“Co-sleeping” is when a parent and baby sleep side by side in the bed together. This term is not to be confused with bassinets that latch onto the sides of the bed and are commonly sold as “co-sleepers.” “Co-sleepers” have an actual barrier between the sleeping infant and the sleeping parent.
Co-sleeping or “bed sharing” causes a lot of controversy. Some parents share a bed with their infant because of their cultural or familial beliefs. Other parents co-sleep because they believe it to be more convenient for breast feeding and creating a stronger parent-infant bond. The American Academy of Pediatrics states, “Infants may be brought into bed for nursing or comforting but should be returned to their own crib or bassinet when the parent is ready to return to sleep.” One study stated a 20 fold increase in risk of suffocation in infants that sleep in adult beds instead of in cribs.
So why does the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend against co-sleeping? The risks of co-sleeping are two-fold: there is the sleep environment and then there is the parent. The sleep environment in adult beds, chairs, and sofas usually includes duvets, pillows, covers, softer cushions/mattresses, and stuffed animals; all of these present a suffocation risk to the infant. For this same reason, when parents put children in a crib or bassinet, pediatricians advise them against using bumpers or “positioners.”
The additional suffocation risk comes from the parent who may accidentally roll on top of their infant. Some have argued that if a parent is not “impaired” (drugs or alcohol), that this is a negligible factor. However, no expectant parent fully appreciates the level of sleep deprivation that comes with a new baby. This exhaustion (combined with the maternal relaxation that accompanies breastfeeding) does “impair the parent” and becomes a risk to the infant.
In conclusion, know you’re ABCs of safe sleep!
Alone – no cosleeping
Back – baby needs to sleep on back
Crib – no blankets, pillows, stuffed animals, bumpers, or positioners
Scheer, N.J. G.W Rutherford, and J.S Kemp 2003. Where should infants sleep? A comparison or risk from suffocation of infants sleeping in cribs, adult beds, and other sleeping locations. Pediatrics 112 (4): 883-889.
American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement: The changing concepts of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome: diagnostic coding shifts, controversies regarding the sleeping environment, and new variables to consider in reducing risk. Pediatrics 116 (5): 1249-1255.