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21 Ways Make Sure You Are Bed-Sharing Safely
The best laid plans.
I wasn’t planning to bed-share when I had my first baby. The issue of bed-sharing safety never even crossed my mind. I thought a baby in my bed would disrupt my sleep.
Then baby Nicholas came along and laughed at my plans.
It started in the hospital. If we put him in his bassinet he would cry. If he was in bed with me or being held by my husband he was happy and content.
All they gave my husband to sleep on was a recliner. He couldn’t sleep standing up. Although, he wouldn’t be the first parent to try it.
It made it an easy choice about where Nicholas would sleep. And I found that having a baby in bed with me did not disrupt my sleep.
The hospital staff was not very happy with me. That’s ok. I wasn’t very happy with them either. That made it even.
We brought him home after a couple of days. We looked at the cute bassinet that had been waiting for a baby for months and said, “We’ll use that in a few weeks.” Weeks turned into months.
He eventually did sleep in the bassinet, and the crib we bought a few months later. But he still spent most nights in our bed. Even if it wasn’t the whole night, we found we were bed-sharing.
Being a new parent is tiring. Bed-sharing enabled us all to get more sleep.
Baby girl Susie arrived and I was all ready to share our bed with her for a long time. She had her own ideas though. At a month I put her in that cute bassinet and we both slept better.
Number three, Patrick, loved bed-sharing. My attitude by then was that it was better for everyone and safer too. I read a book that was pro bed-sharing. It pointed out that countries where bed-sharing was common had much lower SIDS rates than ours.
We came out of the closet and proudly shared that we were a bed-sharing family.
That was 27 years ago. I don’t know if I could find that book if I tried. We all know that thoughts have changed about bed-sharing.
There has been a strong public service campaign warning against the dangers of bed-sharing.
In spite of that, the number of families that bed-share is increasing.
Bed-sharing On the Rise
Picture this: there you are, breastfeeding your baby in your warm and cozy bed. Your baby is asleep and you are just about to drift off to sleep. To put your baby safely into his Pack ‘N Play you have to stand up.
You decide, just this once, you’ll let him stay in your bed. Once turns into twice. Before you know it, your baby is sleeping with you every night.
You try to ask your pediatrician if there is any way to make it safer. He just tells you that you should never do it. End of discussion. You feel admonished and never bring it up again.
To be clear, I am not encouraging anyone bed-share. But I think we are doing parents a huge disservice to not tell them what increases the risk of sharing a bed with your baby.
These measures will not eliminate any risk from bed-sharing. They can decrease the risk.
I have talked to many parents who have said they have no plans to bed-share. I always reply, “You know what they say about the best laid plans?”
I encourage all parents to have a sleep environment that encompasses safe bed-sharing practices. Whether you plan to bed-share or not because sometimes it just happens. It’s always good to be prepared for everything.
The Difference Between Co-Sleeping and Bed-Sharing
The AAP Safe Sleep Recommendations include the recommendation that babies sleep in their parent’s room, close to their bed.
This arrangements is sometimes referred to as co-sleeping. This has caused some confusion. Co-sleeping can be interpreted as sleeping nearby or sleeping in the same bed.
To avoid any confusion I am going to use the term bed-sharing when talking about sleeping in the same bed.
Bed-sharing Safely and the Safe Sleep 7
La Leche League states that bed-sharing while observing the Safe Sleep 7 puts your baby at no great risk for SIDS than if he’s in a crib. 1. Nonsmoker 2. Sober and unimpaired 3. Breastfeeding 4. Baby is healthy and full-term and 5. On his back and 6. Lightly dressed 7. And you are both on a safe surface Discouraged while bed-sharing:
- Comforters – it’s too easy for the baby’s face to get covered
- Lots of pillows. One pillow per adult head decreases the risk that the baby will have their face covered by one.
- Other children in the bed. Have you ever slept with a child? If you have then you understand why they shouldn’t be in bed with a baby.
- Pets in the bed – they just don’t care where they lay or whose face they are covering.
- Bed-sharing with a baby who is not breastfed
- Bed-sharing when extremely exhausted
- Bed-sharing with anyone who is extremely obese
Extremely Dangerous Practices
I know what it’s like to be a tired mama. And every mom wants to keep her baby safe. There are certain things you should absolutely never, ever, ever do. Like ever.
- Breastfeed in a recliner or sofa when you are feeling sleepy (Source)
- Bed-share when you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
- Bed-share if you are a smoker
Decreasing Risk of Bed-Sharing
If you choose to bed-share these practices are encouraged:
- Mattresses should be firm
- Bedding should be well-fitted
- Moms with long hair should tie their hair back.
- Any adult in the bed other than mom should be comfortable with bedsharing.
Advantages of bed-sharing when breastfeeding
- Research has shown an association between bed-sharing and longer duration of breastfeeding (Source).
- Exclusively breastfeeding mothers (EBM) who bed-share report that they get more sleep compared to EBM mothers who don’t bed-share (Source).
AAP Safe Sleep Recommendations
AAP Safe Sleep Recommendations: The safe sleep environment guidelines as stated by the AAP: 1. Baby should always be put on their back for any sleep. 2. Firm sleep surface 3. Breastfeeding is recommended because it is associated with a lower risk of SIDS. 4. Baby should sleep in the parent’s room, close to the parent’s bed for at least the first 6 moths. A year is even better. 5. No soft objects or loose bedding in the baby’s sleep area. 6. Consider a pacifier at sleep times. 7. No smoking around baby or during pregnancy. 8. Avoid alcohol and illicit drug use when pregnant and after birth. 9. Don’t cover baby’s head or let baby get overheated. 10. Get prenatal care. 11. Get baby immunized. 12. Don’t use devices like wedges, positioners or intended to separate a baby from others in a bed. 13. Don’t use home monitoring devices as a way to reduce SIDS risk. 14. Do tummy time! 15. Swaddling is not a research based method to reduce SIDS risk. There are more points, but they aren’t really directed towards parents. You can read the entire document if you want to read everything.
A co-sleeper is a baby bed that attaches to the side of your bed. It allows you to have separate sleeping surfaces, but you don’t have to actually get out of bed when it is time to feed. These are some co-sleepers that have gotten good reviews: Baby Delight Beside Me Dreamer Bassinet and Bedside Sleeper
The Baby Box
In Finland it’s thought to be better to put your new baby in a cardboard box than your bed (Source). The Baby Box practice has been embraced by certain states and hospitals in the US. But, some are advising caution about it (Source).Just like any other sleeping arrangement this should be thoroughly researched before adopting it.
Where a baby should sleep is one of those topics that often have strong proponents on one side or the other. There are many things that parents take into consideration. Families end up using the sleeping arrangement that feels like the right choice for them. Be well informed and as prepared as possible so you can be as safe as possible.
21 Ways Make Sure You Are Bed-Sharing Safely
Andrea Tran RN, MA, IBCLC
Andrea has been working with new families as an RN for over 35 years and a Lactation Consultant for over 25 years.
She has her MA in Health and Wellness with a focus in Lactation.