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How to Co Sleep With a Newborn
Co-sleeping with a newborn is a controversial topic, with experts and parents making good arguments for and against it.
If you choose to share a bed with your baby, make sure you are fully informed on the safest methods for doing so.
Please note that “co-sleeping” can mean both bed-sharing or room-sharing (with the baby in a crib or “sidecar” bassinet), the latter of which is more widely embraced by experts.
This article focuses on co-sleeping as sharing a bed with your baby.
Considering the Risks
Accept that co-sleeping is not recommended by most experts.
Many studies indicate that co-sleeping increases the risks of injury, strangulation, death by other means, and SIDS.
It is important to understand that there is not a fool proof way to mitigate these risks, even if you try to optimize the sleeping situation to be as safe as possible.
Most pediatricians would recommend room-sharing over bed-sharing.
Speak to your pediatrician for insight regarding the pros and cons of co-sleeping.
Many pediatricians have strong opinions about co-sleeping with a newborn.
Some doctors are firm believers in the benefits of co-sleeping for both parents and babies, and are thus advocates for the practice.
Others may not share your enthusiasm and may advise against it.
Regardless of your doctor’s personal opinions, ask him/her to state the facts about the pros and cons of co-sleeping with a newborn and offer safety tips.
Research the subject.
The internet offers a vast array of information on co-sleeping, some of which is based on conjecture, false assumptions, and fabrications.
Look for legitimate, scientifically-based research on the topic.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and hospital websites often have good parenting information.
Visit your local library to find literature on the practice of co-sleeping.
Browse through the parenting section and gather books written by a variety of sources.
Select medical books as well as those written by moms, which often provide an account of personal experiences.
Understand that some parents may not get as restful of sleep with a newborn baby in their bed as when the baby is not in their bed.
While many parents find comfort in co-sleeping and are therefore able to achieve better quality sleep, some parents will be more nervous about sharing a bed with their newborn.
Fears about harming the baby can prevent parents from achieving a restful sleep.
Additionally, many parents will be so in tuned with every move their newborn makes that they will find themselves waking every time their baby so much as whimpers.
Keep weaning in mind.
If you allow your newborn to co-sleep with you, you will eventually have to wean him off of this behavior, which could be difficult for the baby.
Considering the Benefits
Know that your baby may be comforted by the security of sleeping next to a parent.
As such, he or she may be more likely to sleep more soundly through the night.
Many newborns have a difficult time regulating their sleeping cycle, and in the early days after delivery, many parents find that their baby is awake at night and spends his daytime hours fast asleep.
Co-sleeping can be an effective way for parents to help regulate their baby’s sleep/wake cycle.
Consider whether you'll get extended sleep if your baby sleeps next to you.
Both moms and dads can suffer from total exhaustion after their baby is born.
The constant up and down all night to respond to baby’s cries will only add to this dilemma.
Allowing your newborn to co-sleep with you means no jumping out of the bed and stumbling around in the dark to attend to a crying baby.
Think about whether it will be easier to feed your baby at night.
Consider how much easier it is for a new mom to doze off and catch up on some much needed rest if she is lying next to a nursing baby in the wee hours of the morning.
Breastfed babies can eat as often as every 1.5 hours.
Being able to simply shift positions and offer the breast to a hungry baby is much easier than having to jump up every two hours or so to tend to the baby’s needs.
Reflect on the possible emotional benefits that co-sleeping can offer to a newborn baby.
Your baby may feel less insecure if he is lying next to you at night while he sleeps.
Therefore, he may be less likely to experience stress than if he were placed in a crib to sleep.
Research the long term effects and benefits that co-sleeping may have on babies.
Despite still being in the minority, many physicians and mental health specialists believe that co-sleepers can grow to be more confident and have greater self esteem than children that never co-slept with parents.
Knowing When Not to Co-Sleep
Never co-sleep if you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Your sleep may be affected and awareness of your baby may be significantly diminished.
Refrain from co-sleeping with your newborn if you or others in the home smoke.
A higher risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) has been linked with parents that smoke.
Refuse to allow children or toddlers to sleep alongside your baby.
Children cannot as readily recognize that a baby is present while they sleep.
Even a toddler is capable of causing suffocation to a baby, should he roll on top of the baby during sleep.
Don’t let your baby sleep in your bed alone.
Babies should never sleep in an adult bed without an adult present.
Even the tiniest newborn can manage to squirm to the edge of a bed and fall off or suffocate on soft bedding, pillows, or blankets.
Do not sleep next to your baby if you are exhausted due to sleep deprivation.
