Cosleeping, or using a family bed has a number of advantages for both the parents and their babies. Many parents begin cosleeping to facilitate nighttime breastfeeding or they started bringing their crying newborn to bed with them in the middle of the night just to get some shut eye. Once cosleeping begins parents begin to discover the benefits. The children clearly feel safer and sleep much better when sleeping next to mom and dad. Parents get more sleep because there are no walking trips to the nursery in the middle of the night. Breastfeeding in a family bed merely involves rolling over and letting the baby latch on. It is also an additional eight hours to snuggle, caress and bond with your baby.
Many parents avoid the family bed for safety reasons, however. Perhaps you have heard the horror stories of infant suffocation, rollovers or nasty falls from a parent’s bed. You may have even heard that cosleeping is a risk factor for SIDS and decided to skip the family bed for safety reasons. Much of what you hear about cosleeping is myths, lies and fairy tales because the family bed is just not the cultural norm in western society. Families around the globe have safely used a family bed since the beginning of time. Cosleeping is the safest, healthiest way to sleep with your child for a number of reasons.
SIDS is a term that refers to a baby who dies in their sleep with no known cause. SIDS is extremely rare in cosleeping families. Babies who sleep in the same room as their non-smoking parents have 1/5 the rate of SIDS as babies sleeping in separate bedrooms. Exclusive breastfeeding reduces the risk of SIDS further. It is interesting to note that another term for SIDS is “crib death” or “cot death”.
Unexplained death in a parents bed is exceptionally rare.
The real safety issues for a family bed is overlying, suffocation, entrapment and falls. While the number of infant deaths for these factors is very small, you still do not want to be the one that it happens to. Here are some basic safety steps you can take to make your family bed as safe as it can be.
Avoid Chemical Influences:
Never sleep with your baby when you have been drinking or using drugs. One glass of wine is probably fine but anything that can impair your reaction time or put you into too deep of a sleep should be avoided. The vast majority of rollover accidents involve alcohol or drug use.
It is very simple. If you get drunk, don’t sleep with your baby. If you do drugs, don’t sleep with your baby. If you smoke, don’t sleep with your baby because you will exhale toxic fumes that increase your baby’s risk of SIDS. You should also avoid sleeping with your baby if you are excessively overtired or using prescription medication that causes drowsiness.
A good rule of thumb is that if you should not be driving, you should not be sleeping with your baby. Place your baby in a bassinet, playpen or even bring in the car seat for one night but do not sleep with your baby if you are impaired in any way.
Think of it this way. A drunk person is more likely to fall out of bed while sleeping than a sober person is. A sober person knows where the edge of their bed is and simply never falls out. A sober parent is also aware of their baby’s presence, location and basic needs even while asleep. It is important to note that other caregivers such as grandparents and babysitters will not have this same sleeping connection with the baby, therefore only the baby’s parents should engage in cosleeping with a newborn.
Avoid Soft Bedding
The same bedding rules that apply to cribs also apply to the family bed. Use a firm, clean mattress with a tight fitting sheet. You never want to have pillows anywhere near your baby’s face. You can use your own judgment on whether or not to continue using adult pillows for yourself based on whether or not your child “creeps” a lot during sleep. Breastfeeding babies will also sleep closer to mom’s breast than the head of the bed anyway.
You should also avoid soft, fluffy comforters, waterbeds, beanbags and stuffed animals. You do not want anything soft on or near your bed that your baby can bury their face in, fall into or not be able to extricate themselves from. This rule of thumb is only imperative for infants. As your baby gets older the comforters and stuffed animals become less dangerous because your baby can roll over, sit up, talk and push things out of his or her face.
It is also important to remove suffocation and drowning hazards from around the bed. If your baby falls or crawls out of bed, there should be no fluffy bedding, pillows, water or other objects that your baby can fall face down into and not get out of.
Make Falling Impossible
There are a few ways that you can prevent your baby from falling out of bed. The easiest but probably least aesthetic way is to simply place your mattress on the floor. This also solves the problem of entrapment and even if your little one does get to the edge, there is only a six inch drop to the floor. Some families fill the entire room with wall to wall mattresses if they have a large family.
Babies will usually sleep between both parents which pretty much prevents a fall out, but that does not protect the baby during naps or if sleeping with a single parent. Single parents can use a bed rail on the opposite site of the baby. If your baby will be napping alone, then use a bassinet, multiple bedrails or place your mattress on the floor until your baby is old enough where falling is not an issue.
You can also place towels or a yoga mat on the floor next to the mattress if you have a baby who moves a lot during sleep and your mattress is on a solid surface floor rather than carpeting. Just make sure that the backup is not a suffocation hazard.
Another way you can prevent falls is by using bed rails. There are many brands on the market which prevent rolloffs, entrapment and suffocation simultaneously. Many parents put the baby between themselves and the bed rail or they use two bed rails for naps. You can use bed rails until your baby is more mobile and then put the mattress on the floor. You could use your adult bed only if you are in bed with your baby and simply let your baby nap on a blanket on the floor, a sling or in a bassinet.
Another option is to shove your bed into a corner so the head and one side of the bed are against two walls. This raises the issue of entrapment however. You have to be exceptionally careful with a newborn because they are unable to extricate themselves if their arms, legs or face get stuck in between the mattress and the wall or even in part of the headboard or footboard.
Thoroughly examine around every side of your bed for a space as small as an inch. See if a finger or two slides in easily, then you may have a problem. If you do discover a space that your baby can get stuck in, simply roll up a blanket or towel into a very tight roll and stuff it into the space between the wall and the side of the bed.
Create a Healthy Sleep Environment
Creating a healthy sleep environment applies whether you use a crib or cosleep. Try to create an organic sleep environment for your family. Use an organic mattress if you can afford it. Organic mattresses contain wool which is a natural flame retardant. If you buy a conventional mattress, it may be soaked in chemical flame retardants which have many health risks and many believe that these chemicals are the real cause of SIDS.
It is also important to avoid the use of chemical laundry detergents and fabric softeners. These products are loaded with chemicals and implicated in all sorts of health problems and they have no place near a sensitive baby. Try washing your bedding in hot water only and drying them outside on a line. If you must use detergent, then choose a more natural laundry option such as soap berries or organic laundry products.
Lastly, create a peaceful, healthy environment in your sleeping area by removing all electronic clocks, TVs and phones, blocking all light, using a waterfall or sound machine and keeping the air clean with air filters.
While this may seem like a lot to think about, it is worth taking the time to cosleep properly because bringing your baby to bed with you is the most natural, healthiest and easiest way for everyone in the family to get a great nights sleep.
Visit the Cosleeping Department of A Much Better Store to find everything you need to create a safe, healthy family bed.
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