We all want a good night’s sleep but when it comes to where your baby sleeps you are certain to get bombarded with advice. If you dare admit to co-sleeping you will 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 though, that annoying critics won’t undermine you and have you second-guessing yourself. So, just in case you are sharing sleep with your baby but all of this ‘helpful’ advice is sending you down the slippery slope of self-doubt, let’s bust a few myths about co-sleeping:
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, UK and the University of Notre Dame, Indiana show breastfeeding, bed-sharing mothers intuitively create a protective space around their babies by lying on their aside, with baby in the crook of their arm or with the mother’s lower arm bent upwards and knees bent, preventing baby from slipping down in the bed. This prevents the mother rolling towards her baby and means her partner can’t roll into that protected space. Breast-fed babies instinctively snuggle towards Mum’s breast, away from pillows that could potentially be a suffocation hazard. Conversely, formula feeding mothers were more likely to hold babies up on the pillow or turn their backs on their babies while bed-sharing. 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 life saving. He says, “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. 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% of Australian parents with babies under 6 months , you are sharing sleep with your baby either occasionally or more often, check out Dr. McKenna’s Safe Cosleeping Guidelines and the SIDS and Kids guidelines for safe cosleeping.
Myth no 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 are out of sight that 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.
Myth no 3: You will never get your baby out of your bed Please 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 eighteen – 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 no 4: You have to go to bed when your baby does If you want to go to bed early that is your choice but co-sleeping doesn’t have to be an ‘all or nothing’ proposal. It is unsafe to leave your baby sleeping alone in an adult bed, however you can start your baby in his own bed then take him into your bed when he wakes to feed; you can use a co-sleeper bed such as an Arms Reach co-sleeper, so that you and your baby can share proximity and the convenience of sharing sleep but he has his own safe space; or, you may simply take your baby into your bed for an early morning snuggle. There is no ‘one sized fits all’ definition of co-sleeping.
Myth no 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 is 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.
Thank thank thank you so much for this post. I had tears of happiness reading it. Our daughter caught a cold at months & for a week that she was unwell, only wanted to sleep with me so I brought her into our bed. She is now 4 months & is still with us. I have had endless critisism from friend, family & health nurses. I always felt confident having her there & wouldn’t if I didn’t. This post is a breathe of fresh air.
Thank you thank you thank you for this piece. I really needed to read this supportive and educated stance on cosleeping this week. My baby loves to cosleep but I am nervous about it. This has reassured me that I am being safe and can continue use to nurture my Bub at night. You are amazing, Pinky!
My son is four weeks old and sometimes the only way he will fall asleep is on his belly on my chest and at 3 AM I end up falling asleep as well. I have read so many articles that say that belly sleeping is a risk factor for SIDS. Should I avoid him co-sleeping on me?
I’m not an expert, just a mom of one baby (so far). I did the same with mine – usually she slept in her bassinet on her back, but sometimes the only way she would sleep was on her chest on mine. And I often fell asleep. A baby sleeping on your chest is one of the sublime pleasures this life affords. I worried about it, too, because I don’t want my kid to die of SIDS, either. But sometimes, you just do what you have to do in order to both get some sleep. My philosophy was: don’t make a habit of it, but don’t freak out about it, either. Again, not an expert, but I hope that encourages you.
Also, the window for chest sleeping is really small. One day you’re like, “why does my lower back hurt so much?” and then you realize that your sweet little one weighs too much for that anymore.
Cat for what it’s worth, I did the same with my eldest until she was almost 3 months old and starting to roll. When she was sleeping on my chest, even if I fell asleep I’d wake up at any change in her position or breathing or if she made any sounds. Your breathing really does sync up to theirs when they’re on your chest so I could feel any change, even a slight one, when I was awake and although it seems crazy, I’d feel it asleep too. My husband said it was actually the same for him too.
Of course, this is anecdotal stuff and I have no idea what research says- or if any has been done on chest sleeping- but it was comforting to feel like maybe if something had gone wrong we would have known.
There is great info on baby sleeping on your chest in a new book ‘Sweet Sleep’ published by La Leche League
we have a fabulous interview with one of the coauthors ,Diana West in our Parenting By Heart Mummy Member program at http://www.parentingbyheart.com.au
you can see more about this book here
SIDS is a genetic problem of lacking the reflex to struggle for breath upon symptoms of suffocation. It is well documented that “kangaroo” time, that is, having a baby’s chest on your chest, has prompted premature babies to breath and ensured their continued survival. I am only speculating, but if the warmth, breath and heartbeat can start a babies life, perhaps there is less risk of ending it than we are led to believe. I believe my daughter survived SIDS thanks to co-sleeping. She did not have a breathing reflex, and multiple times had to be revived (which would not have happened of she were alone in a cot)
Thank you, I bed share with my 3 year old and 9 month old, we all get sleep, I do get the, you need to get them out of that habit, quite often. I enjoy it, why should it bother anyone else. My sister passed away from sids, IN HER COT
So glad your daughter is alive and well, thanks to co-sleeping. I love sleeping with my baby!
