Once parents go home with their tiny new baby, life changes dramatically. Newborns don’t have set sleeping schedules and need to be fed regularly, even throughout the night. But caring for a new baby is exhausting, and parents soon begin to suffer from sleep deprivation because they're always getting up for multiple nighttime feedings. Parents sometimes resort to bedsharing to feed or comfort the baby, or end up unintentionally bedsharing.
Bedsharing is not recommended, although guidelines have been adjusted to acknowledge the increasing evidence that room sharing is beneficial for baby, as per the Consumer Product Safety Commission. A big part of the difficulties surrounding the issue of bedsharing is that parents often won’t admit to doing it, so there is a lot of secrecy and guilt, according to NPR. In other countries bedsharing is very common, but often without the increase in SIDS or other consequences.
Bedsharing continues to be a controversial topic despite a continuing dearth of research on the subject. There are many reasons why research is incomplete; parents often underreport about whether they bedshare or how often, and there are so many individual factors that make each situation unique and personal, including the use of bedding or the design of the mattress itself.
20 It's safer with no blankets, comforters, pillows
Experts agree that moms can create a safer bedsharing experience by removing comforters, blankets, stuffed animals, and pillows from the bed before falling asleep, according to Kids Health.
Doctors say even thin sheets can create dangerous situations for baby, who can end up with the sheet covering part or even all of her face, or wrapped too tightly around her body.
The bed and the area around the bed should be clear of any of these items, which are proven to increase the risk of suffocation, and instead, Mom can adjust the room temperature and dress herself and baby in clothes that can‘t twist or cover baby‘s face.
19 Skin-to-skin curl around the baby is safest
Mothers and babies need to touch from the moment that baby is born and onwards. Skin to skin contact for mother and baby is proven to improve the health and well-being of both mother and baby, according to the National Center For Biotechnology Information.
This need for touch and the benefits it gives continues in the days and weeks after the baby is born. When bedsharing, the mother curls protectively around the baby often close enough to maintain touch.
Skin to skin contact between mother and baby promotes calm and decreases anxiety in both, and can also promote healthy breastfeeding, which has also been shown to be protective against SIDS.
18 SIDS and other risk reductions are mixed messages
SIDS remains a mysterious condition precisely because the diagnosis takes place only after a process of elimination, in which no other reason is found for the baby’s passing away, as per the National Institute Of Child Health And Human Development.
Because there are no defining characteristics for SIDS, parents are often confused by the perceived threat of SIDS and how to decrease the risk. Additional confusion arises because the guidelines that are issued for SIDS risk reduction are often similar or mixed with guidelines provided to reduce the risk of suffocation.
It’s important that parents consider both dangers separately when deciding whether to bedshare.
17 Baby is happiest when hearing mom's heartbeat
When mother curls around the baby while bedsharing, baby can sense and hear mom’s heartbeat, just as she did in the womb, and her own heartbeat changes to be more in sync with mother, according to NPR.
In fact, the baby’s heart rate increases and even her body temperature is more regulated, as per Oxford University Press.
In one study, babies who sleep alone experienced a lower heart rate and more fluctuations both in the heart rate and in body temperature. Sleeping near Mom resulted in sustained regular sleep patterns. But a study is often a controlled situation that does not factor in the bed environment.
16 Statistics are skewed because moms don't admit they bedshare
During the 1990s thanks to the safe sleep campaign the number of babies lost to sleep-related issues declined, according to the Centers For Disease Control but since then the rate has stayed steady despite official recommendations.
The CDC analyzed self-reported data collected in 2015 and determined that factors like age and level of education seemed to indicate how likely a mother would be to place baby to sleep in a position other than on his back.
However, many mothers feel like they cannot tell the truth. More troubling is that only 55% of the mothers surveyed reported that their healthcare professional gave them accurate information.
15 Mom's breathing regulates baby's breathing
Most of us take countless breaths without even thinking about it. But babies are not as good at automatically regulating their breathing. When mother and baby bedshare, they tend to move into a familiar pattern.
