Studies show that it is best for infants to sleep in close proximity to a committed caregiver. Dr. William Sears says “Since babies' nighttime needs are met faster by having mom so close by, I find that they cry less, which helps to minimize the elevation of stress hormones. In my four decades as a pediatrician, I have found that parents feel closer to their babies and learn their cues better too. For me, sleeping near baby is really an exercise in baby-reading.”
Dr. James McKenna, Ph.D., director of the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame has been a longtime advocate for co-sleeping. Out of the past 20 years and studies of hundreds of co-sleeping mothers, he discovered that co-sleeping mother-infant pairs have a sort of synchrony sleep cycles throughout the night: That is to say, when baby is sleeping deeply, the mother is usually sleeping deeper as well. Then when baby wakes up because of a nighttime need (hunger, upset, cold, etc.), mother tends to be in her light-sleep cycle so the pair can resettle back to sleep more easily. Dr. William Sears calls this “nighttime harmony”.
However, there is a big controversy in our country on the safety issues of co-sleeping and bed sharing. Although co-sleeping and bed sharing are more common in other areas of the world, the biggest safety issue is the sleeping surface that the baby is sleeping on. Modern mattresses are not as firm as what is needed for safe sleep. The wonderful pillow tops, feather toppers and other toppers meant to ‘form to your shape’ and give you a more comfortable night’s sleep is very dangerous for babies as they could form around the head of the baby. NPR states that, in New Jersey, most sudden unexpected infant deaths are related to sleep — a baby sharing a bed with an adult, or being suffocated by a blanket.
So how do you keep a baby close but safe?
A ‘safe crib’ is suggested by https://onsafety.cpsc.gov They state that “a safe crib is one that meets CPSC’s strong federal safety standards and is clear of clutter. That means no pillows, no heavy quilts, no thick blankets, no pillow-like stuffed toys or other large stuffed toys and no child carrying devices, recliners or sleep positioners.” A safe crib has a firm mattress and a tight-fitting sheet. However, most parents are reluctant or may not have room for a full-sized crib in their room. To help keep baby close parents may decide to use a traditional bassinet or a pack-n-play that has a bassinet attachment. This keeps baby in the same room with their parents but may not be exactly what a family wants.
What if I do want to co-sleep?
Fortunately, in today’s market, there is a safe option for families that wish to co-sleep with baby safely. These are called arm’s reach sleepers. These sleepers attach to the side of the parent’s bed, gives them a separate sleeping area and a firm mattress. Separate surface co-sleeping is a much safer alternative to having baby in bed with the parents. Since the sleeper attaches to the bed, baby is right next to his caregiver and can be easily moved over for bottle feeding or nursing. Then can be gently slid back into their own sleeping area but close enough to be patted or otherwise comforted. The drawback of these sleepers is the cost. At around $150+ the expense may be more than some families can afford.
Baby in a box?
Another option that is new to the US is the Baby Box. However, it’s not a new thing in Finland. For 75 years, Finland's expectant mothers have been given a box by the state. It's like a starter kit of clothes, sheets and toys that can even be used as a bed. And some say it helped Finland achieve one of the world's lowest infant mortality rates. It's a tradition that dates back to the 1930s and it's designed to give all children in Finland, no matter what background they're from, an equal start in life.
Several states here in the United States are picking up on this tradition in the hope to provide safer sleeping conditions but to also provide each family with the proper environment and tools. It’s also an economic alternative for those that have little space or are struggling financially. Some may find the idea of putting their baby in a box just crazy. However, these baby boxes don’t just provide a safe sleeping surface but also comes with education. Those states that have implemented the baby box program say that even if the parents don’t use the box for baby to sleep in the education they receive is invaluable. For parents to receive a box they must take a short course through Baby Box University online. Once that is finished they are directed to pick up their box at the nearest location.
Whether you choose to co-sleep, put baby in a crib or a box, remember that it is safest for baby to sleep on their back. Go to https://www1.nichd.nih.gov/sts/Pages/default.aspx to learn more about sleep and safety for your baby.
* https://www.babyboxco.com/ ~ Don’t have a baby box program in your area, or want to give one as a gift. Baby Box Co. has a delightful select of boxes and items.
* Arm’s reach co-sleepers can be found at Amazon.com, Babies R Us, and most stores that carry baby furniture.