By: Peter Mutuc
If you’re a new parent, no feeling in the world is better than when you cuddle your baby to sleep.
Even for non-parents, bed-sharing with a baby can be a wonderful stress-relieving and endorphin-releasing experience.
Unfortunately, most parenting and child-rearing experts don’t recommend doing it, warning that the practice of bed-sharing with babies has led to
too many cases of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS. It’s best that you don’t share your bed with your infant even if you really want to. Once
you get into the habit, it will be much harder for you and your infant to break the habit. A recent post on sleepingguide.org mentioned that maybe you
should consider on changing the mattress and perhaps that may be your best solution.
Be that as it may, a lot of parents still do it.
In fact, in a British study that involved hundreds of women, 46% of those who do sleep with their babies in the same bed have chosen to lie to their midwives and doctors about doing it, mostly out of fear of being judged by both fellow parents and medical professionals.
This, in turn, causes bed-sharing parents to miss out on valuable medical advice that can make the practice safer, which only contributes to how dangerous the practice actually is.
In addition, the stigma against bed-sharing also doesn’t take into account the many benefits that it offers both parent and child, for instance:
Bed-Sharing Allows Both Parent and Child to Get More Sleep
This data comes from “Why Your Baby’s Sleep Matters”, a book authored by renowned psychologist and ‘gentle parenting’ expert, Sarah Ockwell-Smith.
According to Sarah, even though bed-sharing is highly discouraged by the medical and child-rearing community, there’s significant research that shows how the practice can actually reduce new parent insomnia.
And it makes sense – sleeping and waking up in the same bed as your child will allow you to better monitor and be in sync with the often erratic sleeping schedules of babies.
It’s more than just about greater parent-child bonding; bed-sharing allows you to get more sleep, which is a highly valuable resource for any parent, especially during the first year of taking care of a new baby.
Furthermore, the practice makes it much easier for breastfeeding moms to do their job of feeding the baby and then putting it to sleep, especially when the baby wakes up in the middle of the night.
While there is a significant association between bed-sharing and SIDS, there’s no denying how it can also make you a better parent to your child.
Before we tackle the actual tips on how to safely share an adult bed with your baby, we need to clarify that…
Bed-Sharing and Co-Sleeping are Different
You may have already heard the term ‘co-sleeping’ to refer to bed-sharing, so it’s important to know the distinction between the two terms.
Co-Sleeping is not just another word for bed-sharing; it means sleeping with your baby on sofas, armchairs, and other furniture that’s not intended for babies.
Bed-sharing is just one form of co-sleeping, but only on a bed or mattress that was designed for adults.
Why is the difference important?
Because out of the different ways to co-sleep with your baby, bed-sharing is the only one that can truly be considered safe and advisable.
Sofas, armchairs, car seats, bean bags, and basically all other forms of furniture for children and adults are completely unsafe places for an adult and a baby to sleep together on.
Beds, floor mats, and mattresses are a different matter altogether; these are surfaces that a co-sleeping adult has better control of in terms of keeping the baby safe.
The problem is that more often than not, doctors and parental-care experts fail to make the distinction and just advice against co-sleeping in general, based mostly on the fact that co-sleeping is a known cause of SIDS.
Again, not only does this underscore the many benefits of bed-sharing, it has led to many parents not being informed on the many ways to make bed-sharing safer for babies, such as…
Never Bed-Share Under the Influence of Drugs or Alcohol
When bed-sharing, the safety of your baby relies mostly on your ability to physically tell where the baby is on the bed in relation to you.
This can be easily impaired by smoking, drinking alcohol, and taking both legal and illegal drugs.
In particular, you should avoid pharmaceutical downers such as valium, Nyquil, and other similar sleep medication that can make you unresponsive to your baby’s movement and position in bed.
As a parent, you need to be able to distinguish whether it’s safe to share your bed with your baby or not.
And when it’s not, such as during times that you’re too drunk or under the influence of whatever other perception-altering substance, you can just decide to forego bed-sharing that night.
Bed-Sharing Shouldn’t be Your Baby’s only Sleeping Option
Experts advise that during the first 6 months of the baby, he or she is better off sleeping inside the parents’ room, not only for parental bonding, but also safety and convenience.
