After months of 24/7 breastfeeding and diligent attempts to put her young son in his cradle, Toronto’s mother, Kate Galt, was bone-tired. Nothing worked anymore. When Elliot outgrew the bassinet at three months old, Galt tried to teach him sleep in his own cribbut he always seemed to end up in bed with her at some point during the night. That was where he seemed happiest and in the best of hands.
The truth is, Galt also liked to sleep next to Elliot. “When I sleep with him at night, I feel closer to him,” she says. As a child, she shared a bed with her sister and it is natural for her to snuggle up next to loved ones at night. “I’ve always slept with people,” she says. “It’s sad to put a baby in bed alone. I don’t want to sleep alone either! ”
But North American experts and doctors strongly advise against sleeping with a baby. Both the Canadian Pediatric Society (CPS) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) have long advised against sharing beds for young parents, warning that it is dangerous and increases the risk of suffocation and sudden infant death syndrome ( SIDS). .
But when parents are desperate for just a few hours of sleep, bed-sharing emerges. Anyone who’s put their baby to bed for 3 o’clock feeding knows how easy it is to doze off with the baby in your arms while breastfeeding, whether you want it or not.
A recently updated joint declaration on safe infant sleep, issued by the CPS and Health Canada last month, confirms what many parents have seen firsthand: a third of Canadian mothers say they share beds regularly and another third say they do it occasionally. The majority of Canadian parents will at some point sleep together regardless of the advice and regardless of the best intentions. The new statement reflects this reality.
“We knew we had to speak to the elephant in the room,” says April Kam, a CPS advisor and pediatrician in Hamilton, Ontario.
Ultimately, says Kam, the safest place to sleep for babies is a cot, a cradle or a bassinet, because sharing a bed increases the risk of suffocation and overheating. It’s the CPS’s job to understand what the risks of SIDS are, Kam says, but it’s up to parents to decide what works best for their family, and the more information parents have, the better . For this reason, the joint statement has been updated to take into account the behaviors and family circumstances that can put babies at risk most in danger. According to the new statement, these risks are “particularly high in infants under four months of age, in premature babies or with low birth weights”. But IIf you do go to bed anyway, there are steps you can take to reduce the risks.
If possible, breastfeed for at least two months
Research has shown that breastfeeding reduces the risk of SIDS, Kam says. “Breastfeeding for at least two months is protective, and the longer you breastfeed, the more protective it is up to a point.” When sleeping together, however, Kam says the benefits of breastfeeding or Breast feeding do not completely negate the higher risks of sharing a bed.
James McKenna, California anthropologist and author of the book Safe infant sleep, says mothers who sleep next to their babies can be perfectly safe and even good for the baby as long as parents are careful. McKenna, who founded the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame, studies the physiology and behavior of mothers and babies who sleep at the same time. His research has led him to conclude that “the safest sleeping environment is one that traps a nursing mother”. He doesn’t say yes be ashamed of those who cannot breastfeed, or choosing not to breastfeed – it has more to do with the science of sleeping and keeping a baby awake.
During the first three months, when babies are most prone to SIDS, all babies are prone to periods of sleep apnea where they temporarily stop breathing, he explains. That is normal. When breastfed babies sleep next to their mother, “they wake up all night practicing stimulating breathing,” he explains. “You’ll get really good at it.” In contrast, McKenna and colleagues found that babies who slept alone did not wake up as often to interrupt these periods of sleep apnea.
“There’s this whole idea that the ‘good baby is the baby who sleeps through the night and sleeps deeply, and that’s not true, ”says McKenna. “What makes the bond between mother and child so important is a constant change between sleep phases and arousal mechanisms that supply the baby with oxygen.”
Beyond this arousal mechanism, McKenna and his researchers have observed that nursing mothers Sleep in what is known as a C position.
“Many mothers sleep on their side with the baby, under the triceps, at chest level and pull their legs up under the baby’s feet,” says McKenna. This arrangement provides protection from slipping when compared to non-breastfeeding babies who tend to sleep further up towards the pillow and not necessarily face the mother. (Note that pillows should actually be removed from bed entirely.)
Stay sober and smoke free
Exposure to second-hand cigarette smoke during pregnancy and after birth isn’t just frowned upon – it has a very real impact on how your baby’s brain works, McKenna explains. The chemicals in the smoke damage the stimulation points in the brain that allow the baby to breathe properly overnight, and this increases the risk of SIDS.
