mother with sleeping newborn baby on bed

co-sleeping is biologically normal

Co-sleeping is  biologically normal 

Please note that in this article, I will refer to what many know as bedsharing as co-sleeping to avoid any confusion. 

This is a very sensitive topic that a lot of people including some healthcare professionals will scare you off of, or they will simply keep all the information from you, not even a discussion about it. They do this with good intentions of course, an attempt to keep your baby as safe as possible. The reality of what really happens is that it actually puts a lot of babies at even more risk when this kind of information is kept from parents. Not to mention how biased and unethical this is. As parents we deserve all of the information available, not just the information that suits other people and their beliefs. As the parents of our children, we have the right to make the decisions ourselves.

Have a read at Evidence-based information and informed choice on why the decisions will always lie with you and no one else.

The current safe sleep recommendations states to put babies on their back in their own safe sleep space separate from the parents, but still in the same room as the parents. These are indeed great recommendations to help keep your baby safe, especially when it comes to high-risk situations. It works well when your baby is fine with being put down in their own bed too, then you’ll have no issue following these recommendations.

It becomes an issue when you’re not one of the lucky ones with one of those easy-going babies. It’s midnight and your newborn still refuse to be put down. They wake up and start crying almost immediately after you put them down. You’ve tried everything, from different beds, setting the perfect temperature, swaddling, putting baby down on a pre warmed sleep surface, bum patting, white noise, you name it. Nothing seems to work. You’re now sleep deprived and feeling extremely anxious and depressed. What happens now? You now take the baby to the nursing chair or the couch in the living room area and you fall asleep with them due to extreme exhaustion. This now puts your baby at risk of falling off the coach and getting severely injured and it also puts them at risk for suffocation.

If only someone told you at the beginning that there is a way for most parents to safely bed share with their baby, ensuring a safe and happy baby and a sane parent who can function due to some rest.

Hundreds and thousands of years ago, before profits could be made off of parents by selling separate beds for children, the only way human mothers knew how to put their babies to bed was with them. It makes you realize that it isn’t always all that dangerous. Sure, there are a lot of circumstances that do make bed sharing dangerous, and sometimes a separate sleep surface really is the best choice, but this is not an absolute and most parents can safely co-sleep with their children if they’re provided with the correct information. Without the information on how to do it safely, parents may end up taking even bigger risks than they would have if they had the correct information and support.

When the news breaks that a baby has died while co-sleeping with a mother, the organizations tend to just put the blame on the fact that they were co-sleeping, no questions asked or answered, case closed. But this isn’t fair at all, because in the end there is a way to safely co-sleep and there is also a way to do it unsafely. Did the mother smoke during pregnancy and during the postpartum period? Was the mother under influence? Was the mother medicated? Was the mother on drugs? Was the mother breastfeeding or formula feeding? Was the mother bedsharing on a safe sleep space? These are the questions that need answering. A sober mother who co-sleeps with a healthy full-term infant on a safe sleep space is not the same as a mother who is under the influence and co-sleeping with an ill premature infant on a couch. These are both classified as co-sleeping though, but they definitely can’t be compared. Chances are if something happened, safe sleep practices were not followed and so it becomes clear that it’s not the co-sleeping that’s unsafe, but it’s the way some do it that’s unsafe. But what do you expect when no one is informing parents on how to do it the safe way?

Did you know Japan is one of the countries with the lowest SIDS cases? Did you know co-sleeping is the norm there?

James J Mckenna, a biological anthropologist and founder of The Mother-Baby Behavioral sleep laboratory at The University of Notre Dame, one of the world’s leading infant sleep study experts, has done extensive research on bedsharing with babies.

He has found many benefits of doing so. He has found that mothers and their babies co regulate their heartbeats, breathing and body temperature during co-sleeping. Babies tend to oxygenate better than they would have if they slept separately. He also found that when mothers co-sleep with their babies, the babies tend to breastfeed twice as much as they would have if they slept separately. This is good for the milk supply, the baby’s milk intake and for their development.

Fun fact, milk supply is at its highest very early in the mornings. When a mother and child co-sleeps and they co regulate, babies don’t sleep as deeply, they spend more time in a light sleep state and they can easily be aroused by themselves or by their mothers, as opposed to when they slept separately and the baby slept in a deeper sleep for a longer period, possibly becoming unable to arouse after a sleep apnea episode, which actually increases the risk of SIDS. Co-sleeping can and have been lifesaving.

You deserve the information on how to safely co-sleep if that’s what you want to do, so please do yourself a favor and do some research, read all the research papers by James J Mkenna and other researchers. If you’re ever in the position where you want or have to consider co-sleeping, it’s best to do it safely. Never feel guilty for wanting to do this, this is a perfectly normal instinct for mothers and their babies.

The do’s and don’ts and how to co-sleep safely

– You should only co-sleep with a baby that is healthy and full term.

– Your baby should be on their back, but right next to you.

– It’s recommended that you breastfeed when you co-sleep and rather skip it if you’re formula feeding. Many research papers have found that breastfeeding mothers more easily fall into the same sleep cycle than their babies, they don’t fall into a too deep of a sleep and they arouse more easily compared to formula feeding mothers. Breastfed babies also tend to spend more time in light sleep cycles than formula fed babies.

– You shouldn’t co-sleep if you smoke, drink alcohol, do drugs or use medication that causes any effects such as drowsiness or sedation. This may increase the risk of rolling onto your baby and not waking up when this happens. This is one of the biggest culprits of SIDS cases in co-sleeping.

– You should sleep on a bed with a firm mattress and sheet. No chairs, couches, pillows, baby nests or anything else.

– There should be nothing in the bed with you, including things like your hair which should be tied up (though you shouldn’t turn your back on your baby), pillows, blankets, cords or anything else close to baby. It should be a completely clean sleep surface. This reduces the risk of anything going around your baby’s neck and choking them or anything falling onto their face (or them pushing their face into something) and suffocating.

– Your baby should be dressed lightly as overheating increases the risk of SIDS.

– It is recommended to sleep in the C position when co-sleeping.

SIDS is not increased due to safe co-sleeping; it is increased due to unsafe sleep spaces. In the end no one knows what exactly causes SIDS, the best we can do is to try and be as safe as possible and take care of our babies as best as we can, and for some, this may be co-sleeping.

Resources and additional information:

The mother-baby behavioral sleep laboratory

Bedsharing in the absence of hazardous circumstances

An integrated analysis of maternal-infant sleep

Red Nose co-sleeping

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