Most parents bring their babies in bed with them at one point or another. It usually happens in the early days, when mom and dad are super-exhausted. But bedsharing can be more than a move of desperation. For some families, it's a choice.
But whether you are sharing your bed with your baby for one night, or for much longer, according to Dr. James McKenna, anthropologist, Director of the Center for Behavioral Studies of Mother-Infant Sleep, Notre Dame University and author of Sleeping with Your Baby: A Parent's Guide to Cosleeping, there are guidelines to ensure you provide the safest sleeping environment for your child.
McKenna says the ideal bedsharing family is made up of sober, non-obese, non-smoking, breastfeeding parents who have made the deliberate decision to bedshare. And, he says, the safest way to sleep with your baby is to set up a mattress on the floor in the middle of the room, away from walls and bed frames.
Here are more do's (and don’ts) for parents who choose to nestle in closely with their wee ones.
Do Make sure that if your bed is on a frame, the headboard and footboard fit tightly, preventing the possibility of the baby getting stuck in a crack. Also ensure that the baby cannot roll into the crack beside the bed and the wall.
Do Consider using a bed rail if your bed is up high off the ground, to prevent the baby from rolling off at night.
Don’t Leave a baby alone in an adult bed.
Don't Bedshare in a water bed.
Don’t Use heavy comforters, duvets or fluffy pillows.
Don't Sleep with your baby on a couch or sofa.
Do Use layers of thin blankets and choose firm pillows and a firm mattress.
Don’t Bedshare in a room that is too warm or dress your baby too warmly. McKenna says overheating can contribute to SIDS. Think of how far a little body heat goes to keeping the whole family warm.
Do Make sure baby is on his back to go to sleep.
Don’t Bedshare if you smoke or smoked throughout your pregnancy. McKenna says that babies whose mothers smoked throughout their pregnancies can have tissue damage in the brain, particularly the part that helps them wake up at night.
Don’t Bedshare if you are excessively tired (yes, it’s true, most new parents are certifiably exhausted!), have been drinking or doing drugs.
Don’t Bedshare if you are bottle feeding. McKenna says that bottle-fed babies reap many of the same rewards of bedsharing when placed in a crib beside the mother. He says breastfeeding mom and baby pairs are more sensitive and responsive to each other than non-breastfeeding pairs, a sensitivity that is key to safe bedsharing.
Don’t Bedshare if there are other children or pets who are likely to climb into the bed and possibly suffocate the baby. McKenna says that older siblings who don’t understand the risks of suffocation pose a threat to babies under a year old.
Do Think about using a product like the The Arm's Reach Co-Sleeper if you want to co-sleep and don’t feel like you can safely do it with your baby in your bed.
Tips from the trenches on how to bedshare
Sarah Armstrong is a Montreal mother of four who has a family bed.
Their set up: Two double mattresses on the floor, side by side.
How it works in their house: Armstrong says she always covered her newborns with their own little fleece blanket or sleep sack — separate from the thicker blankets the bigger family members were using.
“I always made sure when the babies were really little that they were beside me, separate from the rest of the family,” says Armstrong. “A breastfeeding mother and her baby are so in tune that hurting the baby is never something I really worried about. You would immediately know if something was wrong — certainly more quickly than if the baby was in his own room.”