Controversy over whether or not co-sleeping is safe has fueled debate among parents and doctors. There seems to be two distinct sides of this dispute. One side argues that co-sleeping is a unique opportunity for caregiver and infant to bond and encourage breastfeeding, while the other side contests that co-sleeping endangers your baby.
By definition, co-sleeping involves an infant sleeping within sensory range of a parent or other caregiver. This proximity is intended to allow the parent and infant the ability to recognize and respond to each other through touch, sound, and smell. There are several different types of co-sleeping, including bed-sharing and room-sharing.
Supporters of co-sleeping maintain that this arrangement helps the baby regulate sleep patterns, heart rate, and breathing by having a caregiver model these behaviors. According to the University of Notre Dame Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory, babies are “designed to wake often to breastfeed” and co-sleeping provides a comforting environment for this to occur naturally. Co-sleeping also encourages breastfeeding, by allowing the mother the opportunity to recognize and respond to their infant’s signs of hunger immediately.
The mother can also detect signs of trouble more easily and respond accordingly. Once feeding is over, babies tend to fall asleep more easily while co-sleeping due the comfort and safety provided by the mother. Co-sleeping also eliminates the unnecessary transfer of the baby to another room and sleeping space.
Overall, the primary reason supporting co-sleeping is the wonderful bonding opportunity provided to caregivers and infants alike. If your baby is in daycare, this provides a much needed opportunity to regain the closeness that you could not gain during the day. Many also believe co-sleeping reduces the risk of SIDS if performed safely.
Non-western cultures practice co-sleeping in a variety of ways regularly. The Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory has determined that co-sleeping is a “cross-cultural human universal” behavior, designed to facilitate the social and psychological development of your infant. Not only is this a universal behavior, but the Sleep Laboratory also indicated that “early dependence leads to early independence and self-sufficiency.”
Concerned over infant safety, there are many that do not support co-sleeping. Safety concerns include infant suffocation due to soft bedding or caregivers rolling over, strangulation from drapery or cords, falling from the bed, and an increase in the chances of SIDS due to improper co-sleeping.
The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission warns “parents and caregivers about the dangers of placing babies to sleep in adult beds.” The CPSC believes this action can lead to increased “risk of suffocation or strangulation.” The same study “revealed an average 64 deaths per year to babies under the age of 2 years placed to sleep in adult beds.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics recognizes the link between more frequent breast-feeding and mother-infant bonding with co-sleeping. However, they recommend that although proximity to the infant is encouraged, a separate sleep space is best. The AAP has concluded that room-sharing is best, since bed-sharing “is more hazardous than the infant sleeping on a separate sleep surface.”
Room-sharing seems to be the most accepted form of co-sleeping among both sides of this debate. This tends to eliminate many of the safety warnings the AAP is worried about. This can be done by using a bassinet or co-sleeper that attaches to the parent’s bed. Many argue that if done right bed-sharing can be safer then crib sleeping.
Here are some recommended safety guidelines if you choose to bed-share:
- Do not allow other children or parents under chemical influence (alcohol, prescription drugs, etc.) to bed-share
- Avoid exposure to people that smoke to prevent increasing the risk of SIDS
- Always place your baby to sleep on their back (regardless of where your baby is sleeping)
- Avoid soft bedding and excess of blankets and pillows
- Make sure the headboard is free of holes that the baby could get stuck in
- Make sure the mattress is snug in the bedframe and as close to the floor as practical. Some bed-sharing parents place the mattress directly on the floor to avoid falls. If this is not possible consider using bed rails or having the baby sleep with two parents to avoid rolling.
- Never leave the baby alone on the bed
- Remove all drapes, cords, or strings that the baby could strangle on
Central PA offers several opportunities to meet with mothers interested in co-sleeping. York’s Natural Minded Mommies is a wonderful resource and support group for breastfeeding, cloth diapering, co-sleeping, and other attachment parenting topics. Visit the following website for more information: http://www.meetup.com/YorksNaturalMindedMommies/
The Midwifery Today Conference is another wonderful resource for information about co-sleeping as well as other attachement parenting topics. This conference is held in Harrisburg, PA from April 11 – 15, 2012. Visit the following website for more information: http://midwiferytoday.com/conferences/Harrisburg2012/
As you welcome your new baby into the world, it is important to remember to discuss all concerns with your baby’s doctor prior to making any decisions about your baby’s sleeping arrangements and other health concerns.
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