baby co-sleeping has also been championed as a way of furthering the emotional health of a child. A study published in the journal Infant Child Development looked at the long-term benefits of co-sleeping vs solitary sleeping, and concluded that though some solitary sleepers fell asleep, slept continuously and weaned easier than co-sleepers, the early co-sleeping children were more self-reliant, exhibited more social independence and the mothers of these children were more supportive of their child's autonomy.
Sleepsharing is also known to improve sleep itself for mothers and their babies. Infants get lulled into the idea that sleep is a pleasant state to enter when in the arms of a father or with help from a mother's breast, and the mother meanwhile can put herself more at ease than if the child were laid to rest after loudly bringing both out of a slumber.
Last, but certainly not least, the research is emerging that infants who sleep snugly with their parents are at a significantly lower risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). The effect sleepsharing has on a baby's night time physiology and its relation to this tragic occurrence are becoming more well known, though it's worth baring in mind that SIDS is still remarkably rare (0.5 to 1 case per 1000 babies), so it should not be a primary reason for co-sleeping.
The most obvious objection one could raise against co-sleeping is the risk of injury. It seems like an idea too reliant on common sense, but there are genuine dangers involved. In terms of physical risks, there are precautions that must be taken to ensure a baby doesn't get trapped between the bed and headboard, that they don't fall from the bed, and don't go from being warmed by the presence of parental bodies and a duvet to being potentially overheated. Even a simple sheet or blanket can pose a risk, as it can cover a baby's face.
The US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) notoriously provoked ire when it warned against co-sleeping because of the associated risk of suffocation and strangulation. Aside from the previously stated hazards, they listed airway obstruction from waterbeds and strangulation from beds with railings or openings, and listed that of 515 deaths, 121 were reported due to the baby being rolled on or against whilst sleeping.
It's generally agreed that, for that last risk, most of these can be a result of inebriation from drugs or alcohol, and there are other certain dangerous conditions & habits to be wary of. It can be hard to quantify the risk of baby co-sleeping and smothering, but if there's a case for never sleeping with your child, it would be if you or your partner smoke, have a sleeping disorder or if your baby was premature/born underweight.
Whilst there is an optimal level where co-sleeping becomes less risky, the only near 100% safe alternative is bedding them in a certified bassinet or crib in the room with you, perhaps even right next to your bed. These can be bought with three sides, and one open for the parent to soothe the child should it wake up. For the sake of fairness, as of last year, it's yet to be demonstrated that sleeping in a crib is any less safe than a mother-infant sleeping scenario that adheres to the right stipulations. It's worth looking into the how the specific design of mattresses and sleeping arrangements in your country, and in the West in general, reflect these risks. The rather different traditional sleeping conditions in Japan, for example, actually lead to a low SID rate.
Aside from safety, co-sleeping has negative counter-acts to the convenience benefits. These can be minor issues such as an uncomfortable sleep for some of the occupants of the bed, to a diminished sex-life. As we mentioned before, there is a recognized tendency for children who co-slept with their parents to struggle to move on. As reported by Parent Science, a Swiss study reported that children over 9 months of age who shared their parents’ beds slept less than did children who slept alone.
So that's a side by side look. Ultimately there's no blanket pack of advice for parents weighing this issue, and neither should there be. With so many variables, specific risky circumstances and counter-balancing advantages and warnings, you can only take the information as it comes to you, and decide whether baby co-sleeping is right for your and your child.
What is your experience with baby co-sleeping? Are there any facts/opinions in this article you feel are in-factual? We encourage you to let us know via the comments, or on our Facebook page, Twitter or Google+.