Deep sleep may prevent you from being easily aroused by your baby’s movements.
Only you know how in-tune you are with your baby during the night and how light or heavy of a sleeper you are.
If there is any question as to your ability to remain aware of your newborn throughout the night, co-sleeping should be avoided.
Don’t co-sleep with your baby if you are very overweight, especially if you may have sleep apnea.
Obesity has been linked to sleep apnea, which increases the risk of smothering a baby during restless sleep.
Preparing the Room
Safeguard the sleeping area beforehand.
Consider the entire room to be a new nursery area for your newborn baby and adjust any safety issues as necessary.
If your bed is located near a window, be sure to wash the curtains to remove any dust or debris that may have accumulated.
If your bed is positioned underneath a ceiling vent, consider relocating it to another area of the room so your baby is not directly affected by forced air while he sleeps.
Prepare your bed.
Before bringing an infant into your bed, make any necessary changes to ensure that his safety and comfort are prioritized.
You should be the one to adjust your sleeping pattern.
Consider the size of the bed.
Is it large enough for parents and the baby to sleep in comfortably?
Trying to squish a baby into a bed with parents when the bed is not big enough to accommodate everyone is dangerous.
A firm mattress is recommended for the safety of the baby.
Newborns are especially susceptible to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), and it is believed that one risk factor is a lack of freely-circulating air.
A mattress that is too soft can create a pocket that traps air when baby exhales, causing him to re-breathe that air rather than breathe in fresh oxygen.
Never let a baby sleep on a waterbed.
Purchase proper fitting sheets.
Sheets should always fit tight enough on the mattress to prevent any wrinkles.
Make sure that the corners are able to be firmly tucked in without posing any risk of slipping off.
Consider the quality of your sheets as well, since rough sheets may irritate a baby’s sensitive skin.
Think about removing the head board or foot board, as there is always a slight possibility that it can entrap your baby.
Consider the blanket you will be using to cover yourself during sleep.
Avoid bulky comforters or other bedding that can easily entangle your baby or muffle your newborn baby’s cries.
It may be best to add layers to your body and skip using a blanket at all.
Locate your bed properly.
Again, make the necessary changes to prioritize your baby’s safety and adapt to them.
Lower the bed or consider placing the mattress on the floor.
Accidents can happen, and this is the easiest way to prevent your baby from getting injured by falling out of the bed.
Push the bed flush against a wall as much as possible to help prevent baby from falling off of the bed.
If gaps between the bed and the wall are present, roll a blanket or towel into a firm roll and wedge it securely into the space.
Consider purchasing a guard rail that has been designed to prevent a newborn baby from falling off of the bed.
Do not use a rail designed for a larger toddler as they can pose a danger to tiny newborns.
Place an extra plush area rug or yoga mat along the edge of the bed to help lessen any injuries to baby in the event that a fall does occur.
Survey the area surrounding your bed.
Be sure that there are no draperies or cords that could present a risk of entanglement to baby. Check for wall sockets that are close to the bed.
Consider sealing off the entire socket system by placing a safety cover over the socket.
Using Sleep Precautions
Check again to ensure a safe bed environment.
Remove any throw pillows, stuffed animals or extra pillows from the bed.
The only items that should be on the bed are those that are absolutely necessary for safe and comfortable sleeping.
Consider placing the baby between its mother and a protected surface such as a wall or guardrail.
Mothers generally seem to be better at instinctively recognizing the presence of their baby during sleep.
It is safer to place the baby in this position rather than in-between both parents.
Place your infant on his back when he is sleeping to lessen the risk of SIDS.
The “Back is Best” campaign has significantly reduced the instance of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome over the past several years.
Avoid covering your baby’s head with anything while he is asleep.
Never put a sleeping cap on, which could pull down over his face.
Also beware of blankets, pillows and any other item that could cover his face.
Infants cannot remove obstructions to breathing.
Don't over-bundle your baby.
Keep in mind that your baby may require less clothing because body heat will be transmitted from one person to another.
Babies tend to require less covering to remain warm than adults.
Remove potential dangers or distractions from your body.
Generally speaking, the less you place between you and your baby, the better.
This will make breastfeeding simpler and facilitate bonding.
Sleep in clothing that is free from straps, ties or strings that may entangle your baby while you sleep.
Necklaces or other items of jewelry may become potential risks as well, so use your best judgment.
Avoid the use of perfumed lotions, deodorants or hair products that can mask the natural smell of mom.
Your baby will instinctively be attracted to your natural scent.
In addition, these products may cause irritation your baby’s tiny nasal passages.