Bed sharing and having young babies seem to go hand in hand. Little human mammals expect to sleep close to their parents and often won’t settle if this doesn’t happen. Up until the last 100-200 years babies commonly slept with their parent and around the world this is still common. It is more common for families who are breastfeeding to bed share but many families who formula feed also bed share.
There are many terms that are often confused. One term is co-sleeping. This is when a baby and another person are sharing a sleep space. Often this is confused with bed sharing. When you are bed sharing, having an infant sleep with another adult in a bed, you are co-sleeping but not all co-sleepers are bed sharing. Make sense? On a couch? Co-sleeping but not bed sharing. For more information check out our podcast on this!
Since the infant mortality coalitions have started the campaign of “never bed share” with your baby, an unanticipated result seems to be infant deaths on couches and chairs have been sky rocketing. This unintended consequence seems to be having the “safe sleep” folks reconsider their approach to reducing infant mortality.
Helping to make sleep safer
This re-thinking has caused a re-framing of just say no, “never sleep with your baby”, to a risk reduction approach at least at the state level here in Michigan. This outstanding webinar by Marji Cyrul discusses what the current research actually says. Many families choose to bed share but many families end up sleeping their babies because the baby will not sleep unless they are touching another human being. I say, smart baby! Being close to a parent helped keep a baby safe not too long ago. Humans are a carrying species and our babies expect to be close to us.
Many of us don’t have to worry about tigers eating our babies any more but our little ones don’t know about all of the modern changes that make life so much safer for them. They just want warmth, security, and food. The nursing parent provides all of that for them.
Having your baby appropriately dressed (Not to warm, not too cold.), in your bedroom for the first twelve months (How come we aren’t talking about this?), close at hand but in their own separate sleep space with no blankets, pillows, bumper pads (Why are stores still selling bumper pads?) in the sleep space with them, is safest. In my experience, this perfect sleep scenario is rare.
I have been involved with La Leche League for over 24 years. They know that bed sharing and breastfeeding often go hand in hand so they have developed a list of suggestions to help reduce the risk of infant death while bed sharing.
Families need to feel comfortable with their choices. Be clear, I am not recommending that families bed share. I am saying if you do bed share, here are some ways to make it safer.
Here are the Safe Sleep Seven:
Safe Sleep Seven
1. No smoking! Research shows that babies who sleep with smokers are more likely to die in bed.
2. No drinking alcohol or taking drugs. One should be sober when bed sharing. What about medications for a Cesarean Section? So not just drugs you might be taking for fun but any medication that might cause physical or mental impairment. BTW, go a head and have a glass of wine or beer, just sober up before bed!
3. Breastfeed. This is rarely talked about but most babies who die in beds with their families are formula fed. Yep. Watch this award winning news story to learn more.
4. Healthy and full term baby. This news story is what spurred me on to write this. When you have a fragile baby they are much more likely to die period, but bed sharing is more of a risk. No one told this mother that this was a risk factor. Her fragile baby stopped growing in the uterus and had to be delivered by emergency Ceasarain Section at 38 weeks. He was only 5 lbs 3 oz at birth.
5. Back to sleep. After you are done feeding make sure to roll them on their back. Have them near you but in the safest sleep position.
6. Dress lightly. Being over heated is associated with infant death, in bed or not!
7. Be on a safe surface. I think back to my first weeks with my first son and we slept together, him on my chest, on my husband’s old lazy boy reclined for hours each night. We would have been so much safer on a firm flat mattress with no blankets or pillows near the baby.
If you have a pillow top mattress consider putting a yoga mat under where the nursing parent and the baby are sleeping to make the surface firmer. I remember going into a home for a breastfeeding consultation many years ago. The beautiful baby was sound asleep in their bassinet. But was that safe? Not! The baby was sleeping on a feather pillow which had been put in the bed! It would have been easy for this baby to suffocate against that.
The lack of sleep is one of the hardest aspects of having a baby. Families are desperate to get more sleep. The Safe Sleep Seven can help us reduce the risks of bed sharing.