“Smoking and sharing a bed seem to have a synergistic effect,” the CPS statement said. “The risk of SIDS is significantly higher in infants who share the bed with an adult who smokes, or if their mother smoked during pregnancy.”
The new opinion also suggests that prenatal and prolonged alcohol consumption, Opioids and other substances (not just nicotine) are all linked to an increased risk of SIDS, especially when sharing beds. “Both mother and father should avoid desensitization from drugs or alcohol,” says McKenna.
If you want to sleep together, make it a safe place to sleep
Kam emphasized the importance of never laying a baby to sleep on a soft surface with loose bedding that most typical adult beds contain. That means no blankets, no pillows, no duvets, no nursing pillows and no bumpers. A firm mattress with a tight-fitting sheet is the only option. (No water beds, no air mattresses, and also no pillow top mattresses.)
Extra beds attached to the bed or extra beds with foldable sides are also not recommended, as small children can get trapped in the spaces between the bed, mattress and extra bed. (In fact, most of these types of products are not available in Canada.)
And also avoid the whole “family bed” concept, adds Kam. Sharing bed with other adults, older children, and pets further increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome. The safest way to sleep together is to limit the bed to just your parents and baby.
When Galt first decided Hug co-sleeping, she wanted to make sure that she made it as safe as possible. “I’ve read everything and made sure nothing is dangerous. We never drank or smoked weed. Elliot slept with no pillows, no blankets, and so did I, ”she says.
After all, don’t sleep on a couch or chair with your baby in your arms, on your chest, or next to you. “Sleeping together on a couch or deck chair is always dangerous,” says McKenna.
How about a swaddled baby co-sleep?
A well-fitting sleeping bag is fine if you sleep together but never share with a swaddled baby. The updated opinion of the CPS also underlines that Wrap does not reduce the risk of SIDS. In fact, Kam says swaddling can be dangerous in certain circumstances.
Regardless of where you put your baby to sleep, “Don’t put a swaddled child on its side or stomach and stop winding when the baby shows signs of rolling, ”says Kam. Swaddling should also be kept away from the baby’s mouth or nose, closer to the shoulders, and not bunched near the chin or face. If you a. use Blanket as a wrap, choose a light one so as not to overheat the baby.
Can pacifiers help protect babies while they sleep?
Yes, you can. There is evidence that once breastfeeding is established, pacifiers can help keep babies safe, as sucking induces the breath reflex and reduces these periods of apnea in newborns, Kam said.
Is room sharing safer than sharing beds?
Room sharing is a good, protective option that keeps infants close to their parents overnight, but not in the same bed, Kam says. (You can do this with a cradle, travel bed or a regular cot if you have the space in your bedroom. Or some parents prefer to sleep on an adult mattress in the children’s room next to the cot.) Sharing rooms is associated with a lower SIDS risk and is recommended for the first six months of life.
Because SIDS risks peak between two and four months, and it is less common between six and twelve months, parents can relax a little as their babies get older.
“As with most aspects of parenting, as the child ages, you can continue to modify and adapt their developmental stages,” says Kam. For example, if your baby learns to turn over, you can be less worried about sleeping on their back – let them sleep on their tummy when they are there alone.
Ultimately, there are a multitude of factors that affect safety and increase or decrease the risks to the baby. It is certainly possible to make bed sharing safer, but it still carries an increased risk of SIDS. Remember that sleeping together between a sober and smokeless breastfeeding mother and her child is safest in a firm bed with no loose sheets. Any deviation from this increases the risk of sudden child death, says Kam.
She likes to use an analogy with bicycle safety: “Take into account all protective layers that we wear on our bicycle. Maybe we’d only be safe with some of these, and maybe we wouldn’t get away with any. But it makes sense to protect ourselves as much as possible. ”She says parents have to do their best every day, and their job is simply to make sure they are as educated as possible about the risk factors.
Baby Elliot is now almost two years old and still shares the bed with his mother. “I only see him in the morning and in the evening for an hour or two, so sleeping on many days is the longest time we have together,” says Galt. She is now completely convinced of co-sleeping and will definitely move on with future babies. “I know that’s taboo,” she says. “I thought we were doing sleep training because that’s the right thing to do. But the first few months are hell. And if you do all of the research on co-sleeping, I believe it can be done safely and lead to better recovery for everyone. ”