Co-sleeping is dangerous if we look at the news. There was the teen who left her baby alone on the bed as she snuck out to party at 4 a.m. like all grown-ups do, and now a 5-month-old baby in Chicago drowned. "But wait, Christie!" you say. "What does that have to do with co-sleeping?" So glad you asked. It has to do with co-sleeping because the baby drowned in a bucket of water that he fell into when he rolled off a bed. Since, you know, everyone keeps buckets of water in the bedroom and all (what the hell?). Just like how there are rules to making your crib safe, there are rules to making your bed safe for co-sleeping, too!
Rule #1: Don't leave dangerous crap on the floor.
No, seriously. Although your goal is that your baby never falls from your bed, it can happen. Babies can suffocate in a pile of your dirty laundry if they land face-down in it. Or drown if you happen to keep buckets by your bed. Ahem. If your baby DOES fall off your bed, let's hope you actually hear it (unlike the parents in that story). Which leads me to ...
Rule #2. Don't leave baby unattended without a monitor ON the bed.
Unlike crib-sleeping, you cannot leave a half-awake baby on your bed. You only leave once they're out, and the second they make a peep, you need to be with them. The best way to make sure you accomplish this is to put the monitor receiver ON your bed, near the baby. You'll be able to hear them breathe, move, and unfortunately, even poop.
Rule #3. Commit to co-sleeping. Or just don't do it.
One of the problems with co-sleeping is when it's only done sometimes. You need to choose. Parents who co-sleep "sometimes" are at much higher risk for problems because they're not used to it -- baby or parents. No bringing the baby in at 2 a.m. because you're exhausted -- start the night there with your husband's consent or deal with the crib struggles.
Rule #4. It's not co-sleeping if you're not on a bed.
While stupid studies will count a drunk father passing out on the couch with a baby as co-sleeping or mark a woman passing out on an airplane and smothering her baby with her boob as a co-sleeping death, I don't count it, and neither do some more credible, non-crib-and-formula-manufacturer-biased sources. (The main promoter and funding of the US's anti-cosleeping campaign is done by the JMPA -- makers of cribs.) Co-sleeping is both parents intentionally and knowingly taking a baby into their own bed with them at night, every night. Passing out elsewhere is risky, so get to bed when your eyelids start drooping. Included in "unsafe things to sleep on" is waterbeds, too ... sorry '70s lovers, they're just not safe for the wee beasties.
Rule #5. Be sober and don't co-sleep if you have sleep issues.
Excessively obese folk can struggle with sleep apnea, which in turn, can make it harder for them to be aware of goings-on during the night, so co-sleeping's not recommended. (Though on a personal note, I feel that you know if you're a light or heavy sleeper, regardless of your personal girth, but you're just statistically more likely to struggle to wake if you've got sleep apnea, which comes with being obese.) If you're a heavy smoker, drugged up on Ambien, or just drank a bottle of scotch, not only should you probably have someone who isn't messed up responsible for your children, but you certainly shouldn't pass out with a baby tucked under your arm.
Rule #6. Watch the fluff.
Make sure you're not putting warm blankets or your pillow on your baby's head. Wear a warm shirt so you're comfortable with your blanket being much closer to your waist, and if you've got one arm around the baby (as people who breastfeed while side-lying often do), train yourself to keep that arm on top of the blanket. Then you literally cannot pull the blanket over the baby. And on that note, if you're going to use a blanket, use something breathable, like a crocheted blanket. Unless it's winter and you have no heat, baby doesn't need a blanket really anyway -- footed jammies are pretty warm, and after the first week or so, babies need no more warmth than you do. Of course, keep your sheets pulled tight, don't put a million pillows or blankets on the bed, and make sure baby sleeps on her back. That's kind of obvious, but I figured I should say it just in case.
Rule #7. Keep it a one-kiddo affair.
Not to say you can't co-sleep with multiple children at once, but if you do, they need to be separated in the bed. Don't allow children to sleep next to each other, especially a much larger child with an itty bitty infant. Your fur-babies, too, need to know they can't lay with human-baby. Baby is best off being next to mom at all times (sorry Dad) because mothers have been shown to be uniquely aware of baby, even in the deepest sleep. Ask seasoned co-sleeping moms about the times they've caught their baby as they rolled toward the edge -- and THEN woke up and realized what happened.
Rule #8. When in doubt, skip it.
If you're not entirely comfortable with co-sleeping, don't do it! While numerous studies have shown that babies (especially in the SIDS risk time frame) are safest sleeping near their parents, this doesn't have to be in the same bed. Check out the Arm's Reach Co-Sleeper ($99.97 at Wal-Mart), or if you have a crib, you can even side-car your crib.
Rule #9. Don't take flak.
If other people start telling you it's unsafe, correct them. Point out that just like cribs, there are rules to do it safely, and done safely, baby is better off near mother as it helps them regulate their breathing, and moms are more aware of silent changes in the baby's body -- such as bouts of apnea or other distress. When babies are breastfed and co-sleep, they have the lowest rate of SIDS of any other category. And don't believe people who insist that the longer your child sleeps with you, the harder it will be to get them out -- this is almost always said by people who have never co-slept, think it's dangerous, or know one person with a horror story about how their child snuck in and climbed in bed with them until they were 8 (which breaks rule #3 anyway). It's really easy to gently wean toddlers out of your bed (Rowan slept on my floor on his mattress for six months before he chose to move into his room), especially when once they're weaned from the breast. It just takes time and understanding.
Do you co-sleep? Do you follow these rules?
Image ©iStock.com/Chris Fertnig