Ask the Mamas: Co-Sleeping Safety

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Mama Say What?! reader Ashley K. asks: “My husband and I want to co-sleep with our first born, but all I hear about is the negatives! I know it is right for our family, but how can I go about it safely, especially during the newborn and infant phases?”


For reference:

Co-sleeping: When baby sleeps in the same room as mama, often in a portable crib or bedside co-sleeper.

Bed sharing: When baby sleeps in bed with mama.

My motto is never say never (yes, from An American Tail!). I actually am not a huge fan of bed sharing because I don’t feel like I sleep well when my baby is in my bed. However, that does not mean that I haven’t. The best purchase I made for baby #3 was a Rock ‘n Play. It sat right next to our bed and kept my little one within arms reach. She did end up in bed with us many nights but the Rock ‘n Play was such an awesome set up. ~Miriam R.

We co-slept from day one. Bed sharing, however, took a little time for me to get comfortable with it. When Anna was born, my husband moved to the guest room so he could get a better night’s sleep. I also would not have felt comfortable bed sharing with him as he has sleep apnea and is an incredibly deep sleeper. I set up the bed where I only had a sheet or light blanket and one pillow for myself. Some people just put a mattress on the floor but I never did. Her crib was also in my room so she would spend some time in her crib and the other time in bed with me. Just before seven months we moved Anna to her room in her crib.

Sadly, there is a lot of misinformation about bed sharing. Many people mistakenly adopt the belief that it is unsafe. The truth is, it is a very Western philosophy that our babies should sleep separate from us and we are led to believe that by doing things that we should be doing instinctively (such as keeping our babies close) are wrong and dangerous. I think some of this can be generational too. My mother-in-law and I had a “debate” about bed sharing when Anna was younger. She told me it was dangerous and that I would smother my baby. She was of the generation that kept their babies in cribs, in nurseries, who always formula fed and let their kids cry it out at a young age. A lot has changed since then and both my instinct and the research supports responsive parenting and keeping your baby close.

There are more incidents of infant death associated with poor and unsafe crib use than there are of incidents of infant deaths in proper bed sharing. There is a lot of marketing out right now about “how dangerous” bed sharing is. It seems America is great about one thing: an all or nothing approach. To me it is like abstinence education. If you only teach about abstinence and people are still engaging in sex, then is that education effective? Should we not be teaching those individuals how to engage in sexual activities safely? The same mentality goes for bed sharing. If we just say to parents, “no, don’t do it!” But they continue to bed share, have we done them a disservice by not teaching them safe methods in doing so?

Ultimately, it is a decision that needs to be made by the parents. It most definitely can be done safely (never bed share when under the influence and keep baby next to mom). I don’t believe in fear tactics, such as telling someone by sleeping with their baby that they will smother and kill them. I believe in trusting your instincts as a mother. Co-sleeping and bed sharing made night time for me a whole lot easier. Nursing was a breeze; diaper changes were a breeze. Having her with me made it easier to get sleep when I otherwise would not have. I think it is also important to remember that this time in their life when they need you so much, when your baby takes priority over your partner, is a SHORT time. They will not need you so fiercely forever. Your partner will understand. Please don’t allow someone else’s misinformed beliefs change your decision about what is right for you and your family! I totally suggest looking into your local La Leche League if you are also interested in breastfeeding. They have a strong belief in attachment parenting. ~Jessica S.

Co-sleeping and bed sharing were things I honestly didn’t understand when I was pregnant. Why would any parent need to do this? Then we were blessed with a newborn who hated being swaddled and would only sleep on me. At first we tried having our son sleep in a Pack-n-Play right next to my side of the bed, but that didn’t work. He needed to be either right on me, or right next to me. Bed sharing became a necessity for any of us to get any sleep. As for doing it safely, we had a pretty firm mattress already and neither my husband or I move much when we sleep. Neither of us are especially sound sleepers either, so we trusted that we’d be able to do it safely. We switched out our king-sized pillows for standard pillows so there was a nice-sized gap between them on our king-sized bed. Our son slept between us, high up so there was no risk of our comforter becoming dangerous for him. We also don’t drink alcohol, smoke, or were on any prescription or non-prescription drugs. From the research I’ve done, a large percentage of accidents that happen with bed sharing involve drugs, alcohol or smoking. Parents should not sleep with their babies if anyone in the house smokes or if either parent drinks or is on any kind of drugs, even prescription drugs.

