The heat coming from my son’s body woke me up. I lifted him. He was burning hot, soft, with floppy limbs, too weak to cry out. He was 8 weeks old at the time and he had a fever of 40.2ºC. I’d hate to think what could have happened if he’d been sleeping in a cot and I hadn’t checked on him until the morning. Since then I’ve been convinced that the safest place for my babies to sleep is next to me.
Co-sleeping has been the best option for our family, but it’s not for everyone. Research has found that in some instances co-sleeping increases the risk of Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy (SUDI).
It’s not safe to share a bed with your baby if:
You or your partner smoke.
You or your partner are under the influence of alcohol or drugs (including medical drugs that can cause drowsiness).
You’re excessively tired.
You’re an unusually deep sleeper.
Safe sleeping guidelines from UNICEF also state that it’s unsafe to share a bed with your baby in the early months if the baby is premature or of low birth weight.
If you don’t fall into any of these categories, co-sleeping can bring you many joyful moments of closeness to your baby and make it easier to meet your her night-time needs. In my case co-sleeping not only saved my son’s life (or at least I’d like to think so), it was also my ticket to sanity. I was actually getting some sleep! But no matter how tired you are and how tempting it is to just make it to bed in the quickest possible way, always make your baby’s safety your top priority.
How to make co-sleeping safe
Potential causes of SUDI include overheating, head covering and unsafe sleeping environment. Here are some suggestions on how to address these causes so that you and your baby can enjoy your night safely.
Always co-sleep on a firm surface. Don’t allow your baby to sleep on bean bags, blankets, waterbeds, pillows or saggy mattresses.
Keep pillows and blankets away for your baby. You may need to consider extra night-time clothing both for yourself and your baby rather than rely on heavy blankets to keep you warm.
Don’t put the baby where she can roll off the bed or become caught between the bed and the wall, or bed rails.
Put the baby on the side of the parent who is more in tune with her (usually the mother) rather than between the two parents.
Put the baby to sleep on her back.
Keep all cords and electrical items away from the baby.
Breastfeed your baby wherever possible. Breastfeeding increases your baby’s immunity to various infections, which in turn reduces the risk of SUDI.
Keep your baby’s sleeping environment clean.
Don’t let anyone smoke around your baby.
Pay attention to your own well-being and recognise when you aren’t able to care safely for your baby.
Never fall asleep with your baby on a sofa or chair.
For more information on safe sleeping (including co-sleeping) visit SIDSandkids.org.