Posted by: Admin | April 26, 2011

My thoughts on co-sleeping!

Last week in Saskatoon, a  five-hour-old baby died while sleeping near his mother in her hospital bed.  This is a very rare occurrence and is every mother’s nightmare! What went wrong here? I could not find any mention of this baby’s death on the internet, so I do not have any details on what exactly happened. A baby dying while in the same bed as his mother makes us question her behavior or her state of mind, but babies also die alone in their cribs! Most of these terrible deaths are labeled Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or SIDS, which is the category for most unexplained deaths of babies. When an infant’s death occurs, the coroner (the official person in charge of looking into the  death) is called in to investigate it.  In such occurrences, it is hard to tell if the baby was smothered or if he was a victim of SIDS, as symptoms of both conditions are similar.

But the question is: Did this baby die because he was sleeping in the same bed as his mother or did he die because of a lack of safety practices?

1- Was the baby placed in such a way that he could breathe properly?

It is recommended that the mother and baby be left together after birth so that the baby becomes accustomed to his new life, so he can start to breastfeed at his own pace, and so the mother can rest peacefully close to her baby. The mother is usually positioned lying on her back at a 45 degree angle, and her baby is placed upright between her breast, his head turned to the side. Her arms are around him, protecting him.

2- Were there security measures taken to ensure the the safety of the bedding?

Hospital beds are not very wide and they have bars on the side that have big gaps through which a baby can fall. Nurses will make sure the baby is well positioned and that pillows are used to close these gaps. If any risk exists, someone should be watching closely to make sure the baby does not fall from the bed.

3- Was the mother is a state of awareness that allowed her to be protective of her baby?

If the hospital staff is aware of the altered state of the mother, they should be with her, watching her and her baby, or they should make sure someone is with the mother to watch her and her baby. Hospital staff are busy, so they usually encourage the partner, the grandmother, a sister or a friend to accompany the mother.

The conclusion here is that it is all about safety measures.

So then, is it safe to sleep with your baby?

Mothers and parents have slept with their babies since the beginning of humanity. In some instances, there was and still is no other bed or safe place for the baby to sleep. His parents’ bed is then the safest place.

There are many benefits to co-sleeping:

–          it is easier to breastfeed at night without getting up

–           you are constantly near your baby to help him if he chokes, regurgitates or struggles

–           babies and mothers sleep better when kept together

–          the mother’s breathing stimulates the baby to breathe better and more regularly

–          the mother and baby develop a special, symbiotic bond

Traditionally, Cree elders have asked that mothers never fall asleep near their babies. They are afraid of the mother smothering her baby as she sleeps.  Although this has occurred, most babies who die in their parents’ bed are not smothered by their mother. In most cases reported in Canada, the baby was smothered by siblings or as a result of unsafe bedding. For instance, the baby could get stuck between the bed and the wall it had been pushed against. Or, in the case of a baby sleeping with a parent on a couch, the baby could get stuck between a pillow and the back or the armrest. When a mother sleeps with her baby, she instinctively positions herself on her side, turned towards her child, her knees drawn up protectively and her arm circled over the top of his head. The baby is usually on his back with his head turned towards his mother. If ever her partner, sleeping on the other side of her baby, moves a little too close to the baby, her extended arm or her drawn-up knee will feel it right away and he will be pushed away quickly. Mothers in a normal state (not under the influence of drugs or mental depression) will awaken at every little noise or movement from their babies. They will rouse slightly, make sure all is well, help the baby latch and go right back to sleep. Their sleep is restoring but is never too deep, so they will rise if the baby needs them. This is what nature has provided for mothers!

Sadly, there are instances when we should never sleep with a baby. First of all, it is quite clear that parents who take pain killers or who abuse drugs or alcohol should not sleep with their babies. They will not be aware of their movements or actions and might hurt the baby. Also, parents who are overtired, depressed or very sick should not sleep in the same bed as their baby. We have also learned from research that smoking during pregnancy is linked with a higher risk of SIDS, so if you have smoked during your pregnancy, pay more attention to your baby during sleep and avoid sleeping with him in the same bed. Naturally, never smoke around your baby or in the house as it might affect your baby’s breathing.

Co-sleeping is much more frequent than we think. Some parents who never intended to co-sleep end up doing it because it is easier and enjoyable. Parents have the right to do what they believe is best for their children. There should be no blanket recommendations as to sleeping or not sleeping with your baby, but we do need some safety tips to follow:

-Never fall asleep on a couch with your baby

– Never cover your baby; it is important for him not to be too hot, and not to have his face covered

– Always position your baby to sleep on his back

-Always place your baby between you and your partner, never at the edge of a bed and never where the bed meets the wall

– Do not put anything around him: no blankets, no pillows, etc.

– Do not let your baby sleep with his brothers and sisters until he is old enough to be able to move if someone should roll over him

– Do not put your baby to sleep with a bottle

– Breastfeed your baby, it has been shown to decrease the risk of SIDS

– If you do not breastfeed, babies who suck a pacifier have also been shown to have a lower risk of SIDS

– Do not smoke during pregnancy, but if you did, avoid sleeping with your baby

If co-sleeping is not for you, look at the importance of proximity to your baby. As a rule-of-thumb, if you can see, touch and hear your baby, you should be able to use your maternal instinct to keep him safe and to answer his needs. In the daytime, a safety-regulated playpen placed in the same area where you are and, at night, a safety-regulated crib right next to your bed should enable you to be close to your baby at all times.

Most of the time, mothers have a sixth sense about their baby and will hear him as soon as he makes any small sound. They are aware of their baby’s presence even during their sleep, so they will not roll over him. They usually position themselves protectively around their baby, with one arm stopping anyone else from rolling over him. Sadly, in rare and dramatic instances, these special capacities that nature gave to mothers may not work. But let’s not forget that a baby in a crib somewhere behind a closed door is not risk-free either!

Sorry about the gloomy subject for a beautiful Tuesday morning, but it is important to let people know about these safety issues.



  1. Thank you Dany for such a positive and balanced view of co-sleeping. I practiced co-sleeping with both my children not just because it was more convenient but because it felt so natural, and I felt that I was able to respond better to my baby’s need for love and comfort. Unfortunately, all of the literature I read on co-sleeping was negative which almost led me to believe that I was doing something “illegal” — though my instincts told me otherwise. I think it’s a great practice for some breastfeeding mothers — with safety measures of course.

  2. There are also new studies showing that babies who fall asleep with pacifiers are less likely to die of SIDS. My daughter sleeps in a cradle RIGHT next to my bed. Litearlly. We also use an Angel Care monitor which will alarm if she stops breathing. I’m completly paranoid about SIDS.

    • Thank you for bringing this issue up! Yes, you are right, some studies talk about the pacifier in relation with SIDS. The reason seems to that it keeps the baby in a “lighter sleep” and thus, helps him breathe regularly. As we try to avoid the pacifier until breastfeeding goes well (first 6 weeks), I would suggest using breastfeeding instead of the pacifier to do the same thing. When my daughter slept with me, she would latch on every now and then. When the baby is near his mother, he smells her and her breastmilk and it keeps him stimulated. He has longer periods of “light sleep”. This is probably why the also link breastfeeding to a lower risk of SIDS. The fact that his mother’s breathing stimulates his own is also very important. Look up James J. McKenna’s research at

      Today’s post is lacking some details and can be confusing, I will be rewriting it and will be sure to include the information about the pacifier.

      Thanks for reading me!


    • I have rewritten the post!

      Thanks for your comments. My readers’s comments are always helpful…


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