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Co-sleeping. What is the deal?

Co-sleeping is an ongoing and emotional debate. Is co-sleeping good or bad for baby? Is it a SIDS risk? Professor James J. McKenna, the world’s leading authority on mother-infant co-sleeping, in relationship to breastfeeding and SIDS, believes that it is not that simple.

In this article published in 2008 he says that “where a baby sleeps is not as simple as current medical discourse and recommendations against co-sleeping in some western societies want it to be.” And there is good reason why.

Professor McKenna goes on to say: “Definitions are important here. The term co-sleeping refers to any situation in which a committed adult caregiver, usually the mother, sleeps within close enough proximity to her infant so that each, the mother and infant, can respond to each other’s sensory signals and cues. Room sharing is a form of co-sleeping, always considered safe and always considered protective. But it is not the room itself that it is protective. It is what goes on between the mother (or father) and the infant that is. Medical authorities seem to forget this fact. This form of co-sleeping is not controversial and is recommended by all.”

Professor McKenna supports co-sleeping when practiced safely. This stems from his “research knowledge of how and why it occurs, what it means to mothers, and how it functions biologically. Like human taste buds which reward us for eating what’s overwhelmingly critical for survival i.e. fats and sugars, a consideration of human infant and parental biology and psychology reveal the existence of powerful physiological and social factors that promote maternal motivations to co-sleep and explain parental needs to touch and sleep close to baby.”

Co-sleeping is often not done by choice, but by necessity. I am not a fan of making parents feel guilty about their parenting choices particularly when they feel they have no other options. And it is clear in this article that safe co-sleeping is actually a good thing for both mother and baby. We know that co-sleeping helps with establishing milk supply, reduces crying, regulates a baby’s body temperature and reduces stress and as Prof. McKeena states. ” Co-sleeping (whether on the same surface or not) facilitates positive clinical changes including more infant sleep and seems to make, well, babies happy! In other words, unless practiced dangerously, sleeping next to mother is good for infants. The reason why it occurs is because… it is supposed to.”

When discussing co-sleeping we should also be aware of the SIDS guidelines. In the Red Nose “Sharing a Sleep Surface With a Baby” information statement, they recommend that sleeping a baby in a cot next to the parents’ bed for the first six to twelve months of life as this has been shown to lower the risk of SIDS. However, there are studies that have identified circumstances where sharing a sleep surface with a baby increases the risk of SIDS and fatal sleeping accidents.

Red Nose recommend avoiding sharing a sleep surface with a baby in the following circumstances:

  • Where babies are less than three months of age.
  • Where babies were born preterm or small for gestational age.
  • Where the baby shares the sleep surface with a smoker.
  • Where the parent is under the influence of alcohol.
  • Where the parent is overly tired (difficult to arouse).
  • Where the parent is under the influence of drugs (prescription or illegal) that cause sedation.
  • Where the parent/s is/are obese.
  • Where there is adult bedding, doonas or pillows that may cover the baby.
  • Where the baby can be trapped between the wall and bed, can fall out of bed, or could be rolled on.
  • Where babies are sharing beds with other children or pets.
  • Where the baby is placed to sleep on a sofa, armchair, beanbag, waterbed or sagging mattress alone or with another person.

And babies must never be left alone on an adult bed or put to sleep on a sofa. (for the full statement from Red Nose please click here: https://rednose.com.au/downloads/Sharing_a_Sleep_Surface_Information_Statement2017.pdf

At the end of the day, co-sleeping is a personal choice for each parent to make.

For the full article from Prof. McKenna please click here. https://neuroanthropology.net/2008/12/21/cosleeping-and-biological-imperatives-why-human-babies-do-not-and-should-not-sleep-alone/