There are few issues in the parenting world more divisive than bed sharing! And it’s easy to understand why. For many years, parents were expressly advised against sharing a sleep-space with their baby. This advice was based on several research studies having found that shared sleep-spaces raise the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). And so, along with other recommendations such as placing baby down on their back for sleep, in the feet-to-foot position, official guidelines advised babies sleep in their own cot, crib or bassinet, in the same room as their parent(s), until at least the age of 6 months.
The Best-laid Plans
However, by the time a baby in the UK is three months old, half will have bed shared with a parent. In some instances, parental determination to follow the advice against bed sharing will have resulted in a sleep-situation that was inherently more dangerous. For example, a parent might try to avoid accidentally falling asleep during a night-feed by taking their baby to a chair. If that parent then does fall asleep, and let’s face it, the sleep-deprivation that comes with being a new parent can be relentless, the baby ends up in a particularly dangerous situation given that the risk of SIDS is 50 times higher when sleeping with a parent on an armchair or sofa.
What Does The Evidence Tell Us About Bed Sharing?
The official advice in the UK remains that babies are safest when they sleep in a clear, flat sleep-space, on a firm, flat, waterproof mattress. A cot or crib is the easiest place to create this type of sleep-space. The guidance around bed sharing, however, has become more nuanced, reflecting that intentional bed-sharing in a prepared sleep-space is less risky than instances of parents accidentally falling asleep with their babies in a particularly dangerous scenario.
There are some circumstances in which bed-sharing is still considered high-risk, and parents should always avoid sharing a sleep-space with their baby if:
- Baby was born pre-term (before 37 weeks).
- Baby weighed less than 5½ lbs at birth.
- Anyone in the bed has drunk alcohol, taken drugs or medication that may cause drowsiness.
- Anyone in the bed smokes or either parent smoked during pregnancy.
What To Think About If You Are Considering Bed Sharing
In other situations, families should make informed choices about what is right for them taking into account:
- Babies are safest in a sleep environment that is 16 to 20 degrees.
- Loose covers such as duvets, quilts and pillows may cause a baby to overheat and are also a suffocation risk. As such, they should always be removed from any bed that a baby is sleeping in.
- Mattresses for adults may not be firm or have a waterproof cover.
- Adult beds are not designed for babies and may not be suitable in terms of height, positioning etc.
Many professionals accept that there isn’t a single message around bed-sharing that will be right for all families. The focus should be on ensuring families are able to make safe, informed choices. For balanced, evidence-based advice, UNICEF, Basis and the Lullaby Trust have great resources for parents.
Bed sharing Beyond Babyhood
It may be less talked about than the issue of sharing a bed with a baby, but many families are waking up most mornings with a toddler or preschooler in their bed! In fact, how to transition a slightly older child into their own bed is one of the most common things I have been dealing with in my practice – especially since lockdown. A young child wanting to sleep with their parents is neither uncommon nor abnormal. All children will grow out wanting to bed share eventually and so the question of whether having a toddler in their bed poses a problem is very much an individual one for each family.
Transitioning Away From Bed Sharing
If parents decide that they do want to transition an older little one to sleeping in their own bed, my top tips are:
- Give them a heads up before it happens – even if you don’t think they will understand.
- Stick to what you have decided, for the whole night – children adapt quickly as long as things are consistent whereas bed hopping creates confusion and uncertainty.
- Be understanding that your child might not like the change – and that’s OK. You can support your child through their feelings of frustration, disappointment etc, without abandoning your plan.
- Reinforce that their room is a safe place for them to sleep by supporting them to fall asleep there. Spending time together reading stories and listening to a relaxing Koko Sleep story at bedtime can help little ones drift off happily, giving the best chance of them settling into a lovely restful sleep.
And remember, Koko Sleep isn’t just for little ones who sleep in their own room – it can be enjoyed as part of a positive and relaxing bedtime routine by families who bed share too!