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Bedsharing, the practice of sleeping with your baby in bed with you, is a hot topic today. Experts generally encourage room-sharing, but stress that a crib or bassinet is the safest place for babies to sleep. Others argue that bedsharing is a natural, safe practice – as old as humanity itself. In reality, bedsharing is not safe for everyone, though it can be a low risk choice for some parents. Studies show that many parents end up bedsharing with their babies at some point, whether by accident or by choice. In this post, we’ll cover safe bedsharing musts so that you can make an informed choice for your family.
What is bedsharing?
First off, let’s cover the differences between bedsharing, room-sharing, and co-sleeping:
- Bedsharing is the practice of bringing baby to sleep with you (the parent or caregiver) in an adult bed.
- Room-sharing is the practice of placing baby’s separate safe sleep surface (crib, bassinet) in the same room as the parent or caregiver.
- Co-sleeping is an umbrella term that refers to the practice of sleeping with baby in close contact. This is commonly practiced with a co-sleeping bassinet or crib attached to the adult bed like a sidecar. Bedsharing and room-sharing are types of co-sleeping.
Why is bedsharing not recommended?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends sharing a room with baby for at least the first 6 months. However, the AAP strongly discourages bedsharing due to the increased risk of suffocation, strangulation or entrapment. Bedsharing accidents could occur due to:
- Soft bedding, pillows, and mattresses
- Unsafe gaps between mattresses and walls, headboards, or other furniture
- Dandling cords, loose caregiver clothing, etc.
- Caregiver rolling on infant during sleep
Studies repeatedly show that the safest place for babies to sleep is alone, on their backs, in an otherwise empty crib or bassinet. However, experts also encourage parents to breastfeed and note that breastfeeding hormones – along with general sleep deprivation – can cause parents to easily fall asleep while feeding.
Falling asleep while holding an infant in an armchair, rocker, or couch is very high-risk. In such situations, there is a high risk of an infant falling to the ground or becoming trapped against an armrest or caregiver’s body.
So, what are parents to do? The first step is to seek support. Parents aren’t meant to do it all alone! Professional overnight newborn care provides the reprieve you desperately need to catch up on sleep, while guiding your baby to develop healthy sleep habits for life.
Another great option to get nighttime parent support include taking shifts with your partner or another family member. However, not every parent has access to these resources.
Why do parents choose bedsharing?
Exhaustion and lack of support are two main reasons that lead to bedsharing. However, some parents look to the benefits of bedsharing:
- Promotes breastfeeding by making nighttime nursing more convenient
- Can help baby fall asleep more easily
- Can increase amount of nighttime sleep for mothers and infants
- Can increase number of months an infant breastfeeds
- Increases bonding time between parents and babies
It’s true that bedsharing has been practiced for millennia. Sleeping in close physical contact with one’s infant was essential in the days before central heating and cooling or alarm systems. In some non-Western cultures today, bedsharing is still the norm.
When it comes down to it, parents choose bedsharing to increase sleep, breastfeeding, and bonding. Bedsharing is convenient and can be comforting to both parents and babies. While experts agree that bedsharing is not the safest place for babies to sleep, it can help prevent extreme sleep deprivation that leads to accidents and risky behavior.
So, how can bedsharing be practiced safely?
The Safe Sleep Seven
According to La Leche League, the following seven conditions must be present for safe bedsharing:
- Non-smoking household (inside or outside)
- Sober and unimpaired parents
- A breastfeeding mother (day and night)
- Baby is healthy and full-term
- Baby sleeps on his back
- Baby is lightly dressed (no swaddle)
- The surface is safe (firm mattress, no loose bedding or fluffy pillows, no gaps between wall and bed etc.)
La Leche League explains that breastfeeding mothers will instinctively practice “the cuddle curl,” where they curl around baby to protect him in sleep. With mom’s knees up, she creates a protective space. In this position she cannot roll onto her baby and can prevent another adult from doing the same, because her knees and elbows are in the way.
To ensure a safe bedsharing sleep surface, LLL stresses the importance of:
- No extra-soft mattresses
- No extra pillows
- No toys or stuffies
- No heavy covers
- No nearby strings and cords
- No cracks or gaps between bed and wall or other furniture
- No pets in the bed
Bedsharing can be a godsend for exhausted parents. Driving, cooking, and generally caring for an infant while sleep deprived is incredibly dangerous. And falling asleep during a night feed in an armchair is rightfully every parent’s nightmare. The safest option is always for baby to sleep on his own, on his back, and in a separate crib or bassinet.
However, some parents choose to bedshare at least occasionally for convenience and comfort. Many other parents find that they have accidentally fallen asleep with their baby in their arms. Because of this, it’s so important for parents to be informed on how to bedshare safely: sober, non-smoking parents; breastfeeding mother; healthy full-term baby who is lightly dressed and on his back; on a firm mattress free of hazards such as heavy bedding, extra pillows, cords, or gaps between the bed and other objects. With these conditions met, the risks of bedsharing are lowered and parents can rest easier while they care for their babies throughout the night.