According to pediatric anthropologist Meredith Small, author of Our Babies, Ourselves, the US is the only country in the world in which babies routinely sleep in their own beds in their own rooms. Small reports on one study that showed that in 67% of the world’s cultures children sleep in the company of others.
As breastfeeding has increased in recent years, so has room sharing and bed sharing. Data from the National Center for Health Statistics Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS) reveals that 67.7% of new US moms sleep with their baby at least some of the time.
ROOM SHARING AND BED SHARING
Most new moms, especially if they breastfeed, learn early on that having the baby nearby means that nights are easier, and experts agree that room sharing is beneficial to infants.
The Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths advises parents that their babies should never sleep, day or night, in a room without an adult present. And, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends room sharing without bed sharing for all babies.
However, research by SIDS expert, Peter Fleming, shows that—in the absence of hazardous sleeping environments, alcohol, drugs or tobacco—bed sharing is not significantly risky. In fact, according to research at both the US Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory and the UK Parent-Infant Sleep Lab, breastfeeding mothers share a bed with their infants in a characteristic manner that provides several safety benefits.
There are a number of different ways to facilitate room sharing. Some families move a crib next to the parent’s bed, while others use a specific “co-sleeper” that attaches to one side of the parents’ bed and is open on that side.
SAFE INFANT SLEEP
Whichever method you use, here are some important safety considerations to keep in mind:
- Babies should be put to sleep on their backs until they are at least six months old. However they can, and should, be placed on their stomachs sometimes while playing.
- Don’t put baby to sleep or sleep with baby on a free-floating waterbed, extremely soft or pliable mattress, or couch.
- Remove all extra bedding, pillows, and stuffed animals from any bed the baby is sleeping in.
- Allow baby’s limbs to be free. Do not swaddle her tightly in blankets while she is sleeping. Do not put a hat on baby’s head during indoor sleep times. Babies should not be overheated while sleeping.
- Do not let baby sleep unsupervised in a carriage or stroller.
- Do not sleep with your baby if you have been drinking alcohol or are under the influence of any drugs or tranquilizing medications.
- Do not encourage other people, such as babysitters, grandparents, or siblings to sleep with a baby younger than nine months.
- Do not sleep with your baby if you smoke and do not allow anyone to smoke in any room where baby sleeps.
Following these basic guidelines will insure that you and your baby can sleep safely, just as millions of parents and babies do, all over the world.
Peggy O’Mara is the editor and publisher of peggyomara.com. She was the editor and publisher of Mothering magazine from 1980 to 2011 and the editor-in-chief of Mothering.com from 1995 to 2012.. The author of Having a Baby Naturally; Natural Family Living; The Way Back Home; and A Quiet Place, Peggy has conducted workshops at Omega Institute, Esalen, La Leche League, and Bioneers. She is the mother of four and grandmother of three.