Co-Sleeping, Bed-Sharing and Room-Sharing.
What’s the Safest?

sleeping baby

Safe Sleep for Babies

Co-sleeping and bed-sharing both are understood as a type of sleep set-up in which an adult and child sleep on the same sleep surface, whether that’s a bed, a chair or a couch. For babies under 1 year, our experts advise against this type of sleep, as it can be dangerous for your baby’s health.

This is different from room-sharing, in which parents share the same room, rather than bed, with a baby.  Room-sharing actually has several benefits, including making it easier to feed your infant and address some of their needs. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics advises room sharing (never co-sleeping) during your baby’s first six months. After they reach 6 months old, it is often best to move them to their own room.

The dangers of co-sleeping explained

Some parents choose co-sleeping in an effort to keep their child safe through the night and develop a closer relationship with their new baby.  This can still be accomplished through room-sharing. For example, parents should consider putting their child’s bassinet next to the bed, where they will be both close by and safe.

The most common form of co-sleeping is having a baby share an adult bed with their parent. Though these beds are safe for adults, they pose some risks for babies. That’s because soft surfaces, including soft bedding, pillows, stuffed toys and blankets, are dangerous for babies who can’t easily lift their upper bodies, roll or turn their heads enough to escape from a scary position or breathe safely.

Additionally, infants can easily become stuck or trapped by the wall, bed frames, headboards or footboards. They also face the potential risk of falling off the bed. What’s more, things like soft bedding or clothing piles can cause a baby to suffocate and they can even get stuck under an adult or older child.

This risk increases for babies that are born prematurely, or for kids younger than 4 months of age. On top of that, the possibility of death increases if parents smoke, ingest alcohol or take any medications or drugs with drowsy side effects.

Safe sleep environments

Cribs, bassinets and play yards that have a flat, firm mattress or pad and a tight-fitting sheet make the best and safest sleep surfaces. Our experts further recommend avoiding additions like pillows, blankets, bumpers or toys. It’s also important to keep an eye on recalls and changes in recommendations. For example, bumpers used to be considered OK, but new laws prohibit companies from manufacturing or selling these products or inclined sleepers for infants, as they are now considered dangerous.

We also recommend avoiding weighted blankets, in-bed sleepers, loungers, nursing pillows, swings, bouncers, positioning devices and other sleep products as they do not align with federal safety standards.

When you’re on the go, it’s common for babies to fall asleep in unusual places like strollers or car seats. If this happens, be sure to move them to a safe sleep surface as soon as you can.

Of course, price can be a barrier to procuring a safe sleep surface. Fortunately, there are many resources to help parents in this position. Start by contacting your pediatrician for assistance. They likely are familiar with local organizations that can help, such as Cribs for Kids.

You can also consult the internet for more tips for ensuring your child has a safe sleep surface. Check out the Consumer Product Safety Commission for information regarding various products and for educational content. This site also reports recall information.

SIDS and unsafe sleep

Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is something that causes much concern in parents, and unsafe sleep surfaces are just as worrisome and cause nearly as many deaths. In about 40% of the cases of sudden unexpected infant death (SUID) in the U.S. SIDS is the culprit. A further 30% are caused by accidental suffocation and strangulation in bed. Recent data shows that in 2019, 1,248 infants died from SIDS and 955 infants died as a result of accidental suffocation and strangulation in bed.

Decreasing SUID for babies

Follow the ABCs of safe sleep

Babies should always sleep:

1. Alone

2. On their back

3. In a crib or other safe sleep surface

In addition, safe sleep should always include a firm and flat sleep surface clear of extra items and proper temperature control to prevent babies from overheating. To keep your baby cool, stay away from using hoods or hats. A good place to start is adding one layer of clothing more than you would wear to keep yourself warm in the same environment. You can also employ a sleep sack to add warmth without a blanket. Be sure to watch your baby for signs like sweating during sleep so you can fix the issue if necessary.

You can reduce SIDS overall by breastfeeding, vaccinating your child in accordance with your pediatrician’s recommendations, giving your baby a pacifier during naps and sleep, avoiding cigarettes, and giving your baby plenty of awake, supervised tummy time to help them build neck and upper body muscles.