I thought this blog would discuss and focus on the newest guideline released from Public Health England, The Lullaby Trust and UNICEF regarding ‘co sleeping’.
Of all the sleep related conversations co sleeping has probably caused the most attention and controversy. To co sleep or not to co sleep? Like most things in the world, we make choices about how we are going to put our children to bed. Like most choices you make as a parent, they will often stir or cause some strong opinions from others, weather these are from other parents, family members, friends, sleep is no different.
Sometimes these often, strong opinions can lead to confusion, anxiety and fear in parents. My aim, not to be influential when discussing co sleeping as my role is to support parents to make informed decisions based on current research and how to do it safely.
Definition of co sleeping can vary, which makes analysing the research more complicated. Co sleeping traditionally thought in the UK is bedsharing, having your baby or child in the bed with you, however it can also be defined as; being in arms reach, in a cot next to the bed, or in parent’s room at the foot of the bed. It otherwise can mean sleeping in close proximity to them, which is encouraged by safe sleeping guidelines until a baby is at least 6 months regardless. Because of these differential definitions I will refer to co sleeping as bedsharing.
Rates of bedsharing vary across countries and cultures. Lots of eastern countries bedshare or sleep in the same room for many years more than western societies. Some studies show poorer child sleep with bed sharing whilst others conclude it improves both child and parental sleep. Recent data from one study has highlighted a more complex and nuanced relationship between bedsharing, infant/child sleep, parental sleep, and other outcomes dependent on social ecology and infant/child age.
Research that is pro attachment or attachment focussed encourages bed sharing stating it improves attachment and emotional containment, something to note the data from these studies is anecdotal so participants report that it improves attachment rather than children being subject to clinical trials.
Why might you decide to bedshare?
Co sleeping can be seen in most of the mammalian kingdom. In fact, humans are considered one of the only mammals not to continue to sleep next to their infants. Research has demonstrated co sleeping and bedsharing can improve babies future physical and emotional health. Particularly in relation to bonding and attachment, it is thought that this extra skin to skin and close contact boosts oxytocin (the love hormone), increasing child self-esteem and confidence and reducing fear and anxiety. It is also thought to encourage and increase breast feeding as Mums aren’t fully waking to feed.
Why might you decide not to bedshare?
Some research demonstrates and some parents report more disturbed sleep when bedsharing due to increased anxiety of smothering their baby. Some parents report is changes in their relationship with their partner or fear losing intimacy.
What are the safety aspects of bed sharing?
Guidance from the lullaby trust is still preferability not to bed share due to the risk of sudden infant death from pillows and duvets. If you do decide to bed share, safe sleep guidelines stipulate try to avoid bed sharing; if you have been drinking alcohol, have taken any illegal drugs or medication which might cause drowsiness, if you smoke and if you are seriously sleep deprived. However, they recommend sleeping with your baby in the same room as you for at least 6 months as a minimum, which by some definitions is ‘co sleeping’, these are the minimum guidelines, it does not mean they have to move rooms on the day they turn 6 months!
However you choose to put your baby to sleep is your choice, never let anyone make you feel guilty or allow to tell you, you are doing it wrong, but please keep in mind, following safe sleep guidelines reduces risk of sudden infant death.
If you have any more questions regarding co sleeping or sleeping please don’t hesitate to contact me.