Co-sleeping with your little one can be a wonderful bonding experience. But before you decide to share your bed with your baby, it’s important to understand how to do it safely. Bed sharing comes with some risks that all parents should be aware of. With a few simple precautions, you can enjoy the snuggles and convenience of co-sleeping while minimizing potential dangers. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know to bed share safely with your infant.
Key Takeaways for Safe Bed Sharing
Here are the most important guidelines for safe co-sleeping with baby:
- Use a firm, flat mattress without any pillows, blankets or other soft bedding. An empty crib or bassinet pushed next to your bed can work well.
- Make sure baby sleeps alone on their back, not on their side or stomach.
- Ensure that baby won’t get trapped between the mattress and headboard, wall or other furniture.
- Don’t sleep with baby if you are extremely tired or have consumed alcohol, medication or other substances.
- Avoid overheating by keeping the room at a comfortable temperature and not overdressing baby.
- Breastfeed baby in bed to avoid having to stand and return them afterward.
- Place baby beside mom, not between parents or on dad’s chest.
- Keep long hair tied back and remove any necklaces or items that could pose a strangulation risk.
- Discuss safe sleep guidelines with anyone else who watches baby.
Following these basic safety tips will go a long way in creating a lower-risk co-sleeping environment for you and your little one. Now let’s look at each of these factors in more detail.
Choosing a Safe Sleep Surface
The first rule of safe co-sleeping is providing an appropriate sleep surface. Babies should be placed on a firm, flat mattress without any soft bedding.
Use a Crib or Bassinet
For maximum safety, a crib or bassinet pushed flush next to the parent’s bed is ideal for bed sharing. This provides baby their own separate sleep space while keeping them within arm’s reach.
With this setup, make sure the crib or bassinet:
- Fits snugly against the bed with no gaps. You don’t want baby getting trapped between surfaces.
- Has a firm mattress covered only with tight-fitting sheets. Don’t use any loose blankets, pillows, crib bumpers, positioners or other soft bedding.
Or a Firm Adult Mattress
If using your own bed to co-sleep, make sure your mattress is flat and firm. Soft mattresses and bedding increase the risk of suffocation. Avoid mattresses with a memory foam or pillow top which contour around baby’s face.
Ideally, place baby on their own sleep surface like a mini floor mattress or bedside co-sleeper bassinet. But in a pinch, a queen or king-sized adult mattress can work as long as it’s firm and clear of objects.
Keep the Sleep Area Free of Hazards
Whether using a crib, your own bed or a floor mattress, keep the baby’s sleep space clear of:
- Pillows, loose blankets, stuffed animals, bumper pads and positioners (anything that could cover the face)
- Gaps between the mattress and headboard, wall or other furniture
- Other people, pets or children that could rollover onto the infant
It’s also safest to pull the bed away from the wall to prevent entrapment.
Back Sleeping Position Only
Babies younger than one year should sleep alone on their backs for every sleep time – naps and nighttime. The back position is the safest for breathing and reduces the risk of suffocation, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and other dangers.
Never co-sleep with baby in the prone (stomach) or side positions. Infants don’t have the motor control to reliably lift and turn their head if their nose and mouth get blocked against bedding or a parent’s body. The prone position is especially hazardous.
Avoid Risk Factors for Unsafe Sleep
While no bed sharing situation is 100% risk-free, some circumstances make co-sleeping much more dangerous for baby. Avoid the following:
Extreme tiredness greatly increases the chance of accidentally rolling over or overlaying your baby while asleep. If you’re excessively sleepy or sleep deprived, have a spouse or someone else sleep next to your infant while you rest separately.
Medication, Drugs and Alcohol
Consuming alcohol, medications, drugs or other substances before bed affects your alertness and makes co-sleeping with baby incredibly dangerous. These substances impair your ability to wake up fully if baby needs you. Even small amounts can compromise responsiveness.
Thirdhand smoke residue on your skin, clothes and bedding poses a SIDS risk. If mom or dad smokes, they should sleep separately from baby. This includes e-cigarettes and vaping.
Preterm or Low Birth Weight Babies
Preemies and low birth weight infants are more at risk during co-sleeping due to immature breathing, difficulty arousing from sleep and temperature instability. Extra caution must be taken if bed sharing with a medically fragile baby.
Soft Sleep Surfaces and Bedding
Fluffy surfaces like waterbeds, couches, pillows or deep memory foam increase the chance of suffocation. Using soft bedding like pillows, quilts, duvets, comforters and sheepskins also contributes to SIDS.
