To your health: What to consider before starting a co-sleeping practice

By Alfred Casale - To Your Health | January 2nd, 2018 6:00 am

Be very careful with whom you share your bed.

This advice is wise in so many ways, but especially if you’re considering allowing your infant or toddler to be in bed with you.

I’ve recently been reminded how precious a good night’s sleep can be, especially if you’re a parent to an infant. When you get to the point where you consider sleep a rarity, you may be willing to try just about anything for you and your baby to get some shuteye, including sleeping together.

Some parents find sleeping with their infant helps them and their babies get more sleep with the added benefit of even more bonding time.

If you’re considering sleeping with your baby, here’s what you need to know:

Co-sleeping and bed-sharing are not the same

When you hear the term co-sleeping you may think this means sharing your bed with your baby, but that’s not the case. Be careful to differentiate between having an infant in the same bed, on the same surface as an adult (bed-sharing) from having the child in or on a separate, special platform attached to your bed, or in a bassinet or play yard apart from your mattress but in the same room (co-sleeping).

Co-sleeping can indeed be a good thing allowing moms and dads and new babies to sleep more, feel closer and calmer and make breast feeding more convenient. Studies have shown that it’s actually associated with a reduction in the already small risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Bed-sharing on the other hand is a bad idea, especially for infants less than 4 months old. The chance of accidental smothering or crushing the baby is just too high, even if you think you’re a light sleeper. Exhausted parents sleep deeper than they think. The risk of infants getting tangled up or suffocated by pillows, sheets, blankets or PJs is real. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics warns that sleeping in the same bed with an infant less than 4 months of age is associated with most cases of SIDS.

Some co-sleeping isn’t planned

Some parents make the conscious decision to sleep with their infant, while it just sort of happens with others.

Some parents co-sleep with their baby for a part of the night or during the day simply to get more rest. They may doze off while breastfeeding, find it easier to settle their baby down for a nap or bedtime this way, or just fall asleep accidentally with the baby.

In case you accidentally fall asleep with your baby, it’s important to make sure you’ve set yourself up in a spot that’ll be safe for your baby — sofas and armchairs are considered the most dangerous, because it’s so easy for the baby to slip or slide between you and the cushion or side of the furniture and have their breathing obstructed.

Co-sleeping may encourage breastfeeding

Plain and simple: co-sleeping makes nighttime feeds more convenient for breastfeeding mothers. Co-sleeping means you don’t have to get up and walk to a separate room for feedings in the middle of the night — your baby gets fed sooner and you may fall back to sleep more easily. It can help a breastfeeding mother sync her sleep cycle with her baby’s too.

Co-sleeping may mean less sleep for you and baby

While co-sleeping may help your babies fall asleep more easily or go back to sleep more quickly when they wake up at night, you both may suffer some sleep loss.

Infants tend to move around and make sounds while they sleep, which could disturb your sleep or wake you because you think your baby needs something. Sometimes infants whimper, wake and go right back to sleep during the night — if you pick up your baby with the first whimper, you may prevent the child from falling back to sleep on his or her own account.

Babies sleeping next to their parents tend to spend less time in deep stages of sleep and wake up more often.

Regardless of where your infant sleeps, there are guidelines you should follow

Whether your infants are sleeping on the same surface as you, on a co-sleeping platform, in a bassinet or a crib in the same room, or in a separate bedroom, they should always sleep on their back. “Back to sleep,” is the slogan to remember … completely the opposite to what parents of my generation were taught.

To sleep safely, infants need sleep on their backs, on a firm surface, without fluffy pillows, blankets, crib bumpers or stuffed animals that pose a suffocation risk. A sleeper “onesie” and a room temperature of about 68 to 72 degrees without covers is best for infants’ sleep according to most specialists.

Having your toddler or older child in bed with you is a different topic we’ll address eventually. Adults? … Wrong column for that advice.

By Alfred Casale

To Your Health

Dr. Alfred Casale, a cardiothoracic surgeon, is Associate Chief Medical Officer for Geisinger Health and Chair of the Geisinger Cardiac Institute. Readers may write to him via [email protected]