Some mums and dads share their bed with their baby, infant, or toddler. That means bringing your child in not only for snuggles and feeding, but for sleeping, too. In many parts of Europe, co-sleeping is the default – yet as a Brit, not only had I barely heard of the concept, but when I was told it was a normal and widespread practice where I live in Amsterdam I was initially shocked, too. “Doesn’t it increase the risk of SIDS?” No, they tell me, it’s perfectly natural – and when you think about it, the logic’s sound: when we lived in caves, it would have been unsafe to leave the baby alone elsewhere at night. And while nowadays you’re unlikely to wake up at 3am faced with a sabre-toothed tiger, the behaviour is ingrained. Your baby wants to stay near you, attached to you – especially during sleep. Because that’s precisely when they’re at their most vulnerable.
How can I co-sleep safely?
Your baby should be kept in a clear sleep space. If you’re not in bed together, a safe space is easy to create in a cot or Moses basket. Make sure your bed’s secured with sides so your baby can’t roll out and become trapped between the wall and mattress. Keep items such as pillows, sheets and blankets out of reach. These could obstruct their breathing and cause them to overheat. Many infants who die of SIDS are found with loose bedding over their heads. Don’t let pets or your other children in the bed.
Cosleeping can be dangerous if:
- you or your partner smokes (even if you don’t smoke in the bedroom)
- one of you has drunk alcohol or taken drugs (including medications that cause drowsiness)
- your baby was premature (born before 37 weeks)
- your baby was born at a low weight (less than 2.5kg/5½ lb).
What if I fall asleep while I’m breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding reduces the risk of SIDS, even when combined with formula. But if you think you might fall asleep while breastfeeding, prepare your bed in advance as described above. Never fall asleep while you’re breastfeeding on a sofa or armchair. Get up if you can feel yourself dozing off, and put your baby somewhere safe to sleep.
What bedding should I use for co-sleeping?
First, avoid loose bedding. As we saw earlier, this exacerbates the risk of SIDS. You can choose different togs for different seasons to keep your baby at the right temperature, and select size depending on their age. If you opt for a sleeping bag, make sure it fits well around your shoulders so your baby’s head does not slip down inside.
Co-sleeping transformed my role as a mother
Like breastfeeding, co-sleeping is an especially intimate way to bond with your baby – and I speak from experience. Even though we co-sleep, my daughter doesn’t like being physically alone in the bed. She wraps her arms around me, calls out for me in the night if she rolls away. It’s primal – and it’s why, at 22 months old, she still sleeps with me rather than having a bed of her own. With me is where she feels safest. And that’s a huge honour and privilege.