Confinement and Entrapment Risks
Babies can become trapped between the mattress and wall, headboard or other furniture. Be sure to eliminate any gaps and contain baby away from hazards on all sides.
Bed Sharing with Others
Sleeping with multiple people makes co-sleeping less safe. Only bring baby into bed with one parent at a time. Older children, pets and other family members should sleep separately.
As long as these hazardous situations are avoided, bed sharing becomes much safer. Still not completely without risks, but definitely reduced.
Keep Baby Cool and Comfortable
Babies can’t effectively regulate their body temperature. Overheating during sleep raises the risk of SIDS. To keep baby comfortable and cool, focus on these tips:
Appropriate Room Temperature
Ideal conditions are between 68-72°F (20-22°C). In hotter climates, use air conditioning. In colder temperatures, a portable heater can safely warm the room. Avoid over-bundling and check baby’s chest or neck to see if they are getting too warm.
Dress baby in lightweight, breathable pajamas without any strings or ties around the neck area. Overdressing baby in too many layers can cause dangerous overheating.
No Excess Bedding
Never use loose blankets, quilts, comforters, pillows or crib bumpers which can bunch around baby’s face and impact breathing. Light swaddling and wearable blankets are safer alternatives if needed.
Ceiling Fans and Circulating Air
Running a ceiling fan on low above the co-sleeping area promotes healthy airflow. Small fans to circulate air can also be used safely. But keep all fans and air vents away from directly blowing on the infant.
Hydration During Night Feeds
Stay hydrated and nurse frequently through the night. Try keeping a covered water bottle on the nightstand. Hydrating breastmilk contains more water than formula, so nurse baby when co-sleeping. Avoid giving bottles in bed.
Keeping baby’s sleep environment at a comfortable temperature reduces the chance of dangerous overheating and SIDS.
Breastfeeding Makes Bed Sharing Safer
Breastfeeding provides major benefits when it comes to co-sleeping safety. Experts believe mother-infant proximity and nursing promote arousal from sleep for both parties. Here are some top tips for safer co-sleeping while nursing:
Feed Baby on Demand at Night
Frequent nighttime nursing maintains lighter, more responsive sleep for mom and baby. Immediately breastfeed baby back to sleep after night wakings without fully waking up. Don’t stand up, turn on lights or leave bed to return baby afterward.
Avoid Feeding Formula Before Bed
Formula takes longer to digest, so baby stays fuller longer. This allows them go into a deeper sleep for a prolonged time versus the lighter sleep state between breastfeeds. Stick to breastmilk if possible when bed sharing.
Use Laid-back Nursing Positions
Reclined positions where mom leans back and baby lies atop her chest can facilitate nursing and sleep. Avoid cradling baby tightly or holding them up in seated positions which could hinder breathing if you fall asleep.
Wait Until Breastfeeding is Well-Established
Consider waiting until breastfeeding is going smoothly, usually 4-6 weeks. The early days can be exhausting, making accidents more likely. But take each family’s unique needs and circumstances into account.
Stop Swaddling When Bed Sharing
Babies may have trouble signaling to nurse with their arms confined. To reduce SIDS risks, stop swaddling as soon as baby shows signs of trying to roll over. Use sleep sacks or wearable blankets instead.
Making breastmilk the nighttime food source and nursing frequently enhances safety and maternal vigilance when bed sharing. Research shows this practice reduces SIDS risks.
Where to Position Baby for Safe Co-Sleeping
Set up the co-sleeping environment to minimize chances of baby getting into a dangerous position or accidently smothered. Here are some tips:
Baby Sleeps Beside Mom
Place baby on their back between mom and the mattress, rather than between two parents. Mom’s awareness of baby is heightened. Dad is more prone to be oblivious to or potentially roll onto baby.
Keep Baby Away From Pillows
Don’t sleep with baby next to or above a pillow. Even small throw pillows can obstruct breathing. Mom should position her pillow far away from baby, even if it means sacrificing her own comfort a bit.
Avoid Letting Baby Sleep on Chest
While cute, sleeping on dad or another adult’s chest isn’t safe. Infants can easily get into face-down positions, get overlayed during chest sleep and overheat.
Use a Co-Sleeper Bassinet
A small bassinet or sidecar crib secured to bed provides baby their own sleep space while remaining close. This may allow rolling away or onto side without accidentally covering baby.
Contain Baby Between Parents
Create a barricade by having one parent sleep in front of baby and the other behind. Just don’t sandwich baby tightly in the middle. Use an adult body pillow on open side if needed.