Whether you regularly share a bed with your baby or not, there should still be a crib that’s dedicated to your baby.
This eliminates all dangers when you, your partner, or both are either too drunk or in a state that’s simply unfit for bed-sharing.
If you haven’t already noticed it, the bitter truth about bed-sharing is that…
You are Potentially the Greatest Danger to Your Child
When it comes to bed-sharing, the biggest and possibly most dangerous object on the mattress is you.
Apart from being too drunk and addled by substances, here are other instances when an adult could be unfit to share the bed with the baby:
- Excessive obesity. If you’re obese and want to bed-share, make sure that there’s ample room on the bed for you, your partner, and your baby.
- Deafness, impaired hearing, or blindness. Unfortunately, persons with disabilities related to perception can pose a danger to the baby.
- Sleepwalking. Sleepwalkers should not bed-share at all. Unless the symptoms are minor and have, in the past, been completely non-dangerous, those who suffer from sleepwalking can pose a danger to the baby.
- Physical injury. Depending on the nature of your physical injury, your movement in bed may either be too unpredictable or too limited to be safe for the baby.
- Mental instability. Understandably, any mentally unstable adult, depending on the nature and gravity of the instability, can pose a danger to the baby.
- Drug addiction and alcoholism. Obviously, alcoholics, heroin addicts, and those who regularly partake of substances that reduce and alter perception are unsafe for bed-sharing.
Evaluate all bed-sharing adults objectively before deciding if they can share a bed with the baby.
As always, the baby’s safety comes first.
While adults can pose the greatest danger to a baby during bed-sharing, don’t forget that you are also your baby’s best safety net – it’s your job to make sure that your baby’s bed-sharing experience is completely safe.
Remove All Suffocation/Choking Hazards Before Bed-Sharing
Adult mattresses and beds, no matter how comfortable they may be, are simply not usually designed for your baby’s safety.
What kind of stuff on your bed could possibly lead to suffocation and SIDS?
- Stuffed toys, plush dolls, extra pillows, and anything else that unnecessarily takes on mattress space.
- Earrings, necklaces, bracelets, and any other jewelry.
- Jackets, heavy clothes, and heavy blankets. Don’t share your blanket with your baby; a lighter, smaller baby blanket is safer, just remember to keep the baby’s head uncovered.
- Excessively long hair. Just tie it up before going to bed.
- Loose sheets. Make sure they’re tucked in tight.
You can just copy and paste that checklist, put it on your phone or print it out, and always have a pre-bedtime reminder of suffocation hazards you need to be aware of before going to bed with the baby.
Generally, the simpler and cleaner the bed, the better.
And it doesn’t end there – is your mattress fit for the job?
You Need a Clean, Firm Mattress with Motion-Isolation
Your mattress should be free of mold as well as hazardous factory chemicals that sometimes come with new beds.
It also shouldn’t be too loose and soft: the softer the mattress, the greater the risk of your baby suffocating.
Old, loose, and possibly dirty mattresses simply won’t do.
Look for these qualities in a bed-sharing mattress:
- Firmness and motion-isolation. A firmer mattress means less surface movement, which means less chances of your baby suffocating. Also, motion-isolation means that you’ll have the freedom to move around in bed without disturbing the baby and having to calm it down back to sleep.
- Safety certification. Look for anything that certifies that the mattress was made and delivered without harmful chemicals that can later affect you or your child.
- Free trials. Mattresses with trial periods will allow you to see if you and your baby are comfortable sleeping on it or not before you commit to actually purchasing the product.
In addition, it’s safer to have a very low bed base or just put the mattress on the floor.
These are just some of the ways with which you can make the experience of sharing the bed with your baby as safe as possible.
As a parent who wants to bed-share, your job is to find even more ways to make it even safer.
If Peter Mutuc isn’t sculpting, writing, editing, drawing, skating, cycling, wrestling with his Labrador, or actively regulating his sleeping patterns through at least 150 minutes of weekly exercise, he’s usually just online, creating and developing web content for One Bed Mattress.