About co-sleeping and babies’ biological needs

Co-sleeping safely

Most babies sleep best lying next to their parents. As long as you or your partner don’t sleep on a couch with your baby or abuse alcohol or drugs, you don’t need to worry about your baby being at risk of cot death caused by co-sleeping.

However, it’s very important that the baby can sleep safely in the bed, without rolling out or getting trapped somewhere. It’s also important to avoid having a lot of heavy pillows and duvets that could end up over the baby’s face.

Studies have shown that mothers that have not taken drugs or alcohol actually never lie on their baby, while a partner who’s sleeping deeply may not always have the same instincts. If that’s the case, a special pillow with firm sides can be used, designed for newborns, and placed in the middle of the bed where the baby can lie so that your partner doesn’t accidentally roll onto the baby. A babynest can also work well. If the bed is placed against a wall, the baby can lie closest to the wall and the mum next to it, in this way she gets to lie close to her partner. But remember to make sure that there’s not a gap between the wall and the bed where the baby can become trapped. Screw the bed to the wall and place a rolled up towel or blanket in the gap so that the baby is not endangered. There are also cots with removable sides, or co-sleepers – a kind of extra bed that can be attached to your bed.

These are open on one side so that the baby and the parent closest to the child are always close to each other at the same time as the baby is safe and protected and surrounded on the other sides.

Cigarette smoke that lingers in clothes and on the skin can be toxic to the baby so never lie next to a newborn baby if you’ve just smoked or been in a smoky environment.

Synthetic materials can be toxic

New mattresses manufactured with synthetic materials are full of chemicals that leak and can be harmful to newborns, so rather sleep on your old or used mattresses, or invest in a new mattress made from natural materials. An organic mattress and organic bedding or old bedding that’s been washed many times can be enough of a barrier between the baby and a mattress that where you’re uncertain of the contents.

The biological needs of babies

Because children of all ages fall asleep fastest and sleep the longest when they sleep with their parents it seems to be a biological need that doesn’t go away easily. If you think about it it isn’t so strange.

Human beings have been hunters and gatherers for most of our history, and until quite recently we couldn’t leave our children alone at all as they risked being eaten uppätna or freezing to death. Accordingly, children have up until about a hundred years ago been carried and slept close to their parents. In many countries it’s still normal to for several years constantly carry and sleep together babies. But here in the west we have the idea that small children should be independent and that they from the start need to adapt to their parents’ needs to continue life as it was before the baby was born.

Newborn babies are born with the instinct to cry if they’re left alone and become settled if they lie next to their parents – sensing their breaths and heartbeat ensure them that they won’t be abandoned and that they can fall asleep safely without fearing for their lives. If the children aren’t frightened and unsafe from the start, the children understand that there is no danger in sleeping alone. When they’re mature they themselves will choose to sleep in their own bed in their own room, but if you try to force this too quickly your child will probably protest loudly and make your day-to-day life harder than it needs to be.

Stay close and you’ll all get to sleep better

If you want to lie down and breastfeed at night you and your baby don’t have to awake completely and you will all feel more rested during the day. If you get very tired by having your nightly sleep interrupted you could try having a nap when your baby sleeps during the day and reduce your ambition about everything you need to do during the day.

Another advantage with co-sleeping is that the baby never needs to cry to be heard, and that also reduces the risk that the baby swallows air and gets gas in their gut that can cause colic. If you’re unable to sleep next to your baby you can have a cradle or cot next to the adults’ bed so that the baby can still hear your breaths and feel your energy, and thus sleep calmly safe in the knowledge that it’s not been abandoned.

Text from the book Föd på dina villkor, published by MiMa förlag 2019.

Go to cosleeping.org for different sources on the benefits of co-sleeping

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