Hi. My 21 week old son used to sleep fairly well in his crib at night. From about 4 months old he will not settle in there very well. From about midnight the only place he will sleep well is in bed with me. I’ve tried to settle him back in his crib but he won’t. Also in the day been trying to get him to have his naps in his cot to get used to it. The Max he will stay there is 30 mins and that’s on a good day. He doesn’t seem to know how to self settle soi have to do it for him which I don’t mind at all but keep getting comments like I’m making a rod for my own back or what will he do when he goes to nursery and it’s cots there not my bed!!!! Any advice gratefully received
Well here i lay with my beautiful son . The youngest of three. Tomorrow he turns 12. Not weeks or months but 12 years. It is a natural safe environment for us all to sleep and dream. . It isnt forever . Life is too short. Enjoy every day. They grow up too fast
I was a bit dissapointed and sadened reading this, I am a first time Mumma and my baby was 8 weeks premature. I planned to breastfeed and initially that’s what I did, as my daughter grew in hospital and danded more mls of milk I could not meet the demand. No matter what I did I just couldn’t produce. It was very devastating for me and still is. I co sleep and now I feel anxious as above formula fed babies are In danger of co sleeping. The research sounds like breast fed babies mothers cared for their babies more than formula fed babies.
I had to mix feed from day one and stopped breast feeding at 11 weeks but my baby coslept or bed shared with us as soon as we came home from hospital. She was 5 weeks early and had terrible reflux. The only way we all go sleep was in the same bed. She slept in the crook of my arm exactly as the article explains but she was formula feed. I decided to go with my instinct rather than the articles I had read and it was right for us. She is now 13 months old and still curls up in bed with us and we love it. They are only little for such a short amount of time and it’s so beautiful to see them sleeping so contently.
Renee I am in a similar boat my Bub was 9 weeks preemie is now 11 weeks old and also had heart surgery at 5 weeks old and due to the stress my milk dropped off I mix feed but she’s lucky to get one to two whole feed a day and after reading many articles on co sleeping (it’s the only way she gets restful sleep and my anxiety isn’t so bad ) I also feel that I’m putting her at risk as she’s is predominately formula fed. I also have put on on my chest numerous times as I feel she breathes better that way and I’m more aware of her breathing even when I’m sleeping but I’m torn as I would never forgive myself if something were to happen but at the same time anything can happen at anytime anyway and I feel I’m more in tune to her when she is right beside me or against me. I have no advice just wanted you to know I feel the same x
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I’ve pretty much given up on anything other than co sleeping with my 9 month old for the moment. Problem is, even that’s starting to go pear shaped now! I HAVE to be there ALL THE TIME. I’m basically stuck on a mattress on the floor for 14 hrs a day. I try and sneak off to eat dinner or do anything, and he wakes immediately and is hysterical. My husband works away so it’s just the two of us and it’s very frustrating and isolating. Some advice would be appreciated!
If Bub likes to be near you whilst he sleeps, have you tried baby wearing?
I have just checked and its been 6 months since you posted. I hope you got through ok.
I didn’t bother to look into the rest of the article, but the first point is absolute crap. Children have died as a result of co-sleeping. One woman accidentally killed TWO of her children and is now in prison. According to a 2013 study, 90% of accidental infant deaths are a direct result of smothering during breastfeeding or co-sleeping. How can you say it’s a myth when all the facts show to the contrary?
This opinion blog is poorly researched.
You do realise it’s also called ‘Cot Death’? Unfortunately I get to see some cases of sudden infant death and I can tell you now, too many babies die in their cot. Agree, some have been smothered but the main example of that I can think of is where a particular mother was from a poorer part of the community & had herself, newborn and two other kids sleeping on a mattress on the floor.
But, I’ve been to more incidents where bub has passed away in the cot. Us westerners like our babies in cots, to sleep through the night, to feed 3 hourly etc.
I don’t think it’s right putting fear in poor women that dont breastfeed saying their kid is going to die of sids cause it’s formula fed, never heard such a thing . Don’t worry ladies sids is many factors formula fed is not one of them … Effing crunchy granola twats!
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