Is it safe to co-sleep with a newborn baby? The current advice may be reviewed shortly as new research recently published in the medical journal, BMJ Open, suggests that co-sleeping increases the risk of cot death by as much as 5 times in otherwise healthy babies aged between the age of 0-3 months.
What is the current advice?
The current advice on co-sleeping is that you should not share a bed with your baby, particularly if you have been drinking alcohol or taking drugs, it also states that you should never sleep with your baby on a sofa or an armchair.
“We know that for the first six months of life, the safest place for a baby to sleep is in a cot, lying on his or her back, in the parents’ room.”
What do we already know?
- The causes of cot death are not completely understood.
- SIDS in the UK occur mainly in more disadvantaged families and in places where smoking, drinking or drug-taking occurs.
- In the UK, at least 300 babies die suddenly and unexpectedly every year.
- In a previous study by the NHS it was found that more than half of the SIDS cases (54%) had been co-sleeping (in a bed or on the sofa) with a parent.
- There are no official figures that identify the risk associated with co-sleeping where the act of co-sleeping was pre-meditated and in a bed (rather than on the sofa), and the parents did not smoke and were not under the influence of alcohol or drugs (prescription or otherwise).
What did the new research tell us?
Professor Bob Carpenter of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine led a research team looking into the risk factors associated with sudden infant death syndrome. The conclusion of this research (which involved the study of 1,472 cases of cot death and 4,679 normal babies) concluded that 81% of cot deaths in babies aged 0-3 months could be avoided if parents were advised not to co-sleep at all. However, it was noted that many of the bed sharing deaths involved at least one parent who:
- Was under the influence of alcohol
- Was taking drugs that may cause drowsiness
- Was feeling very tired
Or involved a baby that was:
- Of a low birth weight
The view was taken that the NHS should, as a matter of course advise all parents not to co-sleep with their baby between the age of 0-3 months.
“The current messages saying that bed sharing is dangerous only if you or your partner are smokers, have been drinking alcohol or taking drugs that make you drowsy, are very tired or the baby is premature or of low birth-weight are not effective because many of the bed sharing deaths involve these factors. Doctors, nurses, midwives and health visitors should take a more definite stand against bed sharing, especially for babies under three months. Bringing a baby into bed temporarily to feed or comfort it is acceptable, but only if it is put back into its cot immediately afterwards.”
Is everyone in agreement with the findings of this study?
The National Childbirth Trust (NCT) warned against this blanket ban and raised concerns that this could increase the risk of SIDS associated with co-sleeping as parents may end up accidentally co-sleeping, such as falling asleep on the sofa or in bed whilst trying to settle a baby.
“It could lead to an increased likelihood that a parent or carer inadvertently falls asleep while holding the baby, in a chair or on a sofa, which is much less safe for the infant.”
Is there a safe way of co-sleeping?
As the cause of SIDS is unknown, there are only risk factors associated with it which should be considered when making decisions regarding where your baby will sleep. For the first six months of life, the safest place for a baby to sleep is in a cot, lying on his or her back, in the parents’ room. If you are certain that you would like to co-sleep with your baby then it is recommended that you and your partner meet all of these requirements:
- You never sleep with your baby on the sofa.
- Your baby is not bottle fed.
- You do not smoke.
- Have not drunk alcohol.
- Are not taking any drugs or medication.
- You are not feeling unusually tired.
- You are both aware that your baby is in bed with you.
- You are not ill and do not have a condition that may make it difficult for you to respond to your baby.
- The mattress is not saggy or dipping in places; it needs to be firm, flat and clean.
- The room is not too warm.
- You are using sheets and blankets (not quilts/duvets).
- You do not have a water bed.
- It is not possible for your baby to fall out of bed or get trapped between the mattress and the wall.
- Your bed is big enough for you and your baby.
- If a sibling is also sharing your bed, there must be an adult between the two children.
- You do not allow pets to also share the bed.
- You do not allow your baby to sleep alone in your bed.
If you require further information, I recommend speaking with your health visitor.
Do you co-sleep? Were you advised not to? What are your views on this research?