Everything that I read about the benefits of co-sleeping and bed sharing seemed to work for us. I became very attuned to my son and his sleep cycles and I would almost always wake up just moments before he did. And, most importantly, we all slept better. And for the myth that it’s bad for a relationship between parents? How is getting a better night’s sleep bad? It’s done for such a short amount of time in the grand scheme of a marriage. Here are a couple of links that show the benefits of co-sleeping and bed sharing and how to do it safely:

The benefits of co-sleeping

Addressing co-sleeping concerns

And from the University of Notre Dame: Safe Cosleeping Guidelines

We bed shared for about six months before we starting putting him to bed in his crib. Again, it came out of necessity as our son became quite a mover when he slept. My husband and I were no longer sleeping well, getting head-butted and kicked all night. Much to our surprise, he transitioned to sleeping in his crib really, really well. But even now, at 4 years old, he occasionally ends up in bed with us; especially when we are traveling. And he has no problem with going back to his own bed. ~Alex T.

I think bed sharing is potentially dangerous. In 2012, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development launched a safe-sleep campaign. In it they acknowledged that some parents are bed sharing, and suggest using a 3-sided co-sleeper next to the bed. This is a safe alternative which allows having a baby nearby without putting it at risk of smothering. ~Sue F.

We went through a two month phase of co-napping. Elizabeth would only take naps if she was nursed to sleep and then not moved. She was three months old when this happened and despite being a wonderful nighttime sleeper, she refused to nap. A new mama can only take so many weeks of her infant not napping and I had reached my limit. So one morning I nursed her in bed and then didn’t move a muscle for two hours while she slept. After a few days I became brave enough to actually sneak out of bed and let her nap alone in our bed. But as much as I needed to get housework done, I cherished her sweet snuggles and new baby smell even more. So most days I would nap with her cuddled up to my chest.

As far as safety goes, I kept the sheets and blankets at (her) waist level when she was in bed alone (of course, I was still very near by and checking on her every 45 seconds). When I would nap with her, I kept her slightly propped up on a pillow (this helped tremendously to curb the horrible vomiting after every feeding, which lasted seven months) and always made sure her face was clear. Most often I had an arm around her and kept her pulled close to me, with her body tilted away from mine. ~Michelle W.

If you want to co-sleep but bed sharing makes you nervous, a great option might be to “sidecar” your crib to the bed. Basically, you remove the side of the crib and attach it securely to your bed frame (using zip ties, bungee cords, etc). This way, your baby still has his or her own space, but is close enough to you to make nighttime nursing and comforting easier. Here’s a website that shows a bunch of examples of how to do this. ~Christina D.

I was hesitant about bed sharing with my first, because, like you, I had only heard about all the negatives. I even saw a billboard once when my first baby was very young that read “Babies belong in cribs, not caskets. Do not bed share.” It scared the hell out of me. But as it goes, my first had a hard time sleeping anywhere but on me, so our days and nights were going nowhere fast. We co-slept for about 7 months with her. I was extra super careful and we didn’t even use pillows or blankets. Then I had my second baby… and, well, he’s 8 months old and we’re still bed sharing. He’s particularly difficult about sleep. When he sleeps in the crib or the swing, he’ll wake up every fifteen minutes on the dot. When he co-sleeps, we get longer stretches. Not much longer, but longer than in the crib. For us, it’s a necessity. I’m much less intense about keeping him safe in our bed this time around, though.

Some basic rules to remember are to never let an infant co-sleep with an older child and make sure your head is level with baby’s head and the blankets don’t come up higher than baby’s waist. Of course, never co-sleep after you’ve been drinking or on any medication. Don’t let baby lay too close to the edge of the bed too, even if he isn’t rolling over yet. ~Cassie W.

The advice given here is solely based on our individual experiences and in no way is it going to be perfect for every mama, every baby, and every situation. None of us are medical doctors. If you have a question regarding a medical topic we can give our opinions, but please consult with your doctor. We are not liable or responsible for the results of following any specific advice in any given situation.

By Michelle W.

Michelle W. is a first time mama to Elizabeth, born in December 2012. She is the wife of a Marine, loves to sew, read, work out, and loves being a home manager (house wife). Her weaknesses are staying on a budget, almond sparkling wine, and Instagram. She tries to be the best wife and mommy possible, and believes there are no bad days, only bad moments.

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3 Responses to Ask the Mamas: Co-Sleeping Safety

  1. Pingback: 10 Ways to Help Increase Your Milk Supply Mama Say What?! | Mama Say What?!

  2. I really enjoyed your article. I started out co sleeping with my baby in her bassinet next to the bed because I couldn’t sleep with her too far away and eventually we moved to bed sharing because she sleeps so much better next to me and nursing is easier I either sleep with her facing me but a few inches away on the bed without a pillow or propped up on a pillow and my arm under her facing me and we’ve never had any problems im also a pretty light sleeper now after having her. My question is I was wondering why you advised not to bed share when on prescribed medications?

    • Thanks so much for the comment Taylor! So wonderful that you’ve been able to bed share and get better sleep!

      The advise about prescription medications is always going to vary on the medication and the situation. But pretty much any meds that can make a mama or daddy drowsy and/or potentially sleep deeper than what’s normal for them are the ones to be concerned about. They can inhibit that 6th sense that we mamas get when sleeping next to our babies.

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