An article, posted on the Daily Mail, has stated that “three babies are accidentally dying every WEEK while sleeping in their parents’ bed with 141 fatalities in the past year alone.” With a damning, misleading headline like that, I thought I’d look at the question “is co-sleeping safe?”
It’s very important to note how things are worded in this article. Take the following as an example:
‘The chance of sudden death goes up when bed-sharing if a parent smokes, has drunk alcohol or taken drugs or is very tired.”
IF. That’s right, the chances of sudden death increased if a parent smokes, consumes alcohol or drugs or is very tired. That’s a very big if, and one that is demonising a method of sleeping purely because it has been done incorrectly.
It also doesn’t help when falling asleep on the sofa, or an armchair has been counted as co-sleeping. And then any deaths resulting from that get lumped in as ‘co-sleeping deaths’ which then negatively affect people’s perception of it. The Daily Mail even have the following as a sub-headline, and then with something slightly different further down:
Co-sleeping increases risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome by factor of 50
Mrs Bates also warned against falling asleep with a baby while sat on a sofa or armchair as it can increase the risk of SIDS by 50.
To me, and to many others, falling asleep on the sofa with a baby does not count as co-sleeping. It’s just accidentally falling asleep. So to suggest that co-sleeping can increase the risk of SIDS by a factor 50, when the facts stem from falling asleep in a bad place is purely misleading.
Another thing that negatively affects the perception of co-sleeping is deaths that come after alcohol or drugs have been consumed. The article also gives an example of this in the following:
Last month a coroner commented on the dangers of co-sleeping after 10-week-old Teneil Howell was smothered between 30-year-old Amy Leigh Howell and her partner.
Amy Leigh Howell, from Bolton, Greater Manchester, was reportedly ‘smashed’ after drinking vodka and had been warned of the dangers of co-sleeping by a health visitor.
This is essentially like someone being killed by a drunk driver, and then having all the blame placed on the car and not the person behind the wheel. And, much like driving a car, there are things you can do to make co-sleeping a perfectly safe thing to do.
To Make Co-Sleeping Safe
Here’s an extract directly from the NCT website on safe co-sleeping:
If you co-sleep with your baby, here is some guidance about sleep safety:
- Make sure your baby can’t fall out of the bed or become trapped between the mattress and the wall.
- Keep your baby cool by using sheets and blankets rather than a duvet.
- Ensure bedding does not cover your baby’s face or head.
- You shouldn’t co-sleep with your baby if you or your partner smokes (even if you don’t smoke in the bedroom).
- You shouldn’t co-sleep with your baby if you either you or your partner has drunk alcohol or taken drugs (including medications that may make you drowsy).
- Always put your baby to sleep on their back rather than their front or side.
- Babies don’t need a pillow until they are at least a year old. They should also be kept away from parents’ pillows.
- Never risk falling asleep with your baby on a sofa or armchair. If you’re feeling really tired and think you may fall asleep with your baby while feeding or cuddling them on a sofa or armchair, move to a bed (keeping in mind the safety guidelines above) or, if possible, ask your partner, friend or family member to look after them while you get some rest.
I will also add to this that both parents need to be fully aware and compliant in what’s going on. You need to be mindful with how you sleep on the off chance that you wake up and there’s a baby in the middle of the bed. Should the baby be in the middle of the bed? Probably not, but you still need to be aware that it could happen.
Co-Sleeping and Us
I’ll be honest and say that we’ve co-slept with Isabelle from a pretty early age. When she was around 6 weeks old we bought a ‘next-to-me’ type cot. Here’s Isabelle posing in hers:
I’m very big on trying to parent from an evolutionary basis at the early stages of a babies life. So having Isabelle there with us in the night only made sense to us. They would’ve done it like this back in the day, and Isabelle is essentially wired the same way as one of our ancestor’s babies, so why not do it the same way? As my wife breastfed, and still does, it made our life far easier by having Isabelle in with us rather than putting her in a cot.
When Isabelle would wake in the night, my wife would simply latch her on and allow her to sleep-feed without being aroused too much. It also meant that she didn’t have to get out of bed, which made life a lot more comfortable for the two of us. Did she occasionally fall asleep whilst feeding her? Yes, she did. But she did so in a perfectly safe way.
Look, mammals have been falling asleep with their babies since they’ve existed. For me, it’s just the natural way of doing it. And one that makes everyone involved have an easier time if it’s done correctly. I know some people are big on ‘sleep training’ and letting your baby ‘cry-it-out’ but do you know what’s far, far, far, far easier? Just having them next to you in the night.
We haven’t had to sleep train Isabelle because she’s just happily fallen asleep each night knowing her mother is right there with her. I’d much rather have that, than a baby who is stressed out and simply wants their mother. Will it make our life harder in the long run when she eventually gets kicked out of our bed? Possibly. But I guess you’ll have to stick around to see if that’s true. But if those methods are something you want to do, or have done, then fair enough. Like I said, it’s all about what works for you. I’m not looking to shame a persons choice on how they put their baby to sleep with this post, this is more about providing my take on co-sleeping, and trying to stop it from being demonised for the wrong reasons.
Like I just said, the important thing here is to do what works best for you. If you have a lifestyle that contradicts what would be considered safe practice for co-sleeping (alcohol etc) then perhaps it’s not for you. But if you are willing to avoid all of those things that make it unsafe, then by all means, it’s a great choice to make.
People should be more willing to do their research into co-sleeping before blindly following a negative, out-of-context article from a ‘reputable’ media source.
Co-sleeping is as safe as a knife. That sounds stupid, but just follow my analogy on this one. By that I mean that if it’s used correctly, and all safety protocols are followed, it’s perfectly safe and harmless. But it gets a bad reputation because people often do things very wrong. Of course, there are still tragedies when people do things right. But that’s no different to babies being placed in a cot or a moses basket. Unfortunately SIDS can still happen even then.
Articles for further reading to back up some of what I have said:
- Conversation with Co-Sleeping Expert James McKenna
- Dr.Sears: Co-Sleeping a SIDS Danger?
- 5 Amazing Benefits of Co-Sleeping
- Co-Sleeping and Brain Development