Co-sleeping – how to start and how to stop with your baby or toddler

Megan Faure, author of 'The Babysense Secret', investigates co-sleeping’s benefits and risks, as well as how to start and how to stop

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You can face some tough, controversial decisions when you’re a parent. What makes the decisions tough is that there are such varied opinions and every expert, mum and family member seems to have a very firm opinion on how you should raise your baby. One of the more highly charged topics you’ll come across is co-sleeping. Should you co-sleep? Shouldn’t you?

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If you’re considering co-sleeping, it’s important to know the potential dangers and well as the benefits, how to make it as safe as possible, and how to stop when you no longer want your baby in your bed.

Benefits of co-sleeping

There’s evidence that babies who co-sleep breastfeed for longer than babies who don’t. This is probably due to the fact that these babies have more free access to their mum’s breast for night feeds.  

Sleep researcher James McKenna believes that babies who co-sleep have better immunity, possibly due to the benefits from breastfeeding. 

There’s the convenience of sleeping with your small baby. Instead of getting up to check on your little one or to feed her, you can simply roll over to do either.

Some research indicates that children who share sleep spaces with their parents experience emotional benefits such as security, emotional stability and are more likely to be well-adjusted in the long run.

Risks of co-sleeping

In recent years, co-sleeping has become recognised as a risk factor for cot death or SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). The American Association of Pediatrics recommends that parents don’t co-sleep at all. The UK’s Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths (FSID) advises the safest place for your baby to sleep during the night and the day is in a crib or cot in a room with you for the first six months.  

An enormous amount of recent research points towards the risks of co-sleeping. Most of this research highlights where you co-sleep and your state whilst sleeping. Falling asleep on a sofa is very risky for your baby and has been conclusively linked to cot death. Likewise, if you’ve had even one glass of wine or a painkiller you shouldn’t co-sleep with your baby as suffocation is much more likely when a co-sleeping parent sleeps deeply. 

Even removing these confounding factors, co-sleeping in a bed with your baby under 6 months of age does increase the risk of cot death. The question is whether the risks outweigh the benefits and this is where the discussion on co-sleeping takes place. 

See our safe baby sleeping guidelines for more general advice on reducing the risk of cot death.

  • How much sleep your baby needs
  • Your baby’s sleeping patterns – what you can expect in the first year
  • Getting your baby into a sleep routine

Co-sleeping safety advice

If you’re choosing to co-sleep, you can help make it safer and feel more confident in your decision by taking the following into consideration:

  • Your baby must sleep on her back
  • Don’t have a pillow near your baby
  • Don’t cover your baby with your duvet, or use an electric blanket or hot water bottle
  • Place your baby on the outside of the bed next to you, not between you and your partner
  • Have a sleep nest that creates a space for your baby in your bed
  • Don’t co-sleep if your baby is exposed to cigarette smoke during the day
  • Don’t drink alcohol or take any form of pain medication before bedtime

Managing co-sleeping with your newborn or young baby

Co-sleeping with your newborn may feel like the most natural way to sleep. You can feed on demand through the night and don’t have to get up to feed or check on your baby.

If you’re on pain medication don’t co-sleep with your newborn. The risk of suffocating your baby, rolling on her or increasing her body temperature with your body heat or blankets is increased.

If you have concerns, you can phone the FSID’s free helpline on 0808 802 6868 (it’s not open 24-hours) or email helpline@fsid.org.uk for advice.

How to stop co-sleeping with your baby

The safest place for your newborn to sleep is in a crib next to your bed or in a co-sleeper cot.

At this age, your baby will find the transition to sleep in her own space easy. Moving your baby from your bed to her own sleep space becomes increasingly difficult after 6 months of age due to habits and expectations.

Co-sleeping with your toddler

While toddlers should sleep in their own space, strangely enough this is the time when co-sleeping is most common.

How to stop co-sleeping with your toddler

Since habits will become firmly entrenched at this age, now is the time to make the move. It’s better to make the move to her own room before your child’s 2 years old, while still in a cot. Once in a bed, boundaries need to be instilled, which raises another whole set of issues. 

If you need to instill bed space boundaries, be firm and consistent. If you find the battle is too great, you can move to a halfway space. This is where your toddler has a sleep space next to your bed – a mattress on the floor is fine.

For more toddler sleep advice, try:

  • Accidental co-sleeping – getting your toddler to sleep in her own bed
  • Teach your toddler to stay in her own bed
  • Major toddler sleep problems – solved
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At the end of the day, regardless of your baby’s age, you’ll need to make a call on sleep space and co-sleeping that you’re comfortable with. Like all other parenting decisions, it might be a tough one and really there’s no right or wrong.

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