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  • Dr. Katie O'Connor

Baby in the Bed - How safe co-sleeping can transform your sleep and help your baby develop!

If you’ve just brought home a brand new infant, then you’re already aware that your sleep patterns are going to be drastically changing, and probably for the next couple of years.  Trying to get the most out of sleeping during this transitional time can make all the difference for mamas trying to recover and quickly growing babies.

You may have heard the term co-sleeping and it’s exactly what it sounds like, sleeping with your baby.  Sounds easy enough, so why doesn’t the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend it?

The AAP had put together some studies in an effort to look further into the cause of SIDS/SUIDS (sudden unexplained infant death).  While the cause is still unknown, these studies appeared to show a link between co—sleeping and SIDS.  

Fortunately these studies have been found to be flawed in their methodology.  A review of further studies showed that “co-sleeping in the absence of other risk factors such as any maternal smoking (during or after pregnancy), drug or alcohol use by parents before sleep, formula feeding, unsafe sleeping surface (such as a couch or waterbed) etc., is not associated with any additional risk of SUIDS for co-sleeping infants.”  Bartick et al 2014

The unfortunate thing is that the AAP has not rescinded their recommendations leading to many parents in the US being afraid to co-sleep.  The fact is, from an historic and evolutionary perspective human babies not only thrive in contact sleeping environments, they require it for proper development. 

Infants need to sleep close to or in direct contact with their mother in order for their basic needs of safety to be met.  In addition, sleeping next to the mother has been shown to regulate breathing and heart rate,  and reduce episodes of apnea. Mothers who sleep by their infants are also more likely to check on their infant regularly throughout the night, which has also been shown to decrease the risk of SIDS.

From a neurological perspective, the evidence is that the baby needs to be near and stimulated by his mother for continued engagement with his environment throughout the 24 hours of the day and night for continual development of the brain.  

The social/psychological perspectives just may be the most important implications studied to date.  What we see is that infants who co-sleep with their parents receive constant response to their outcries, which creates what is called a secure attachment.  Because infants do not even begin to develop their circadian rhythm (bodily knowledge of day/night) until 3-4 months of age,  those who sleep individually often perceive the response to their outcries as irregular or unreliable when they are forced to “self soothe” during the night.  This results in what as known as a insecure attachment.  

Let’s dive into that a little be further shall we?  Cortisol is the hormone that shows up when we are under stress.  Children age 12-14 months with secure attachment (co-sleepers) were shown to have very mild elevations in cortisol when separated from their parents.  Children of the same age with an insecure attachment were shown to have highly elevated erratic levels of cortisol, showing a massive increase in stress when they were away from their parents.  These children were classified as “clingy” children, even throughout the toddler period of life.  


Okay, that’s really super great, but weren’t we transforming my sleep?

Yes!  There is also evidence that women who co-sept described their sleep with a newborn infant as more restful and more relaxing.  Knowing that they could check on their baby at any time caused a sense of security.  They also were able to breastfeed more easily and quickly and without as much disturbance to their rest.  Bed-sharing has also been shown to facilitate levels of oxytocin, which helps with milk production and general well being for a recovering mom.  Moms recovering from c-section also were grateful not to have to continually get up out of bed to respond to the infant multiple times per night.  

How you decide to sleep is ultimately up to you to decide what is best for you and your baby as only you can, however if you do choose to co-sleep it is important to know that there are requirements for what is considered safe co-sleeping.  People bed-sharing without following these guidelines may have adverse events which contributes to the discrimination around co-sleeping. 

There are a set of guidelines know as The Safe Seven for best bed sharing practices.

1. Smoke Free - Both second and third hand smoke are very harmful and can lead to respiratory issues when putting babe in such a close proximity.

2. No alcohol/drugs (including most prescriptions) - an altered state of awareness, especially one that can effect your ability to become roused from sleep can lead to an unsafe environment for baby

3. No infant health issues - prematurity, respiratory problems, apnea and other issues are all reasons to be careful of co-sleeping.  While it may still be possible, there are specific precautions such as chaperoned co-sleeping that may b required to keep things safe.Baby

4. Placement - baby should be at breast height. Mother should only be on side in a C-shape around infant with the infant on its back.

5. Coverings/Attire - baby should wear one layer more than parents but not be over dressed or swaddled.  Sleep sacks (not too heavy) are acceptable.  Mother should be covered only to the waist by blankets (you might need to layer up on top if it’s cold out).

6. Support - Firm mattress, no pillows near babe (mom’s head is on edge of her own pillow), no blankets, toys or pets.  No gaps between the bed and the wall.  Sidecars must be at the same height as the bed.

7. Breastfeeding as a benefit - Breastfeeding alone has been shown to reduce the risk of SIDS up to 50%, so it can only help your baby stay safer if you also breastfeed when co-sleeping.

A note about naps. Because who doesn't love napping?! At this stage babe will likely fall asleep easiest and feel safest when connected with mom's body. This is known as contact napping. If you are following the Safe 7, then be sure that contact naps are in your bed with safe set up, or while you are moving around wearing your baby (when there is no chance of you falling asleep). Contact naps on places like the couch or recliner should be supervised. Yep, invite your mother in law over to watch you sleep. While we all imagine we can stay awake when we want to, do not underestimate your current state of sleep deprivation.

Need more information?   Check out the article below or search for The Beyond Sleep Training Project online or on Facebook for a wealth of great info!

Now get some sleep!

Dr. Katie O'Connor is the expert prenatal chiropractor at Life Naturally Chiropractic, an Orland Park, Illinois based chiropractic office specializing in the care of women before during and after pregnancy. Contact Dr. Katie O’Connor at Life Naturally Chiropractic for more information today.

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