Mother curls around the baby, drawing her knees up under the baby’s feet, and baby and mother face each other. Mom’s breath has actually been shown to regulate baby’s breathing in sleep, according to Natural Birth And Baby Care and NPR.
The carbon dioxide stimulates the baby to breathe deeply, and both mother and baby tend to sleep and awaken more in sync and even offers some protection from SIDS.
14 Bedsharing is less risky in other cultures
Many articles cite the commonality of bedsharing in Japanese culture, but the fact is that bedsharing with a baby is common in many countries and cultures around the world, and has been for millennia, as per the Natural Child Project.
Outside of Western countries, the occurrence of SIDS in babies who co-sleep or bedshare is very low.
Some doctors and researchers think that the style of bedding favored in countries like the U.S. may account for some of the marked increase in SIDS or suffocation in bedsharing situations. But doctors often strongly oppose bedsharing without considering a family’s traditions or cultural norms, which leads to more confusion and secrecy.
13 Bedsharing + Breastfeeding = more sleep
Many parents consider co-sleeping or bedsharing whether they choose to bottle or breastfeed, but for parents hoping to establish better breastfeeding practices, bedsharing can help not only the production of milk but also the quality and duration of feedings.
Mothers who breastfeed and bedshare get more sleep, according to La Leche League. After feeding, babies usually roll to their backs.
If mothers have created a safer bedsharing environment with a firm sleep surface free of suffocating bedding and toys, it may even be safer for the baby than the mother getting up to nurse and risk falling asleep on a sofa or in a chair.
12 Will the baby become too dependent?
Many mothers have heard their own mothers protest that the baby will never learn to sleep on his own if he sleeps in bed with mom. Other mothers worry that their baby will develop a dependency that will be difficult to overcome in other areas of his life.
Researchers don’t think that bedsharing can be directly correlated with either of these, however, as per the University of Notre Dame. Whether a baby bedshares with Mom or not is like looking at a single frame in a feature-length movie when it comes to determining whether a child is capable of independence or not.
11 Co-Sleeping Compromise
There is a distinct difference between co-sleeping and bedsharing that many parents don’t understand. Co-sleeping is an overarching term that includes bedsharing but also room sharing, which is when the baby is sleeping near to Mom but not in the same bed.
Some companies even manufacture a “sidecar” type apparatus that is installed on the mother’s bed and allows baby to sleep close to Mom without being actually in the bed, according to Baby Gooroo.
Room sharing might also mean that the baby sleeps in the same room in his crib or bassinet that is completely separate from the adult bed.
10 Safe And Sober
The risk of SIDS, suffocation, smothering, or another major injury is greatly increased when one or both parents co-sleep or bedshare with the baby while under the influence.
Both legal prescriptions and the use of illegal substances are known to add to the risk of a number of complications, according to Red Nose. Even if one parent smokes away from the baby, the risk increases.
If one or both parents are struggling with substance abuse or must take prescription medication, it is best for baby to sleep separately. Parents must take precaution to assess their health if thinking of bedsharing to reduce the risks.
9 Check the bed for risks
While experts do not agree about parents bedsharing, they do agree that preparing the sleep surface can help reduce the risks.
Care should be taken to ensure that baby cannot roll out of bed, and the baby should be positioned on his back near mother, according to Ask Dr. Sears.
A bigger bed works better than a small one, and if sleeping on a mattress, it should be firm and free of blankets or sheets that can twist or cover. When assessing the sleeping area for risks, look for slats that a baby could get trapped in. If possible, push the bed flush against the wall.
8 Special Needs Need Special Care
The term “special needs” is generic and encompasses a wide variety of conditions, disorders, and disabilities that require additional or modified care. Parents of babies with special needs have to consider the additional risks when determining whether bedsharing is right for them, as per Green Child Magazine.
Experts say babies who have nursing difficulties or who are bottle fed for physiological reasons may be safer in a separate bassinet or crib in the same room as Mom, rather than in the bed next to her.
What matters most is that Mom clearly understands the condition her baby has and discusses safe practices and precautions with a doctor.
7 Bedsharing may not be dad's thing
Whether Dad should be in the bed with Mom and baby is a matter of debate even for doctors and experts who support bedsharing.
