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6 Guidelines for Safe Co-Sleeping

family bed

My son Owen and I during an impromptu “shared nap.” I’m not really sleeping, but definitely getting some rest!

Possibly the most controversial thing I’ve ever done as a parent is to share a bed with my babies.

Which seems kind of silly, right? I mean, cultures all over the world have been sharing sleep with their babies for centuries. And while many people assume co-sleeping is always unsafe, the truth is that “the family bed” can be made very safe by following certain established rules.

I know not everyone is a family bed enthusiast. But the way I see it, every parent would benefit from being aware of safe co-sleeping practices.

Why? Research has shown that a lot more parents share a bed with their baby than originally planned to.

Even those parents who don’t identify as “co-sleepers” may occasionally wind up sleeping next to their baby at one point or another, and not always on purpose. Consider the midnight nursing session where you dropped off to sleep for a few minutes without even realizing it was happening, that moment when you lay down with the baby “just for a second” and then completely zonked out, or that bleary-eyed moment at 3 AM when you seriously considered just bringing the baby to your bed so you could get some sleep already! 

Hey, early parenthood is exhausting, and you may change your mind about your sleep preferences in desperation. If you create a safe co-sleeping scenario in your bed, you can choose what works best for you, your family, and your baby without worry.

Whether you plan to be a full-time co-sleeper or just keep a safe bed as a backup plan, consider these guidelines:

  1. Make sure your bottom sheet is securely tucked under the mattress edges so your normal nighttime movements don’t pull it free. Test them before you go to sleep by giving a firm tug.
  2. Give your baby his own space in the bed. Many parents who plan to co-sleep use it as an excuse to upgrade to a king-sized bed!
  3. Your mattress should be flat and firm, with no gaps between the mattress and the wall or headboard that your baby can slip into. If you use a guardrail, make sure it’s meant to be used for babies. Do not put your baby to sleep on a waterbed, sofa, pillow-top mattress, or any other soft, squishy surface that could trap his head or create pockets of air for him to breathe and re-breathe.
  4. Don’t sleep with your baby if you’ve been drinking or if you are using any medication that might make you sleepy.
  5. Keep heavy blankets and pillows away from your baby’s face. I used to always put my baby between me and the wall or guardrail (I’m a much lighter sleeper than my husband, and there was no way I would ever roll over on them) and pulled them down so that they were sleeping in the area under my arm, a few inches from my body (I’d usually back further away just before I drifted off, to give them more breathing room). That way they were kept separate from the pillow area of the bed.
  6. Even if you plan to co-sleep every night, make sure you have a safe, alternative sleeping space in your home for those times when you can’t be with your baby in bed. A bassinet or Pack ‘n Play are great options. When traveling or visiting family and friends, I find that an infant car seat makes a portable, familiar, and safe nap spot in a pinch. *Note: Thanks to reader Lisa for pointing out that some research has indicated that long periods of sleeping in a car seat may interfere with your baby’s breathing patterns (though it’s unclear whether the interference is truly dangerous.) As I told Lisa, in situations where I’m facing two less-than-optimal choices, I use my common sense and pick the one that is safest, and to me, finishing out a nap in a car seat is safer than napping alone on a host’s bed, sofa, or chair.

One of the coolest things I ever experienced while sleeping next to my babies was noticing the way their movements and breathing patterns mimicked mine. If I took a deep breath or sighed, they’d do the same — in their sleep. If I shifted a little, so would they. This symbiotic sleeping relationship has been noted by scientists, and some experts actually believe it makes sleeping close to Mom safer for babies.

Co-sleeping is a highly personal decision, and no sleep space or style is 100% safe. If you are considering sharing a bed with your baby occasionally or all the time, you may want to take a look at this more comprehensive list of safety practices.

Either way, try to get some sleep, Mom and Dad – you’re going to need it!

Are you baby safety savvy? We’re giving away two Graco SnugRide Click Connect infant car seats! To enter for a chance to win, simply comment on this post with personal tip on how you keep baby safe in the car.

The content and viewpoints expressed here within are solely that of the originators. Graco‘s sponsorship does not imply endorsement of any opinions or information provided and we do not assume responsibility for the accuracy of the content provided. Please always consult a professional for matters related to your child’s well-being. Click here to see more of the discussion.

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