Co-sleeping is perfectly safe – if you breastfeed, says brand new research
The official guidelines on safe sleep for babies have remained the same for a while now.
Babies should sleep in their own beds, preferably in the same room as their parents/mother (provided they are not smokers) for the first six months, on a firm surface and with no loose bedding.
However, the reality for many new mums, myself included, is that it feels most natural to co-sleep. If you breastfeed, as I did, sleeping together just makes this a lot easier to get on with during the night. I also quickly discovered that by co-sleeping with my babies, we all slept. Honestly, having lived through two babies and toddlers, I have never had a sleepless night. Not one.
There was always this little voice inside me though worrying I was doing the wrong thing by not following the guidelines for safe sleeping. Even though I don't drink, have never smoked and am an extremely light sleeper.
Now though a new study might make breastfeeding mothers feel less worried about sharing a bed with their babies.
According to a new report from the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, researchers there are keen to states that the information we currently have on safe sleep may be more nuanced than we realize. The authors call for further research and more individualized counseling of parents.
According to the study authors, when babies are breastfed in the home setting, and in the absence of other risk factors, current research does not find that bed-sharing increases the risk of SIDS. The study was co-authored by James McKenna, Ph.D., a professor who studies co-sleeping, and the director of the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame.
The study authors write that it's possible bed-sharing may be beneficial for exclusively breastfed babies in the prevention of SIDS. "When breastfeeding mothers sleep with their infants, they protect them from potential physiological stressors including airway covering and overheating by their characteristic sleep position (curled around their infants, making a constrained sleep space with their bodies), known as the C-position," they state. "Their continued vigilance through microarousals prompts regular infant arousals throughout the night."
Additionally, they added: "Compared with breastfeeding infants who sleep alone, co-sleeping breastfed infants spend less time in stages [three to four] (deep) sleep, and more time in stages [one to two] (lighter) sleep, facilitating rapid infant awakening and termination of apneas," they write, arguing this could result in a decreased risk of SIDS.
The study authors report that "Existing evidence does not support the conclusion that bed-sharing among breastfeeding infants (i.e., breastsleeping) causes sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) in the absence of known hazards."
The medical community needs to re-examine generalized recommendations on safe sleep because different factors—in this case, whether or not a baby is breastfed—can change the risk factor. "Recommendations concerning bed-sharing must take into account the mother's knowledge, beliefs, and preferences and acknowledge the known benefits as well as the risks."
SIDS is the sudden death of an infant under the age of one, with no immediate apparent cause—though sometimes accidental suffocation and strangulation are identified as the cause.
HSE guidelines for safe sleeping for newborns and babies:
Always place your baby on their back to sleep.
Don’t smoke during pregnancy.
Don’t smoke or allow anyone to smoke in the home or in the car.
The safest place for your baby to sleep at night is in a cot in your room.
Place baby with their feet to the foot of the cot.
Make sure the baby’s head stays uncovered when asleep.
Don’t let your baby get too hot.
Keep the cot free of soft objects and anything loose or fluffy.
Don’t fall asleep in bed with your baby if you or your partner smoke or have taken alcohol, drugs or medication that makes you sleep more heavily.
Don’t fall asleep in bed with your baby if they are less than three months old, were born prematurely or had a low birth weight (less than 2.5kg or 5.5lbs when born).
Breastfeed your baby, if possible.
Never fall asleep with your baby on a sofa or an armchair.
If your baby seems unwell, get medical advice early and quickly.