What the Latest Sleep Guidelines Mean for Co-Sleepers

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My daughter spent the first six months of her life sleeping in a bassinet next to my bed. Though her bedroom was right next to mine, I was convinced that I would fall into such an exhausted slumber that I wouldn’t hear her cries for feedings. So she stayed in our room as long as the bassinet could accommodate her.

People asked if I ever felt the need for “space” or just wanted some peace and quiet. Truth be told, I felt like I was nursing around the clock during the first few months. I slept when she slept and ate right after she ate. It wasn’t until I started working again that I realized why I might need some space. The exhaustion of parenting a newborn can be overwhelming and all consuming. Though I didn’t crave space in those days, I could understand why others did.

All families are different. Repeat that. We all have different needs and we all make parenting choices that we hope will benefit our families. We all make our own choices when it comes to sleep.

Recent guidelines released by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) outline safe sleep practices for infants with the hope of reducing infant loss from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Highlights from the newest sleep guidelines include the following:

  • Place infants in the supine position (wholly on the back) for every sleep by the caregiver for the first year of life
  • Place infants on a firm sleep surface covered by a fitted sheet with no other bedding or soft objects
  • Do not place infants for sleep on beds because of the risk of entrapment or suffocation
  • Portable bed rails should not be used with infants because of the risk of entrapment or strangulation
  • Sitting devices, such as car seats, swings, or infant carriers are not recommended for routine sleeping
  • Infants should sleep in the parents’ room, close to the parents’ bed, but on a separate surface safe for infants for at least six months

The reality is that falling asleep while feeding, or just after, is fairly common. Sometimes infants spend time in a bed simply because parents are exhausted. In this case, the AAP sleep guidelines recommend removing all soft objects (pillows!) and bed coverings (sheets and duvets!) to reduce the risk of suffocation. Yikes.

There is some good news for pacifier-loving kids. The AAP reports that pacifier use during sleep has a protective effect against SIDS.

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It’s hard to sort out the information when it feels like it keeps changing. It’s also difficult to balance family needs with the latest and greatest research on infant safety!

Many families enjoy co-sleeping or family bedrooms. What the latest sleep guidelines tell us is that having your infant in your room is actually the best case scenario for at least six months and up to a year. But what about co-sleeping or adding other kids to the mix?

Set up a safe sleep space.

One family got really creative. They use a bedside sleeper attached to mom’s side of the bed for the infant and moved a twin size mattress up against the other side of the bed for the toddler. In doing this, they created a safe sleep space for each child with mom and dad in the middle.

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Co-sleeping with multiple children requires creativity and versatility, but it isn’t impossible! Many families enjoy the closeness and attachment that sharing a bedroom brings.

Create bedtime routines.

When kids share rooms, whether it’s a kid room or a family room, bedtime routines are essential. Some kids fall into bed and are asleep in minutes while others need fifteen hugs and three glasses of water. Sometimes that glass of water kid keeps the other one awake, and frustration ensues.

Develop bedtime routines for each child so that your kids know what to expect and each child has time to be with mom or dad before bed. If it’s a family room, the little ones know you’ll be back at your bedtime and might not crave quite so many extras at bedtime.

Make room for intimacy.

While both of my kids spent the first six weeks in my bedroom, I didn’t consider it co-sleeping. Having them nearby meant better sleep and less worries. I slept and fed, slept and fed. They napped in their cribs throughout the day and when they were ready, they moved to their cribs at night.

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I can’t pretend to have all the answers for maintaining intimacy while using a family bed, but I have talked to many parents who’ve made it work. Here’s the bottom line: There’s no rule that intimacy has to occur at night and/or in the master bedroom. If the whole family is sleeping in one room, chances are you have another free room in the house! Make time for each other. The early days of parenting are tiring at best, but it’s important to carve out time for each other.

Here's hoping these sleep guidelines and tips are helpful to you and your family! Sleep well, everyone.

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What the Latest Sleep Guidelines Mean for Co-Sleepers

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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