Is Co-Sleeping Safe?


As new moms, we rarely get enough sleep and most of us worry about our babies sleeping safely.  Research has shown that that most breastfeeding mothers will co-sleep at some point.  It can allow mom to get more sleep and makes nursing at night easier.  But there’s the endless debate on whether or not co-sleeping safe.  

A warning against co-sleeping resulted from a recent meta-analysis by Carpenter et al. (2013). However, infant sleep researchers who focus on the normal behaviors of breastfeeding mothers and babies report numerous flaws in the Carpenter study, which combines and re-analyzes five older studies rather than examining any new research.

Hearing this information that co-sleeping is dangerous, may cause mom to go from nursing in bed to nursing on a sofa or recliner at night, putting her baby at significantly higher risk of danger including suffocation.  Not only that, but breastfeeding is also likely to end sooner when mothers have to get up at night to nurse.  And babies who aren’t breastfed have a higher risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

Why are the risks of co-sleeping lower for breastfeeding mothers?  Because they are more attuned to their babies’ movements and needs and tend to sleep in a protective “cuddle curl” around their babies. In turn, their babies seek their mother’s breast rather than moving into surrounding pillows and bedding.

While co-sleeping is not appropriate for all families, a significant body of recent, careful research indicates that co-sleeping does not result in any increased risk of SIDS when all the following conditions are met.  Dr. James McKenna (recognized as the world’s leading authority on mother-infant cosleeping in relationship to breastfeeding and SIDS), suggests these safety guidelines:

  1. Mother must be breastfeeding.  Parents should not cosleep with a formula fed baby.
  2. Parents should not sleep with their babies if they are smokers or have ingested alcohol or drugs.
  3. Cosleep only on beds, not on couches or recliners
  4. Bedding should be tight fitting to the mattress.
  5. The mattress should be tight fitting to the headboard of the bed.
  6. There should not be any loose pillows or soft blankets near the baby's face.
  7. There should not be any space between the bed and adjoining wall where the baby could roll and become trapped.
  8. The baby should not be placed on its stomach.
  9. Do not cosleep if you drink alcohol or medications that make you sleepy, take drugs, or smoke

When all of these all of these conditions are in place, a baby in bed with his mother is at no greater risk of SIDS than if he’s alone in a crib.  Co-sleeping should be planned in advance rather than accidental because adult beds sometimes include suffocation, choking, or entrapment risks that need to be addressed.  Co-sleeping often happens out of exhaustion, so plan ahead by making the bed free of suffocation risks.

For more information on co-sleeping:

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