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With a sudden rush of emotions at the arrival of your newborn, you make unsaid promises to yourself to make the world a beautiful and safe place to live in. As a new parent, you do not want to go a second without your baby every day and night. This is when the major decision must be taken of co-sleeping or not.
Video: Co-sleeping – Benefits, Risks & Safety Guidelines
What Is Co-Sleeping and How Common Is It?
Co-sleeping is a broad term, which, in simple words, can be defined as sleeping with your baby in close proximity. It does not necessarily mean sleeping with your baby on an adult bed. You can have your baby sleep in a bassinet or a crib placed close to your bed. However, bed sharing-with a newborn is a common practice as babies are comforted by proximity to the mother.
Co-sleeping is more common than you think. It is one of the most debated practices prevailing across the globe for several years. While this is a common practice in India, experts have opposing views on its advisability is it is believed to raise the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). Sleeping in the same room is seen as a viable alternative to sharing a bed.
Japan and Hong Kong are reported to be among the top countries to practice co-sleeping with minimal SIDS, hence proving its advantage.
Co-sleeping has many benefits attributed to it. It helps in many ways as the baby is close enough to you, to see, hear, touch and smell. Some of the noted benefits of co-sleeping are:
- Breastfeeding made easier
Co-sleeping is a boon to breastfeeding mothers, especially when they are bed-sharing with their newborn, as they can tend to their little one’s need as and when required. This ensures continuation in milk supply and also helps in better mother-baby bonding by making the mother more responsive to the baby’s cues.
- Peaceful sleep
Some babies get startled in their sleep. Co-sleeping babies can be immediately calmed down as the mother is within reach. This ensures peaceful sleep for both the parents and the baby, as not much time is wasted in putting the crying baby at ease.
- Physiological stability
Co-sleeping babies have been reported to have more stable temperatures, regular heart rhythms, and fewer long pauses in breathing in comparison to babies who sleep alone. Therefore, they have stable physiological growth.
- Reduces fatigue
After a tiring day at work or home, the best thing anyone can have is uninterrupted sleep. While co-sleeping, the mother can check on the baby with a mere glance or touch rather than having to move from one room to the other.
- Reduces stress
Stress hormones are considerably lower in co-sleeping mothers and babies as co-sleeping maintains the balance in the stress hormone cortisol. Remaining stress-free is important for a baby’s overall healthy growth.
- Diminishes possibility of SIDS if done correctly
This might seem contradictory as co-sleeping is often linked with SIDS. However, the fact is that the risk of SIDS is diminished with co-sleeping as the mothers can monitor the sleeping position of the babies. The risk emerges when babies sleep on their tummy or roll over to their tummy from the side. The babies should ideally sleep on their back to eliminate the risk of SIDS. If you are co-sleeping with your baby, ensure to follow the safety guidelines (listed below).
Safety Guidelines for Bed Sharing
While there is no conclusive data to back the claim, bed-sharing has been flagged as one of the possible cause of SIDS. Hence, to be on the safe side, a certain amount of care must be taken to ensure safe bed-sharing with a newborn.
A few things that should be given utmost importance are:
- Do not co-sleep with your infant if you or your partner have been smoking or have been under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or any other form of intoxication, lest you pass out unaware of the baby’s presence.
- Breastfeeding mothers should not doze off while the little one is still suckling.
- Mothers who bottle-feed their infants must place the baby’s head at a 30-degree angle to avoid choking.
- Although lots of cushions and pillows look picture-worthy, they must be avoided while co-sharing the bed with a baby to avoid suffocation.
- The bed should be large enough to accommodate the number of people sleeping on it to avoid congestion.
- The mattress must have a firm surface and soft fabric. Avoid using water beds, couch or recliners to co-sleep.
- Mothers with long hair should tie their hair up into a bun or any other way to avoid infant entanglement.
- Bed-sharing, if shared by two adults and a baby, must be done with mutual consent and understanding, so the adults are aware of the baby’s presence while they are asleep.
- Avoid using huge blankets that might cover the baby’s face making it difficult for the baby to breathe.
- Keep the speed of the ceiling fan or the temperature of the air conditioner in the room suitable to your baby’s requirement. Too hot or too cold can lead to extreme body temperature and put the baby at risk of SIDS.
- Avoid swaddling your baby if co-sleeping. Sleeping together may cause overheating, and a baby who is swaddled will not be able to move around or alert a parent if it occurs.
- Premature and low-birth-weight babies are at a higher risk of SIDS. While co-sleeping ensures they receive consistent care and feeding throughout the night, it also raises concerns about regulating body temperature and increases the risk of being smothered. Ensure to meet the baby sleep safety guidelines discussed in the above points to lower these risks.
Risks of Co-sleeping
Like everything else in the world, co-sleeping has its own evils. Although it helps in better bonding, it comes with a lot of repercussions. A woman in the U.S. was recently imprisoned for her negligence while co-sleeping which led to her baby’s death, triggering the debate of various risks involved in co-sleeping. Some of the risks are:
- A recent study suggests that co-sleeping or bed-sharing with your newborn up to the age of 0-5 months is the main contributor to SIDS.
- Babies might get trapped by the bed-frames, headboard or footboard.
- Falling off the bed, if left unattended
- Getting stuck between the bed and wall
- Having an unaware individual sleeping beside the baby with negligence
- Being suffocated by pillows, blankets or soft toys placed around the bed
Long Term Effects on the Child Due to Bed Sharing
Co-sleeping affects both the physiological development of the baby and the psychological development of children.
Listed below are some of the positive outcomes of co-slept babies as opposed to sleep alone babies:
- Happier and less anxious
- Higher self-esteem
- Not afraid of sleep
- Fewer behavioral problems
- Comfortable with intimacy
- Better attachment with parents
- Better adjusted
- More independent
While there are several positive effects of the practice, the possible negative aspects cannot be ignored. Some of these include:
- Inability to self-soothe
- Lack of coping skills
- Stunted identity
Please note that the long-term effects will vary across children, and many of the potential negative effects can be averted by following positive parenting practices such as helping the child learn to self-soothe and teaching them to be self-reliant.
Conclusion: Weighing in all the benefits and risks, parents can decide what is best for them and their baby. Safety guidelines must be followed if you want to co-sleep. If you decide against co-sleeping, make sure not to leave your baby alone without any adult supervision. It is a good idea to consider room-sharing so that you can still be close to your baby and ensure they are safe.