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There are many differing opinions about where babies should sleep, which often confuses new parents. Lactation consultant and general counsellor Erica Neser reiterates that there’s no right or wrong – each family needs to figure out what works best and feels right for them.
Many babies are unsettled on the first night at home. Parents may feel nervous without the reassurance of hospital staff and are often unable to sleep even if their baby does. It is normal to want your baby close, day and night, where you can watch over him, and it’s normal for babies to resist sleeping alone.
Different sleeping arrangements
Baby in his own cot
Your baby sleeps in his own room or in a cot in your room some distance away from your bed. The upside is that you:
- can stretch out and toss and turn in your regular space
- don’t hear every little noise your baby makes
- have the privacy to interact with your spouse during the night
On the down side, you:
- may lie awake wondering if your baby is safe, warm and comfortable, or you just miss him
- may need to get up to feed and/or comfort your baby many times during the night, which is especially difficult in winter
- may have trouble falling asleep again
Baby in parents’ bed
Human babies have been sleeping close to their parents for thousands of generations. It is the safest, most natural, convenient and logical place for a baby to sleep. It is only since the late 1800s and only in Western societies that ‘experts’ started recommending that babies should sleep separate from their parents.
Your baby is NOT spoilt or naughty if he sleeps with you. Why should a baby – the most vulnerable member of the family – sleep alone, when most adults feel safer sleeping close to a loved one?
The advantages of co-sleeping:
- You don’t have to get up, or even sit up, to feed or comfort baby.
- Your sleep cycles become synchronised with your baby’s.
- You regulate baby’s temperature without even waking up.
- You can breastfeed in your sleep.
- Bed-sharing babies stir more (a protective measure), but cry less.
- A study from the College of Nursing at East Tennessee State University, which appeared in the 2004 Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic and Neonatal Nursing, shows that co-sleeping mums get more sleep in total than those whose babies sleep in a separate room.
On the down side, you:
- may not be able to toss and turn or stretch out much
- may have to get a little creative to make time and space for cuddling and intimacy with your spouse
- may crave some body space and feel ‘touched out’ if baby has been in your arms all day long
Safe bed-sharing guidelines
- Don’t bed-share if one or both parents smoke – let baby sleep in your room, but not in the same bed (even if you never smoke in the bedroom).
- Don’t do it if you are drunk or drugged – better yet, don’t get drunk or drugged if you have a baby!
- Don’t bed-share if you are seriously overweight or obese.
- Don’t bed-share with a premature baby.
- Babies must NEVER sleep with you on a couch or waterbed – these are not safe for babies.
- Avoid lots of bedding (duvets, heavy quilts, fluffy pillows, etc.) when you bed-share.
- Don’t swaddle baby when bed-sharing.
- There should be no spaces next to the bed that could trap baby – the bed must be either firmly against the wall or far away from the wall.
- Baby must sleep on his back, not on his stomach.
- Don’t let other children (or pets) sleep with a small baby.
Plenty of research focusing specifically on sleep position and SIDS has clearly demonstrated that tummy sleeping greatly increases the risk of SIDS. Put your baby on his back to sleep. Babies may sleep ‘better’ on their tummies, but very deep and long sleep may increase the risk of SIDS.
These days most experts recommend that babies sleep right next to their mothers, but on a separate surface such as a co-sleeper cot to avoid unsafe bed-sharing practices. Room-sharing is advised for at least the first six months, but longer if it suits the family. Sleeping alone in a separate room doubles the risk of SIDS.]
Find the best middle ground
For many families, it is possible to combine bed-sharing and separate sleep. Your little one may be willing to sleep in their own cot some of but not all the time. Another option is to have a co-sleeper cot that stands right next to your bed. This option has many of the benefits of bed-sharing and cot sleeping, and almost none of the drawbacks.
Cot-sleeping for newborns
The biological norm is for babies to sleep close to (or in the arms of) another person, day and night. However, the absence of extended families and the rise of the nuclear family meant the loss of many pairs of loving arms available to hold babies while they sleep. Modern mothers are expected to cope alone and get so much done with very little support. All babies gradually start to sleep in their own space as they grow, and you don’t need to fear that baby will always want to sleep in your arms.
Some cot-sleeping tips
- Wait until baby is in deep, ‘floppy’ sleep before transferring him to his cot.
- Lower him bum first onto the mattress, to avoid having his head lower than his bum.
- Hold your hands firmly on his chest and rock or pat him if he startles.
- Use your voice to reassure him.
- If he cries, cuddle him back to sleep and try again later (or keep holding him for this nap and try again next nap… or tomorrow).
- Accept that this is a process that takes time.
- Always respond to your baby and reassure him he is safe.