By Jeannette Crenshaw, DNP, RN, IBCLC, NEA-BC, FAAN, LCCE, FACCE, and Linda J. Smith, MPH, IBCLC, LCCE, FACCE
Ask anyone how much sleep you're likely to get after your baby is born and they'll all tell you the same thing: Not much. But ask where your baby should sleep and you'll probably get several different answers. Even the professionals can't agree. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises parents not to take their babies with them to sleep at night (called bed-sharing) due to the belief that this increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). The AAP recommends that babies have a separate but nearby place to sleep, such as a crib in the parents' bedroom. No research is available to support the notion that it's safer for babies to sleep alone, or that those who do become more independent than babies who sleep with their parents. In fact, some experts suggest that bed-sharing may actually promote self-reliance and self-esteem. At the end of the day (literally), the choice is yours.
Skin-to-Skin & Rooming-In
Since the beginning of time, women have needed and wanted their new babies close to them. Today we know that this yearning for closeness is a physiological need shared by both mother and baby. Studies have shown that newborns who are placed skin-to-skin on their mother's chest right after birth will adjust more easily to life outside the womb, stay warmer, cry less and breastfeed sooner than newborns who are separated from their mothers.
So it's important that your baby stay as close to you as possible in the days following birth. When you share the same space (called rooming-in), you'll soon learn your newborn's needs, as well as how to best care for, soothe and comfort her. Rooming-in also offers the best start for breastfeeding. The nearer your baby is to you, the sooner you will make more milk and the more likely you are to breastfeed longer and exclusively. (Experts recommend exclusive breastfeeding no other foods or liquids during the first 6 months of life.)
Many new parents are concerned that if they sleep with their baby, everyone will wake often and no one will sleep deeply. This may be beneficial. Scientists with expertise in infant sleep believe that lighter sleep states and frequent awakenings are normal and healthy for babies and may be related to a lower risk of SIDS and suffocation. They agree that, despite frequent awakenings, a baby who sleeps in her parents' bed spends more total time asleep, since she falls back to sleep more quickly than if she were in a separate room. Plus, bed-sharing can harmonize sleep and wake times between the mother and baby.
Bed-sharing also is linked to successful breastfeeding, since the baby is right beside you and nighttime nursing is more convenient. Sleep researchers found that a breastfeeding mother usually sleeps on her side, encircling her baby with her upper arm above the baby's head and her knees bent below her baby's feet. This natural position keeps her baby near her breast and safe.
It's safety that should concern you most. No matter where your baby sleeps, always put her on her back when you lay her down. This is the best known SIDS prevention tactic. Keep the bedroom at a temperature you find comfortable when lightly clothed, and dress your baby for sleep the same way. Overheating can be dangerous. Her crib, bassinet or cradle should meet current safety standards and be free of soft bedding and plush toys, which are suffocation hazards.
If you choose to bed-share, remember that adult beds are not designed to keep babies safe. Be sure that you have a firm, flat mattress that fits tightly against the headboard, bed frame and wall, so your baby won't get trapped or stuck. Cover the mattress with a light sheet and remove heavy bedding and soft objects like comforters and pillows before you go to bed. Take steps to reduce the chance that your baby will fall out of bed (such as pushing the bed snugly against the wall).
Be sure your partner knows your baby is in bed with you. If an older child shares your bed too, you or your partner should sleep between your child and your baby. Never let your baby sleep alone in an adult bed, with a pet, or with anyone who is overtired, smokes, drinks, abuses drugs or takes a drug that may cause drowsiness. And don't forget that it's not safe to fall asleep with your baby on a water bed, sofa, recliner, or armchair.
The safest choice for your baby to sleep? A place near you. She may share your bed or just your room, sleep with you some nights and in her crib on others, or fall asleep in your bed with you after nursing. What's most important is that you and your baby are near each other and get some sleep.