Contrary to popular belief, the term co-sleeping actually describes something most parents do for the first year of life — share their bedroom with their little one before moving him or her into a nursery or separate bedroom.
Co-sleeping does not necessarily mean sharing your bed with your child, although that is how it is often understood, and how Jezebel described it earlier in a post on the “explosive” issue. As evidence of how divisive an issue bed sharing— and/or co-sleeping — is among moms, Jezebel’s Sadie quoted a statement blogger Kirby Desmarais made to the New York Post‘s article on the subject:
But in reality there really is no right or wrong way to parent, as long as you’re following common sense. That goes for sleeping arrangements, too. I have two children who have co-slept with my husband and me, one in our bed and one in a co-sleeper on the side of the bed because he simply wasn’t interested in sleeping in the bed with us. That’s what worked for us. But what works great for one family may never work for the next; any argument that a certain approach is the only approach is simply obsolete.
There’s no better evidence of that than the difference of opinion within the medical community about the safety and value of bed sharing. Many medical organizations have spoken out against bed sharing with infants due to suspicions that it increases risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or SIDS. On the other hand, Dr. Sears, as well as medical research he cites in The Baby Sleep Book and SIDS: A Parents Guide to Understanding and Preventing Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, argues that when strict safety guidelines are followed, bed sharing with infants not only decreases the risk for SIDS but helps infant sleep patterns.
Researchers also believe that the carbon dioxide you exhale when you sleep close to your baby may help stimulate her breathing. Plus, co-sleeping infants tend to automatically sleep on their back, in order to have easier access to nighttime feedings. Back sleeping has proved to be one of the top risk-reducers for SIDS. Meanwhile, babies who sleep separately from their moms have been shown to experience a decrease in the amount of REM sleep, the state of sleep in which protective arousal* is the most likely to occur.
If you do decide to share your bed with your infant, here are some helpful safety tips:
- Don’t bed share if you are under the influence of any kind of medication, alcohol, or illegal drug. The majority of bed sharing deaths include a parent or adult under the influence.
- Don’t co-sleep on a couch.
- Remove all pillows and blankets during the early months. Use extreme caution when adding pillows or blankets as your baby gets older. Instead dress baby and yourselves warmly for sleep. (A tip for breastfeeding moms: wear an old turtleneck or t-shirt, cut up the middle to the neckline, as an undershirt for extra warmth.) Do keep in mind that body heat will add warmth during the night and make sure your baby doesn’t become overheated.
- Always put your baby to sleep on his or her back.
- An infant should be placed between his mother and the wall or guardrail. Fathers, siblings, grandparents, and babysitters don’t have the same instinctual awareness of a baby’s location as mothers do.
- Mothers: Pay attention to your own sensitivity to baby. Your little one should be able to awaken you with a minimum of movement or noise — often even a sniff or snort is usually enough. If you find that you sleep so deeply that you only wake when your baby lets out a loud cry, seriously consider moving your baby out of your bed, perhaps into a cradle or crib near your bedside.
- Do not let siblings share a bed with an infant younger than 9 months old.
- Never use an overly cushy mattress for bed sharing. That includes water beds.
- Don’t use strong-smelling perfumes or lotions that may irritate your baby’s delicate senses.
Following these very simple guidelines will make bed-sharing more comfortable for everyone involved and help keep your baby safe.
*”Protective arousal” is a term for the mechanism by which a baby wakes automatically when she’s having trouble breathing.
Photo : flickr.com/madaise
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