Where your baby sleeps is not something that you’re going to figure out overnight. And while it’s something you probably decided on before your baby was born, once he’s home it’s a whole different story, and the chances of your family playing musical beds in those first crazy weeks are high. When it comes to co-sleeping or cot-sleeping, there is really no right or wrong. There are, however, benefits and risk factors to both options.
CO-SLEEPING: THE ARGUMENT
According to Meg Faure, co-author of baby books Baby Sense and Your Sensory Baby, two things usually dictate co-sleeping: whether there is space in the house for a nursery, or even space in your room for a cot? “Some moms have no choice but to put their babies in their beds ,and it’s unfair to make them feel guilty for doing what they have to do,” she says.
Another practical reason for co-sleeping is that close proximity is believed to facilitate breastfeeding. There is evidence that babies who room-in at hospital or co-sleep at home breastfeed for longer and possibly sleep better. “It’s easier for mom if her baby is right there. If he’s in the bed with her, there’s free access to her breast as well,” explains Meg.
Meg is sceptical of the bonding benefits of co-sleeping. “You don’t have to have a natural delivery to facilitate bonding, and you don’t have to sleep with your baby to bond with him. Bonding happens over time from pregnancy through the first year of life, regardless of some of the practical choices a mom makes.”
Even if you follow the safe co-sleeping guidelines, accidents can happen. There is the risk of rolling onto your baby and if you’re feeding your baby in bed with you, you could well fall asleep while cuddled up with him. If this is what co-sleeping means to you, then you can’t do it. If you opt to co-sleep, you have to be absolutely vigilant about it, which is not always possible when you’re in that newborn haze.
“A mom who’s on heavy medication after a c-section should not co-sleep as she’s more likely to suffocate her baby,” warns Meg. “The same applies to anyone who has been drinking alcohol.”
COT-SLEEPING: THE ARGUMENT
According to Meg, a baby that sleeps in his own room in his own cot has a stronger chance of developing his own sleep cycle.
However, this only happens from 4 to 6 months, when he starts to learn to self soothe. Before then, babies need you to regulate everything for them and the only real benefit for a baby sleeping in his own room would be for your own sleep.
Often it’s better for a mom if her baby is in a separate room and this ultimately benefits her baby too. As we know – what’s good for mom is good for baby. “While some moms co-sleep for practical reasons, others put their babies in a separate room for practical reasons too and you can’t make them feel bad for this.
For example, a mom that is suffering from postnatal depression, or is a light sleeper, may cope better with her baby in a separate room. It’s far better for her to be rested than overtired and unable to engage with her baby,” she stresses.
Finally, Meg maintains that the risks of cot-sleeping (granted that you follow the sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, guidelines are much lower than they are for co-sleeping and a baby in his own cot in his own room is just as safe as a baby in his own cot in his parents’ room.
The middle ground
“If you consider the benefits of co-sleeping and close proximity in the early days, then a cot in your room isn’t a bad idea,” says Meg.“You eliminate the risk of smothering that goes with co-sleeping, but you still have all the benefits of close proximity. If the cot is right next to your bed, or attached to your bed, you can reach across and put your hand on him to settle him and you don’t have to get up repeatedly.”
It’s a good idea to move your baby out of your room before he hits the four-month mark. Newborn babies don’t develop sleep habits, but if you keep him in your bed or room forever, you could well have a poor sleeper later on, warns Meg, adding that the benefits of co-sleeping decrease substantially from six months.
What about SIDS?
Since the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that all babies should be placed on their backs in 1992, deaths from SIDS have declined dramatically. But sleep-related deaths from other causes, including suffocation, entrapment and asphyxia have increased. It’s vital that you comply with the following tips for the safety of your baby, no matter what sleep option you choose.
- Place your baby to sleep on his back or side. If you place him on his side, use a wedge to stop him from rolling over onto his stomach. Invest in a “snuggle nest” that will keep him in his own space should anyone accidentally roll onto him.
- Place your baby between you and your partner, and never on the edge of the bed.
- Never share a duvet or pillow with your baby. Dress him in an extra layer to what you have on and swaddle him. If he doesn’t like swaddling, a loose cotton knit blanket should suffice. Whatever happens, it’s imperative that he has his own set of covers.
- Make sure that your bed is firm, almost as hard as a futon. A waterbed or a very soft mattress is a high risk factor.
- Be careful not to overheat your baby with a hat, too many layers or heaters. Don’t sleep with an electric blanket on or place any hot water bottles or happy huggers in the bed.
- Again, always place your baby to sleep on his back or side. Stomach-sleepers have an increased risk of SIDS.
- Place your baby at the bottom of the cot so he can shift up.
- Never give your baby a duvet or pillow. Dress him in one more layer than what you have on and swaddle him. Remove soft toys and cot bumpers. They don’t prevent injuries, but pose a risk of suffocation, strangulation or entrapment.
- Your baby’s mattress needs to be firm. Breathing holes are irrelevant because he shouldn’t be face down anyway.
- Don’t overheat your baby with a hat, lots of layers or heaters. Don’t place an electric blanket, hot water bottles or happy huggers in the cot.