How to Co-Sleep Safely

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  • March 12, 2013

co-sleepHow you choose to sleep is personal, and if you choose to co-sleep, there are a few things you need to know in order to be safe and secure. I feel that parents really need to ask themselves a few questions before they make the decision to co-sleep, even if it’s just for a couple days so that they can get some sleep. First, you need to be clear about your intention. Why are you co-sleeping? And how long? Do you just want to co-sleep for a few months or years? Or are you utilizing co-sleeping as a backup for those desparate moments before you and your baby are ready for sleep coaching. Regardless of your reasons, it is essential to co-sleep safely.

I would encourage you to explore alternative options to bedsharing, as well. Perhaps putting an Arm’s Reach Natural Original Co-Sleeper or a crib next to the bed is a better choice for your situation. Both of these are safe middle-of-the-road options. Neither a cosleeper or crib pose a suffocation hazard, and you still have the benefit of keeping your baby close to you if you do not want to bed share.

If you do make the decision to co-sleep, consider this: have you ever looked at the difference between a crib mattress and an adult mattress? Most people probably don’t give it a second thought, but pillow tops, feathers, extra soft…these aren’t options you’ll find available when you’re choose a crib mattress, but they are quite common in adult beds in the United States. In countries where co-sleeping is common practice, these fluffy options are not the norm.


If you choose to co-sleep, both parents must agree with the decision.


This may seem like an obvious statement, but it’s very important that both parents want to co-sleep. When you share your bed with an infant or toddler, both adults are, well, responsible adults, and caring parents. It’s both of your jobs to make sure that your baby sleeps safe and sound.

I suggest that you sit down as a family and discuss what co-sleeping really means. I’ve spoken to families where one parent adamantly wants to co-sleep and the other does not. This can cause significant marital distress, and is not a happy, healthy environment for your baby. So please, should you make the choice to co-sleep, be sure that everyone is on board. Talk about any changes that need to happen, and how it will affect everyone. Talk about the fact that co-sleeping may be a long-term commitment, one that will continue until your baby is ready to move into their own bed. Discuss what happens if you have more children. You also need to agree to be equally responsible while you sleep, and create your safe co-sleeping area as a family.


Inspect your sleep area


The sleep surface (a.k.a. your bed) should be firm, without extra pillows, stuffed animals, heavy blankets, feather beds, extremely soft pillow tops, or other suffocation hazards. Take a long look at your bed, and think of it like you would a crib. Does your mattress have a pillow top? Do you sleep on a feather bed? A waterbed? Is your winter weight comforter really necessary? Infants should always sleep on their backs, so be sure that your bed is safe and conducive to back sleeping.


Notice the sleep area in the image at the top of this article? Do you think that looks safe? The mattress obviously has a pillow top, and there seems to be an abundance of loose blankets and pillows surrounding the baby. In order to ensure a safe sleep area, it is so important to take these things into consideration. This family should remove the loose blankets and pillows, and may need to consider flipping the mattress so that the baby has a flat sleep surface.


co-sleeping roomsharingAnother area to inspect (and you may be surprised) are the headboard and footboard. Make sure that there aren’t any openings or holes that baby could fit through or become trapped in. Ensure that your mattress fits snugly into the frame, if there is space, your baby could fall and become trapped. If the mattress is not snug, consider completely filling the gaps or remove the bed from the frame and place it on the floor away from the wall. If that’s not an option, then consider a co-sleeper, which is essentially a bassinet that fits snugly against your mattress, or even a crib next to the bed where baby is safe and secure.

Don’t forget to take a look at where you bed is located. Is it near lamps, curtains, drapes, blinds, or cords? These all post risk of strangulation, and should not be near your baby. If these items are an issue, simply move your bed to a location away from the offending items. Once you’ve figured out where to put the bed, it’s time to figure out where your baby should sleep.


Baby sleeps by mom


Where baby sleeps in your bed is important. Mom (especially breastfeeding moms) generally spend more time in lighter sleep stages, which means that she is more aware of baby. If you are worried about having enough space, consider utilizing an approved bed extender or side rail to keep baby safe.

A fun fact: Did you know that moms also tend to sleep in a protective position, with knees curled under baby? This helps prevent any scooting down under the blankets, which brings me to my next point.


Layer your clothes


Did you know that babies sleep best between 60 and 64 degrees Fahrenheit? That may seem a bit chilly to your or me, but it won’t to your infant. Infants sleep best with a lightweight cover, or none at all.

If you need more blankets (I know I would!), consider investing in some silk long underwear, flannel pajamas, fuzzy socks, or even a nice warm sweat suit. You can always add and remove layers to adjust to the temperature. You may even want to consider putting your baby into a sleep sack to avoid blankets altogether if you’re worried that your baby won’t be warm enough. And finally…


Please, go to bed sober


Obvious, yes, but I feel the need to say it. Be sure that when you go to bed with your baby you haven’t been drinking and aren’t medicated. Reaction times become slowed when a person is impaired, and anything that impairs your natural abilities could cause you to roll onto the baby or not be aware of them.

Co-sleeping can be a wonderful bonding experience for the family. If you, your partner and child(ren) sleep soundly at night, enjoy the co-sleeping experience, safely. If you are reactively co-sleeping, you may want to explore some other gentle sleep options, or even move the baby into a crib next to your bed, as suggested above. Remember, your sleeping arrangements are ultimately about everyone getting a good, restful night’s sleep.

What’s your best safe co-sleeping tip? Please leave a comment below and let us know!

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Kim West
Kim is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been a practicing child and family therapist for more than 24 years, and the creator of the original gentle, proven method to get a good night’s sleep for you and your child. She is the author of The Sleep Lady's Good Night Sleep Tight, its companion Workbook and 52 Sleep Secrets for Babies. Click here to read more about her.

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