Is co-sleeping dangerous for babies?

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In many parts of the world, co-sleeping is common practice. However, deciding if your baby should sleep in her own crib or in your bed is polarizing in the U.S., where co-sleepers are the minority. But, is co-sleeping actually safe and healthy for both infants and parents?

Health care professional disagree on how co-sleeping affects young children. The most common criticism leveled at the practice is that it increases the risk of suffocation or strangulation from parents who are particularly heavy sleepers, obese or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Bedding, pillows, and other objects in the bed also increase risk of suffocation. As measured by the CDC, there are approximately 1500 SIDS deaths per year and an estimated 60-65 baby deaths of these per year are in adult beds, water beds and day beds as tracked by the US Consumer Products Safety Commission.

However, other studies report a number of benefits, such as the fact that mothers are able to get more sleep by co-sleeping and breastfeeding rather than other arrangements that require, for instance, warming up a bottle and visiting the child’s room.  Additionally, warnings against co-sleeping ignore that the vast majority of SIDS deaths are not in-co-sleeping situations, but actually in cribs.

Some will argue that co-sleeping has been practiced throughout human history to allow mothers to better inspect their infants, and even suggest that it may play a part in the prevention of sudden infant death syndrome.

It’s important to note that the prevalence of SIDS tends to rise if the baby shares a bed with a parent who smokes. A study from the Surgeon General states that secondhand smoke shares a connection with SIDS.

Of course, bringing your baby into your bed can affect the sexual dynamics between you and your partner. Some couples enjoy the feeling of togetherness they get from spending the night with their little one, while others prefer to reserve their privacy and create boundaries early on in their baby’s life.

If you do plan to co-sleep, you should take the following precautions:

  • Make sure baby sleeps on his back.
  • Sleep in a large bed so there’s room for you, baby and your partner
  • Consider use of a next to bed co-sleeper bassinet such as those made by Arm’s Reach or Halo.
  • Make safe precautions to avoid baby falling out of bed, though this is unlikely. Make sure that anything that blocks  baby is not either a suffocating risk (like soft pillows) or a strangulation risk (anything with slats or openings)
  • Start with baby next to mom until dad becomes sensitized to baby’s presence. Moms are programmed to be hyper aware of baby movements from Day 1.

Co-sleeping unquestionably makes nighttime feedings easier and helps everyone get a good night sleep. Many co-sleeping families share that it also increases family bonding.

What do you think? Is co-sleeping a bad idea?

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