Often a controversial topic in parenting circles, and the cause of many “mommy wars”, co-sleeping is heavily debated; but is co-sleeping dangerous?
The term, co-sleeping, seems to be a catch-all, referring to a myriad of sleep situations involving both parent(s) and child. Let’s further define some of the terms that fall under the co-sleeping umbrella:
Co-sleeping, or sleep-sharing, is the proper term for a child and parent sleeping within sensory distance of one another. “Modern” co-sleeping often uses a device called a co-sleeper, that attaches to the side of the bed, giving baby a safer sleeping area of his/her own, but allowing the caregiver to easily reach over for feedings or comfort.
Room-sharing is likely the most common scenario, where parents have a crib or bassinet in the room with them, allowing them to easily hear the baby and tend to his/her needs throughout the night.
Bed-sharing, or utilizing a family bed, refers to parent(s) and child sharing the same physical sleeping area.
When co-sleeping is referred to as being dangerous, bed-sharing is the term that is being referred to, with an increased risk of suffocation and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). So the quick answer is that yes, co-sleeping, specifically bed-sharing, can pose an increased risk of infant mortality.
From a [healthy and safe] sleep perspective, I don’t recommend bed-sharing. Bed-sharing often prevents parents from getting adequate and healthy rest; much needed with a newborn! You are also, unknowingly, creating a sleep association with your baby, requiring a parent to be present, and often in the parents’ bed. This can cause long term sleep issues with naps, requiring a parent to lay down with the child in order to fulfill that sleep association, and can be problematic if the baby needs to go to bed before a parent. My recommendation? Separate sleeping accommodations for baby and parent(s), whether it be a co-sleeper, crib or bassinet.
What can you do to decrease the risks associated with co-sleeping? Back is best! Make sure that your infant is positioned for sleep on his/her back, wearing minimal clothing (so as not to overheat), on a firm surface, devoid of pillows, comforters, plush toys, or any other soft items that can pose a potential risk.
If you do choose to co-sleep, my recommendation is to utilize room-sharing, as it is thought to reduce the risk of SIDS and is more conducive to healthier sleep for both parents and baby.