Not all dads are comfortable with the idea. Parents should discuss the idea of co-sleeping and bedsharing and all the risks and benefits and be honest about what the changes mean, according to Ask Dr. Sears.
Dads may find that rather than creating a problem, bedsharing can make them feel more closely bonded with the baby and they are able to help with nighttime feedings. Parents can assess the safety of the sleeping area together and learn the risk factors to decide what is best.
6 Sleep Together, Stress Less
Breastfeeding mothers who bedshare often wake up more often than non-bedsharing parents, but may still have better quality sleep, according to Developmental Science.
Breastfed babies wake so often because breastmilk is easily digested, and so babies get hungry faster. Moms aren’t the only ones who can experience less stress when bedsharing. Babies also experience less physiological stress and breathe better when sleeping close to mom. When babies sleep close to mom, she is more likely to be responsive when baby wakes to feed, and this quick response makes the baby less agitated as she learns the security that her needs will be met.
5 Bedsharing with the baby and older siblings is less safe
Much of the data that details the benefits of bedsharing with baby focus on the instincts of mother and baby and the resulting benefits. Other children, however, may not be safe additions when bed sharing, as per The Sleep Lady.
The parent’s bed often becomes a family bed, especially when siblings are young or toddler age. Parents who want to continue to co-sleep with their children while including a new baby can examine the sleeping area and might find the compromise means creating a toddler sleep space on the other side of dad, or attaching a “side car” to the main bed for baby.
4 Sofas And Other Surfaces are not safe
Supporters and detractors of bedsharing agree: sleeping with a baby on a sofa or cushioned chair is extremely dangerous, according to a study in the journal Pediatrics.
Babies who bedshare on a sofa or armchair are at a much greater risk for overlay or suffocation for several reasons. These pieces of furniture are confined and often soft and full of padding that easily gives.
Babies can roll and easily become trapped between the adult and the padding of the sofa or in between cushions. Babies who are not placed to sleep in a supine position are also more at risk for SIDS.
3 Bottle-Fed Babies And The Bed
Whether parents breastfeed their baby depends on a number of factors. Often parents take the approach of combining breastfeeding and bottle-feeding, although many parents bottle feed exclusively. Whether a baby is breastfed or bottle-fed appears to affect how risky bedsharing may be--but with caveats, according to Evolutionary Parenting.
Unfortunately, data is lacking in determining whether bottle feeding alone along with bedsharing is a significantly higher risk. It might be that the risk assessment is flawed because it was not controlled for other risk factors like low birth weight, or the difference in rates of sleep arousal of the bottle versus breastfed babies.
2 Long Hair is a risk
While apparently very rare, babies can find themselves dangerously entangled in mom’s long hair. In one case, a dad’s quick action saved baby’s life, as per GB Times. Another case involved a toddler who had to be cut loose from her big sister’s hair, as per The Stir.
Situations like this are certainly isolated but are easily fixed risk factors that can easily be overlooked. Mom can braid her hair or tie it back to keep it from smothering or choking baby while bedsharing. Anyone who is bedsharing can do a quick personal check to make sure long hair is secured back away from the baby.
1 Do Ask And Do Tell
It cannot be stressed enough that parents should discuss co-sleeping and bedsharing plans not just with each other, but also with their doctor or medical caregiver. Many parents feel guilty and keep their actual sleep habits with baby a secret, according to The Huffington Post. Parents and even medical providers often have very strong opinions on the subject that are not always grounded in fact, and this is further complicated by the fact that more data is needed to understand the various mechanisms involved in bedsharing.
If parents are more open about bedsharing, it could help provide researchers with better information as to how to provide practical safety guidelines.
References: NPR, Kids Health, National Center For Biotechnology Information, National Institute Of Child Health And Human Development, Oxford University Press, Centers For Disease Control, Natural Birth And Baby Care, Natural Child Project, La Leche League, University of Notre Dame, Baby Gooroo, Red Nose, Ask Dr. Sears, Green Child Magazine, Developmental Science, The Sleep Lady, Journal Of Pediatrics, Evolutionary Parenting, GB Times, The Stir, The Huffington Post