We all want a good night’s sleep, but when it comes to where your baby sleeps you’re certain to get bombarded with advice. And if you dare admit to co-sleeping you’ll be an especially vulnerable target.
Of course, wherever your baby sleeps is your choice, and as long as you provide a safe sleeping environment, it’s nobody else’s business. This doesn’t mean, however, that those annoying critics won’t undermine you and have you second-guessing yourself. So just in case you are co-sleeping with your baby, and all this ‘helpful’ advice is sending you down the slippery slope of self-doubt, let’s bust a few myths on the topic.
Myth 1: Co-sleeping is dangerous
The definition of co-sleeping includes sleeping next to your baby on a separate surface, as well as bed-sharing. When it comes to bed sharing, maternal-infant sleep researchers have found that there are seven main risk factors for SIDS and suffocation: 1) adult smoking, 2) a caregiver under the influence of alcohol or other sedatives, 3) formula-feeding, 4) a baby with a health problem that prevents normal arousal from sleep, 5) baby sleeping on his stomach, 6) an overheated baby, and 7) a baby sleeping on a surface with gaps, crevices, or pillows.
Video footage from baby sleep labs at Durham University and the University of Notre Dame show that breastfeeding, bed-sharing mothers intuitively create a protective space around their babies by lying on their side, with the baby in the crook of their arm or with the mother’s lower arm bent upwards and knees bent, preventing the baby from slipping down in the bed. This prevents the mum from rolling towards her baby and means her partner can’t roll into that protected space. Breastfed babies instinctively snuggle towards their mum’s breast, away from pillows that could potentially be a suffocation hazard.
According to SIDS researcher Professor James McKenna, director of the Mother-Baby Sleep Laboratory at Notre Dame and author of the book Sleeping with Your Baby: A Parent's Guide to Cosleeping, sharing sleep with your baby can be potentially lifesaving. “Infants and babies give off cues and signals that caregivers need to react and respond to. By sleeping next to baby, the mother is able to promote baby's breathing stability … There is no scientific validation that says co-sleeping is bad,” he says. “Accidents, of course, happen, and there are risk factors, as with everything."
However, even the researchers who warn against bed-sharing agree that by about four months, bed-sharing by a responsible, nonsmoking adult is as safe as having your baby sleep separately in a bassinet or cot.
If, like up to 80 per cent of Australian parents with babies under six months, you are sharing sleep with your baby either occasionally or more often, check out Dr McKenna’s Safe Co-sleeping Guidelines and the SIDS and Kids guidelines.
Myth 2: You will make your baby dependent
The fact is, babies ARE dependent - they can’t walk, talk, dress or feed themselves yet. Nor can they regulate their emotions or understand that when you’re out of sight you haven’t abandoned them. Independence isn’t something we can force by pushing babies away, it is about biology; a baby needs and expects to be close to his mother to feel safe, secure and calm.
Research shows that when babies’ needs for dependency are met appropriately and consistently, they develop a sense of security that helps them feel confident to venture forth, explore and socialize in the future.
Myth 3: You’ll never get your baby out of your bed
Relax: at least right now you know who your kid is sleeping with (and what he is drinking). He may like to snuggle up to another nice warm body when he is 18, but it won’t be yours!
Seriously, if your sleeping arrangements are inconvenient or not working for you at any time, you can make changes, gradually, with love.
Myth 4: You have to go to bed when your baby does
If you want to go to bed early that’s your choice, but co-sleeping doesn’t have to be an ‘all or nothing’ proposal. It’s unsafe to leave your baby sleeping alone in an adult bed, but you can start your baby in his own bed then take him into your bed when he wakes to feed. Or you can use a co-sleeper bed, such as an Arms Reach co-sleeper, so you and your baby can share proximity and the convenience of sharing sleep while he has his own safe space. Alternatively, you may simply take your baby into your bed for an early morning snuggle. There is no ‘one size fits all’ definition of co-sleeping.
Myth 5: Co-sleeping will ruin your relationship
Having a baby will challenge your relationship, wherever your baby sleeps. Communication and respect are the keys to a happy relationship, not bickering and blaming the baby or where he sleeps. As there’s nothing like exhaustion to put a dampener on your sex life, it’s best to sleep where everyone gets the most sleep. If this means sharing sleep with your baby either in your bed or next to you, you may need to get a bit more creative about where you have sex. Rather than being a hindrance to your relationship, it could even spice things up a bit!
Pinky McKay is an internationally certified lactation consultant and best selling baby care author of Sleeping Like a Baby, Parenting By Heart and 100 Ways to Calm the Crying. Visit Pinky’s website at pinkymckay.com.