Babies sometimes sleep with their parents. This has pros and cons you should be aware of.
Many parents bring their baby into their bed to sleep, but for the majority of babies this is not where they always or usually sleep. Bed-sharing mostly happens for part of the night, or for a couple of nights a week. Sleeping with baby in an adult bed (bed-sharing) is common and it may happen intentionally or accidentally. Studies have found that around 50% of all UK babies have bed-shared by the time they are 3 months old.
Why people bed-share
People bed-share for many reasons; the most common reason is to breastfeed during the night. Breastfed babies need to nurse frequently because human milk is easily digested, and frequent nursing helps mothers to make sufficient milk.
Bed-sharing is strongly associated with breastfeeding: 70-80% of breastfed babies sleep with their mothers or parents some of the time in the early months, and many studies have found that mothers and babies who bed-share breastfeed for much longer than those who sleep apart.
You can find more information on breastfeeding and bed-sharing here.
Other people bed-share for bonding, especially if they have to leave their baby during the day; others do so when their baby is ill, to be able to pay close attention; sometimes people bed-share because they cannot afford a cot/crib. You can find out more about why and how people sleep with their babies here.
Sometimes people fall asleep with their babies accidentally or without meaning to. This can be especially dangerous if it happens on a couch/sofa where a baby can get wedged or trapped between the adult and the cushions. For more information on sofa-sharing see here.
Before you bed-share, consider whether you are happy it is safe for YOUR baby.
For more detailed information about bed-sharing, see here.
When to avoid bed-sharing / co-sleeping
Official advice on bed-sharing varies from country to country, and even within countries. In the UK the National Institute for Health & Care Excellence (NICE) advises that parents should be informed that bed-sharing in specific hazardous circumstances is associated with an increased chance of SIDS (unexplained infant death) or accidental death.
The bed-sharing/co-sleeping circumstances that are most dangerous are:
Some studies have found a greater chance of SIDS for any babies under 3 months of age who slept with their parents, but the most recent UK studies have found that this association between bed-sharing and SIDS is absent or very weak when the above hazards are avoided.
The biggest UK SIDS study (the CESDI study) which collected data between 1993 and 1996 found no increased SIDS risk with bed-sharing for non-smokers, or for babies aged more than 14 weeks .
The most recent UK study (the Southwest Infant Sleep Study (SWISS)) (conducted between 2003 and 2006) found that smoking, alcohol use and sofa-sharing explained the risk associated with SIDS deaths that happened when babies were co-sleeping with an adult .
The Scottish cot-death study (conducted between 1996 and 2000) found that bed-sharing was associated with a greater risk of SIDS for babies aged under 11 weeks. In this study no data are reported for smoking in pregnancy, or alcohol consumption .
The Irish cot death study (conducted between 1994 and 2001) found bed-sharing was associated with greater risk of SIDS for babies under 10 weeks of age, but not for babies older than 10 weeks or for babies whose mothers did not smoke during pregnancy .
For more information about what to avoid see here here.
How breastfeeding mothers bed-share as safely as possible
The chances are that if you are breastfeeding you will lie down at night to feed your baby and you may accidentally fall asleep, even if you don’t intend to bed-share. Around a fifth of all UK babies sleep in bed with a parent on any given night (154,000 babies per night). It is therefore useful to think about how to make your bed as safe as possible for your baby BEFORE this happens. So make sure you always place your baby on a clear flat surface – not propped up on any pillows or bed-covers. Make sure pillows and bed-clothes are well away from your baby’s face and head. Make sure there are no gaps around the bed or between the mattress and headboard that your baby could get wedged or trapped in. Make sure you position yourself between your baby and other children, pets, and heavy-sleeping adults. Ideally there should be no children, pets or unaware adults in the bed with you and your baby.
Most breastfeeding mothers naturally sleep facing their baby with knees drawn up under baby’s feet and arm above baby’s head. This protects your baby from moving down under the covers or up under the pillow. Your baby should not be overdressed and covers must not overheat baby or cover his head.
Your baby may lie on her back or side to breastfeed. When putting your baby down to sleep, always put her on her back, not on her front or side.
If you have never breastfed and do not naturally sleep in this position with your baby, then consider sleeping baby in a cot in your room. Three-sided ‘bed-side’ cots are available which attach to your bed and may make night-time feeds easier while giving baby their own sleep surface.
We provide information on alternatives to bed-sharing , such as the use of bed-side cots / side-car cribs.