When I was pregnant with my first son, my husband and I read our way through a pile of books on pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and parenting. As we eagerly discussed all our new ideas, my husband shared one that floored me.
He wanted to ditch the beautiful, adorable, and rather expensive convertible timber cot we had just bought after a great deal of deliberation…and have our baby sleep in our bed! Did I mention how beautiful that cot was? It was our one big baby purchase. I loved it so. When we set it up in the ‘nursery’ it seemed to say “This is real. We’re having a baby!!”
My husband gave me plenty of reasons for co-sleeping or bedsharing and they all sounded remarkably sensible. He told me how co-sleeping regulates baby’s temperature, heart beat and breathing, promotes breastfeeding, and provides our baby with the reassurance and comfort he is used to.
But I was terrified of putting my baby at risk. A baby seemed so fragile. Surely, our baby would be safer in a cot on his own? We would start with the cot and maybe when our baby was a bit bigger he might sleep next to me.
Our newborn had his own ideas. He preferred to sleep in my arms and preferably chest-to-chest on top of me with his head just below my lips. I didn’t mind – I loved smelling his fuzzy, soft, fresh baby hair. I kept putting him down in the cot once he was asleep but when he was about four months old, he moved into our bed and slept next to me each night from the beginning. He didn’t go back into the cot until we converted it to a toddler bed when he was older.
During this time, I did my own reading about co-sleeping so I could make sure we were using the safest arrangement possible. I learnt from Dr James McKenna that it was best to put the bed on the floor. So out to the shed went our bedframe. We put away the feather filled doona and used blankets and sheets only. Now we had the peace of mind knowing that our baby wouldn’t roll out and hurt himself and he wouldn’t overheat. I slept with one small pillow long ways, under my head and not near my baby. I was very careful with where the bedding was placed and checked for any gaps around the mattress frequently. Our bedroom may have looked odd to other adults but it worked well for us.
When it came to our second baby, I didn’t think twice about bedsharing. I knew the benefits and was confident I knew how to keep my baby safe. I also knew that there were no significant difficulties in transitioning a child out of the bed and my older son was now sleeping happily in his own bed and own room most nights.
Many families will have a baby or toddler in their bed at some stage. Occasional and unplanned bedsharing seems more likely to be risky, as parents may not be aware of safety recommendations or may not be able to set up a safe sleep environment. For example, parents end up bedsharing with their baby in a hotel room or at a relative’s house when baby is unsettled away from home. Or an intoxicated or exhausted parent accidently falls asleep with baby in the bed and sleeps too heavily to be aware of where the baby is. Smokers should not bedshare and either should obese parents according to research into safe co sleeping. Occasional and unplanned bedsharing seems more likely to place a baby at risk of suffocation or an injury than planned and carefully considered bed sharing.
Now researchers from Murdoch University are asking health organisations to rethink their statements about the risks associated with bedsharing.
Associate Professor Catherine Fetherston said a critical risk factor was unsuitable environments, which could involve too much soft bedding, sleeping with siblings or pets and sofa-sleeping.
“Often when researchers look at bedsharing, they include sofa-sharing or armchair-sharing, which have been shown to be very dangerous, with a number of associated deaths,” she said. “In fact, when you remove deaths associated with sofa-sharing from the analysis, the rate of bedsharing deaths is lower than the rate found in babies sleeping by themselves in cots.”
She added that more could be done by agencies to highlight breastfeeding’s role in protecting against SIDS, saying breastfed babies who bedshared benefited physiologically, with more stable temperatures and heart rhythms, better oxygen saturation and fewer pauses in breathing. “While we accept the need for preventative strategies to reduce sleep-related infant deaths, we believe health agencies should shift from absolute messages discouraging bedsharing to messages that address known risk factors.”
We need to focus on knowing what the safest bedsharing looks like and avoiding sleeping with our babies when the conditions are not ideal.
Links for further reading:
*Now I have read the reports in the media recently about the study from Auckland that concluded there was a significant increase in SIDS amongst cosleeping infants under 3 months. haven’t read the actual paper to see what information they used to reach the conclusion. I think parents are still going to co sleep, either intentionally or out of fatigue and desperation when nothing else seems to work, so we need to realise this and educate and support parents about the safest options for sleep and what alternatives might work for them if they are not going to bed share and bed share safely. Personally I would still prefer to have my babies within arms reach than in that beautiful cot across the room or in a separate nursery.