Wait Until Baby is Older
SIDS risk falls after 6 months and baby has more control over head and neck. If you’re uncomfortable with a newborn in bed, try waiting a few more months until baby is bigger.
Careful positioning provides close contact while minimizing dangerous situations like airway obstruction and entrapment under adult bodies. Follow baby’s cues and adjust when needed.
Safety Tips for Bedding
SIDS research clearly shows soft bedding materials contribute to increased risk. Avoid these hazardous bedding options when co-sleeping:
Keep all pillows, including decorative ones, out of baby’s sleep area. Don’t sleep baby on or next to a pillow. Even a thin pillow can lead to rebreathing air, overheating and SIDS.
Blankets should be avoided since they can tangle around baby’s face and cause suffocation. Sleep sacks, swaddles or wearable blankets that won’t ride up to cover the face are better options.
Quilts and Comforters
Heavy quilts or bedding easily shift up over baby’s head and disrupt breathing. Opt for lighter sheets and blankets tucked tightly under the mattress.
These thick pads wrap around crib slats but pose a suffocation hazard if baby flips over or scoots into them. Most safety groups no longer recommend bumpers.
Sheepskins and Pillow-like Mattresses
Lambskin, fuzzy or pillow-top mattresses can conform to baby’s nose and mouth and limit oxygen. Use a firm, flat surface without indentations.
Wedges and Positioners
Products claiming to keep baby in place often end up being suffocation risks. Don’t use nested pillows, rolled towels/blankets or wedges near infant.
Aim for the bare crib/bassinet approach – nothing but a fitted sheet. Since adults move more in bed, be vigilant to ensure no bedding travels into baby’s space. Ask your pediatrician if unsure about a product.
Hazard Prevention and Caregiver Prep
Preparing the environment and caregivers helps eliminate suffocation, entrapment and overlay risks during co-sleeping. Here are some key precautions to take:
Remove Dangerous Objects
Get rid of anything that could cover baby’s face or cause entrapment, like toys, stuffed animals and decorative pillows. Keep cords, wires and window blinds well out of reach.
Tie Back Long Hair
Pull back long hair in a ponytail or braid to prevent tangling around baby’s face while side-lying.
Remove Loose Jewelry
Take off dangling earrings, necklaces, bracelets and hair accessories that could pose a strangulation hazard while in close contact.
Wear Proper Nightclothes
Avoid large, loose clothing with strings around the neck which could twist around baby. Button-down pajamas are ideal. Moms can wear a supportive cami-style top.
Limit Gaps Around Bed
Don’t push bed right against wall or furniture. Eliminate gaps where limbs could get trapped but baby’s body remain on bed. Secure any headboards or footboards to bed frame.
Talk to Childcare Providers
Discuss your co-sleeping practices with babysitters, daycares and anyone else caring for baby so safe sleep guidelines are followed consistently. Provide a safe sleep space for naps when away.
Monitor Baby’s Development
Watch for mobility milestones like rolling over, sitting up or crawling. Adjust co-sleeping position based on baby’s new abilities which may require more separation.
Remaining vigilant about potential hazards day and night is crucial to ensuring baby’s safety during co-sleeping. Adapt the setup as needed over time.
FAQs About Safe Bed Sharing
Let’s review some of the most commonly asked questions around co-sleeping with infants:
Is it okay to bring baby into bed for feedings and place back in crib later?
Yes, this is perfectly fine to do on occasion as long as safe sleep guidelines are followed. Put baby back in their crib before falling asleep and avoid bed sharing when overly tired.
What if baby rolls onto their stomach during sleep?
Gently roll baby back onto their back once noticed, even if it means waking them up. At a certain point, baby will gain the strength to flip themselves back over when ready developmentally.
Can I co-sleep if my partner is a deep sleeper?
It’s best if the partner most attuned to baby’s presence sleeps closest to baby, while the heavier sleeper takes the outer spot. Use blankets or pool noodles to create more separation if needed.
What about co-sleeping on a recliner or couch?
Sleeping with baby on chairs, couches, air mattresses and other makeshift surfaces is extremely dangerous and should be avoided. Only use a firm bed or standard crib/bassinet.
Is bed sharing safe for toddlers?
The risk of SIDS and suffocation drops dramatically after baby’s first year. Follow basic safety rules and modify the setup based on your toddler’s size, mobility and sleep habits.
Bond Safely with Your Baby
Co-sleeping can be an extremely rewarding way for parents and infants to spend time together, bond and make nighttime feedings easier. But safety must come first. Follow these evidence-based guidelines to minimize risk and have peace of mind when bed sharing with your precious little one! Sweet dreams!