When raising a child, there are several ‘hot topics’ that new parents might agree or disagree on. One of the most common is whether co-sleeping or room-sharing is safe, and therefore right for your baby. Before we continue, it’s important that parents understand the difference between the two. Co-sleeping or bed-sharing is sharing a bed with or the same sleep surface as the baby. Room sharing is sleeping in the same room as your child but they are in their own sleep environment such as a cot and you are in a separate bed.
Parents co-sleep or bed-share for several reasons. For instance, some families may not have space for a dedicated nursery, or full-size crib in their room and some do it as they feel it will form a closer bond between them and their baby. For some, it is out of necessity and not necessarily choice as they simply cannot get their baby to settle and sleep well in their own separate sleep environment. Whatever the sleeping arrangements may be, the number 1 priority must be the safety of the baby while they sleep.
There are several advantages to co-sleeping. For example, both parents and babies often get more sleep and the night time routine tends to be much easier. Although babies will always stir and wake through the night for feeds, the close proximity to their parents may allow for a quicker feed. However, co-sleeping does not always mean better sleep for all!
However, I often hear from parents who may have chosen to co-sleep with their little one that the reality is that the parent's sleep is hugely disrupted due to the movement of their child and very often constant feeding demands during the night.
Room sharing is safe from any age as you and your child are in separate sleep environments but in the same room. In fact, room sharing is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) from newborn babies and for at least the first six months to the full first year if possible. There is evidence to suggest that room-sharing decreases the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) by up to 50%. SIDS is the unexplained death of a baby younger than one year.
Co-sleeping, on the other hand, is not safe. Although it can be tempting to snuggle up with your little one when they’re distressed, poorly or struggling to sleep, the risks are just too significant, especially for a newborn. There’s always the risk of parents rolling over in the night, baby falling off the bed or suffocation within heavy duvets or pillows.
There are a number of arguments for and against both of the above, but one of the strongest reasonings against bedsharing specifically is the increased risk of SIDS. If bed-sharing is unavoidable, there are steps you can take to make the space as safe as possible for your baby and reduce the risk factors. These include not drinking, smoking or taking any medication that impacts sleep before going to bed and ensuring that you’re not entirely sleep-deprived.
One of the possible adverse effects of co-sleeping is the impact it can have on the alone time and intimacy for parents. As with all areas of parenting, both co-sleeping parents should be on board and agree that it is the right path for your family unit. By agreeing, there is less chance of conflict or tension between partners.
Furthermore, parents who co-sleep for longer than recommended could struggle when it comes time for a change in sleeping arrangement, and the little one goes to their own room. There is also the risk of separation anxiety at this time.
Working on establishing more settled sleep while room-sharing may be more challenging if as technically the baby isn’t ‘alone’, but it’s not impossible.
Consider moving the cot away from your bed so that you are creating a little distance between you and baby. You can do this gradually so that there isn’t a bit jump to your baby no longer being beside your bed. By creating space, you will slowly get your baby more comfortable with settling independently of your physical presence. It may also give you the space to allow them to work through their light sleep phases, mooching and grumbles. You may be less likely to jump to every movement which could actually be interrupting your child's sleep phases rather than assisting them with maintaining their sleep.
During this phase, your baby may express frustration with the changes but by understanding your child is learning a new skill around soothing themselves to sleep you will help them gain a gift around sleeping that they will take long into the future. Consistency is key here and by being consistent your child will begin to know the ques to bedtime and expect that sleep is coming.
New parents might find that the majority of the first year or so they are navigating the dos and don’ts of baby sleep. The best place to start is to learn and understand all the facts around safe infant sleep and the risks, including sudden infant death syndrome. Then, you can make an informed decision about co-sleeping or room sharing based on what’s best for your baby and you as a family. If you struggle with this decision, as all families are different, then consider consulting an expert for help.
Erica Hargaden is a certified Child Sleep Consultant with her private practise Babogue. In the last 12 months through her 1:1 services and online program The Sleep Series she has helped over 1,000 families in 17 different countries get closer to their sleep goals. Her 7 Steps to Better Sleep is at the core of everything she does. If you would like to learn more check out @babogue_sleep, www.babogue.com or email email@example.com