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Sleep like a Baby: The risks of co-sleeping

October 11, 2019
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Sleep – one of the most important topics of discussion for new parents. There are countless books, message boards and blogs dedicated to the topic. Everyone from your pediatrician to the cashier at the grocery store is willing to share their advice.

A good night’s sleep doesn’t just include a long stretch of time. It means protecting your baby and providing a safe environment for rest, which begins with a place for your baby to sleep. While the well-meaning people in your life may have varied advice on the topic, it’s essential for new parents and guardians to be aware of the dangers of co-sleeping and some guidelines for safe sleep.

SIDS statistics

Approximately 3,500 infants die every year in the United States from sleep-related deaths, including sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), ill-defined deaths, accidental suffocation and strangulation. The number of infant deaths initially decreased in the 1990s after a national safe sleep campaign, but has remained the same in recent years.

Share a room, but don’t share your bed

Snuggling your new baby and falling asleep together can be tempting. However, research shows that this could be a dangerous plan.

“Besides the risk of rolling over on the baby, an adult bed poses a great risk for suffocation with all of the soft bedding like pillows, blankets, loose sheets,” said Shirley Hamill, nurse manager of The Birthplace at Baystate Franklin Medical Center .

“Parents should never place the baby on a sofa, couch, or cushioned chair, either alone or sleeping with another person. We know that these surfaces are extremely hazardous.”

Nursing and napping

A nursing mom is on-call around the clock, which makes getting restful sleep extra challenging.

Breastfeeding is recommended as an added protection against SIDS,” Hamill said. “But if the parent feels sleepy while breastfeeding, it is best to feed the baby on a bed without pillows, blankets, or loose sheets versus the couch or cushioned chair.”

If the mother does fall asleep while breastfeeding in her bed, she should move the baby to his or her own bed as soon as she wakes up.

It is also helpful to come to an agreement with other members of the household. If you find that mother and baby have fallen asleep together during nursing, move the baby to their own sleeping space to continue their nap.

After feeding, the American Academy of Pediatrics encourages parents to move the baby to his or her separate sleeping space, preferably a crib or bassinet in the parents' bedroom.

As your baby grows, the risks are still real

“While infants are at heightened risk for SIDS between the ages one and four months, new evidence shows that soft bedding continues to pose hazards to babies who are four months and older,” Hamill said.

SIDS is the leading cause of death in children between 1 month and 1 year of age, and in most cases the infant was believed to be healthy immediately before the death. The risk for SIDS peaks between two and three months of age. It happens more often in baby boys than baby girls.

This side up: Tips for a safe sleep environment

  • Place the baby on his or her back on a firm sleep surface such as a crib or bassinet with a tight-fitting sheet.
  • Avoid use of soft bedding, including crib bumpers, blankets, pillows and soft toys. The crib should be bare.
  • Share a bedroom with parents, but not the same sleeping surface, preferably until the baby turns 1 year old but at least for the first six months. Room-sharing decreases the risk of SIDS by as much as 50 percent.
  • Avoid baby's exposure to smoke, alcohol and illicit drugs.
  • Offer a pacifier at nap time and bedtime once breastfeeding is well established.
  • Do not use home monitors or commercial devices, including wedges or positioners, marketed to reduce the risk of SIDS .
  • Infants should receive all recommended vaccinations.
  • Supervised, awake tummy time is recommended daily to facilitate development.

Our pledge

Baystate Health is committed to providing the most recent evidence-based education about safe sleep. As part of this commitment, providers and staff at The Birthplace and Wesson Women & Infants' Unit take a pledge with each parent and new baby born. “Our Pledge to You and Your Baby" is a signed document that outlines sleep safety and fall prevention within the hospital setting, to encourage parents and loved ones to form safe, healthy habits.

This pledge is a promise to parents that the Baystate Health team will move the infant to a safe sleep environment if they find the mother falling asleep with the baby in bed. They will consistently model a safe sleep crib by placing babies on their backs and removing fluffy blankets or stuffed animals from the crib.

Along with the pledge, new babies will be sent home with a Halo Sleep Sack, a wearable blanket that replaces loose blankets in the crib.

Newborn cribs are set up at the entrance of the birthing units to show differences between safe and unsafe sleep environments. These visual demonstrations provide additional reminders to staff, providers, patients, and families about our commitment to providing the most recent evidence-based education about safe sleep. Ongoing and consistent education for staff and a web-based training module have been added to the annual nursing education requirements.

Learn more about safe sleep