The vast majority of new parents have co-slept with their baby, many of them in dangerous circumstances, according to new research.
A survey of more than 3,400 new parents, by cot death charity the Lullaby Trust for Safer Sleep Week (13-19 March), found nine out of 10 new mums and dads co-sleep with their baby at some point, with more than 40% admitting they’d fallen asleep on a sofa or armchair with their baby, which can increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS, aka cot death) by up to 50 times.
Yet only four in 10 of the parents had been advised by a health professional how to reduce the risk of SIDS if co-sleeping with their baby. So, The Lullaby Trust is calling for all parents to be given information on co-sleeping, to help save babies’ lives.
“Sadly, around three babies a week die from SIDS,” says Kate Holmes, head of support and information at the Lullaby Trust. “If all parents were aware of safer sleep advice, many lives could be saved.”
A recent report from the National Child Mortality Database (NCMD) on Sudden and Unexpected Deaths in Childhood found that of SIDS deaths recorded between April 2019 and March 2021, 98% of the babies died when thought to be asleep, and 52% of them were co-sleeping with an adult or older sibling. It also found at least 92% of the co-sleeping deaths were in hazardous circumstances, such as sleeping on a sofa with a baby, and 60% of the deaths occurred when the co-sleeping was unplanned.
The Lullaby Trust wants all new parents to be aware of the safest ways to sleep with a baby, and gives this advice…
1. Keep pillows and adult bedding away from baby
Items that could cover a baby’s head, or cause them to overheat, should be kept away from them, as the Lullaby Trust says a high proportion of babies lost to SIDS are found with their head covered by loose bedding.
Holmes says a baby sleep bag is a good idea, as there’s no risk of it going over their head, and stresses: “Adult bedding, including duvets and pillows, should be kept well away from baby, to reduce the risk of overheating or suffocation.”
2. Don’t bring other children or pets into bed with you
This safety advice is so there’s plenty of room in bed, explains Holmes. “It’s so there’s no risk of a baby being squashed or falling out of bed,” she says. “Young children can wriggle around, and they don’t have spatial awareness. So, if you’re sharing a bed with baby, it’s advisable that other children sleep elsewhere.
3. Ensure baby isn’t on the edge of the bed
Parents should be careful their baby isn’t on the edge of the bed, so they can’t fall out, and Holmes warns: “Be mindful of any gaps where the baby can potentially get wedged between the bed and the wall.”
4. Never leave baby unattended in an adult bed“It’s important that an adult is always present in the bed,” Holmes advises. “Babies shouldn’t be left unattended in the bed, as even young babies can wriggle and they could potentially fall off.”
5. Sleep babies on their backs
There’s increased risk of SIDS for babies who sleep on their tummies, says Holmes. “We don’t know exactly what causes SIDS,” she explains, “but we think it may be linked with arousal – babies tend to go into a deeper sleep if they’re on their front or sleep on their side, and research shows there’s an increased risk of SIDS for babies who sleep on their front or side.”
6. Sleep baby on a firm, flat mattress
“A firm, flat surface has been shown to reduce the risk of SIDS,” Holmes says. “There isn’t the risk of babies sinking into a soft surface, which can mean they can overheat and their head can be covered, so they can’t release heat from their head should they need to. It’s important babies are cooler rather than warmer.”
7. Never fall asleep on a sofa or armchair with baby
The risk of SIDS is 50 times higher for babies when they sleep on a sofa or armchair with an adult, Holmes points out. They can also easily slip into a position where they’re trapped and can’t breathe.
8. Don’t co-sleep with your baby if you’ve had alcohol
“It wouldn’t be advisable to share a bed with a baby if someone in the bed has consumed alcohol,” says Holmes. “It’s better for baby to sleep in their own space.”
9. Don’t co-sleep with your baby if anyone in the bed smokes
This advice isn’t just about smoking in the bedroom, it’s if someone in the bed is simply a smoker. The Lullaby Trust says around 60% of SIDS cases could be avoided if the baby was exposed to smoke during or after pregnancy.
10. Don’t co-sleep with premature or very light babies
If your baby was born prematurely (before 37 weeks of pregnancy) or weighed under 2.5kg or 5½lbs when they were born, you shouldn’t co-sleep with them, says Holmes. “It’s advisable not to share a bed with these babies as research shows it’s dangerous,” she says.
11. Don’t co-sleep with a baby if anyone in the bed has taken drugs that make them sleepy
Holmes warns that people who’ve taken medication that causes drowsiness may not have the same judgement, and may go into a deeper sleep, which can affect their ability to care for the baby.