Co-sleeping with your baby can be a truly magical experience, or it can be a complete nightmare. Every family is different and every family needs to make its own decisions when it comes to where baby sleeps. Location isn’t actually the most important thing when it comes to night-time parenting. The most important thing is that baby has a safe sleeping environment and that parents are attuned to their child’s needs and are responsive to them. Let’s go over the co-sleeping safety guidelines and make sure that you’re all set for a safe, comfortable and (hopefully) peaceful night’s sleep.
The term co-sleeping covers both bed-sharing (baby sleeps in his parent’s bed), and room sharing (baby sleeps in the same room but in a separate bed). When I refer to co-sleeping throughout this article I will be talking about bed-sharing, just to be clear.
If you do decide that co-sleeping is something you’d like to try then that’s great. There can be many benefits for both you and your baby, as long as you do it right.
Co-Sleeping Safety Guidelines
It’s recommended to have your newborn baby room-share rather than bed share. A bedside crib so that they’re right next to you but have their own sleep space is considered safest for babies younger than 4 months old. Babies shouldn’t co-sleep with other children, only with parents that are sensitive to them.
When bed-sharing, your bed should be large and have a firm mattress that fits tightly against the frame. It should be pushed up flush to the wall or have railings fitted along the side. There should be no gaps that baby could wriggle into. You can use a foam bumper for putting along the wall or the inside of the railing. I’ve personally found that a clean, smooth (not fluffy) draught excluder does the job perfectly too. You could use tightly rolled-up towels or sheets too, as long as they have no loose ends that could wrap around baby. You might want to consider using a sleep pod to keep baby in the same place and have a little separation between you.
You might want to consider getting rid of the frame altogether and moving the mattress to the floor. Get rid of pillows, blankets, sheets, and duvets. The only thing you want on there is a tightly fitted sheet over the mattress. If the weather is cold you may need a blanket, just make sure it doesn’t go over the baby.
Parents shouldn’t wear any loose-fitting clothes to bed, and definitely nothing with ribbons or cords. Long hair needs to be tied up. If either parent is obese they shouldn’t be co-sleeping with baby. The same applies if either parent smokes (even if they don’t smoke near the baby), or they are under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or certain medications.
Make sure babies are dressed appropriately for co-sleeping. They will be kept warm by the heat of your body so make sure you don’t over-dress them or cover them in blankets. Overheating increases the risk of SIDS so look out for tell-tale signs such as sweating, rapid breathing, damp hair, and restlessness. The room where baby sleeps should be kept between 20–22°C or 68-72°F. If the weather is cold enough to justify some extra layers then a sleep sack is the best option. It won’t work its way up to cover baby’s face, and he won’t be able to kick it off either.
Safe Co-Sleeping Positions
It’s safest if just one parent, preferably mum, co-sleeps with the baby. Especially with a younger baby. If both parents are in the bed don’t put baby in the middle. It’s better for him to be between mum and the wall or railing, with any gaps filled in. The actual sleeping position that seems to work best is laying on your side facing baby, with your lower arm stretched over his head and your knees bent up beneath him, so you’re laying in a C shape with baby in the nook. This position gives easy access for feeding and also stops you from rolling over. Babies should always be put down to sleep on their back, no matter where they are sleeping.
You should never co-sleep with your baby on a water bed, sofa, armchair, beanbag, or any other soft, cushiony surface. These create a much higher risk of baby suffocating or getting trapped in small gaps.
Don’t fall asleep with baby on your chest. There’s the risk of falling and the fact that they should be sleeping on their back.
Co-sleeping is a natural thing that families have been doing for thousands of years. It can be a wonderful experience for you and your baby, as long as you practice it safely. Whatever you decide to do about your family’s sleeping arrangements is personal to you and your particular situation, and you shouldn’t let yourself feel pressured or judged by anyone else’s opinion.
My baby was born in the middle of summer here in Portugal. I think the temperature was around 35°C during his first few weeks of life so worrying about blankets and duvets on the bed wasn’t really an issue. I slept with him in the bed from day one and never felt any concern that I would harm him in my sleep.
I was always a fairly light sleeper but since I became a mum it’s ridiculous, I tend to wake up even if he sighs in his sleep, so I wasn’t worried that I’d accidentally roll onto him or anything. My husband was concerned about those things for himself so he relegated himself to the spare room and it actually worked out very well for us. He would get up early and take the baby so I could grab a couple of extra hours of sleep.
I loved spending the nighttime hours with my baby, it felt really special and intimate, and we bonded really well. I’m sure most mothers and babies that aren’t co-sleeping bond just as well, but this is what we did so this is what I know.
We both slept really well and being in bed for those exhausting early cluster feeds was the best thing for me. I don’t know how I would have handled them if I’d had to keep getting up all the time. My son never suffered from colic and was generally a very chilled little man. I might have just gotten lucky or it might have something to do with co-sleeping, who knows.
Of course, life with a little one is constantly changing and now, as we head into the toddler years, a whole new set of challenges are presenting themselves. Sleeping is one of those challenges. He’s so active during the night now that I find myself constantly being woken up, even when he’s asleep. Trying to wean him from the breast whilst still co-sleeping is proving to be difficult too, but I’m working on it and will write about what I’ve learnt in the future (when I’ve learnt it 😂).
The time is coming for me to start transitioning him into his own bed, but to be honest I’m not in too much of a rush. Even though I’m pretty tired most of the time, I want to make the most of these moments while I can. If there’s one thing I’ve noticed since having a baby, it’s how quickly time passes. This period of our lives will soon have passed by and I know I will miss it when it’s gone. So for now I will gladly put up with the foot in my ribs, the knee in my back, and the sudden and unexpected head butts in the dark, for all too soon they will be but a fond memory.