Up to 60 percent of parents sleep with their new baby in bed with them at some point in the first year of their child’s life. And this number doesn’t just include people who’ve made a conscious decision to co-sleep; it encompasses all the exhausted mothers who’ve drifted off while nursing, only to wake up terrified that they’ve endangered their babies. The American Academy of Pediatrics has just released its first major updated guidelines for safe sleep since 2011, and while many of its conclusions have not changed in five years, several alterations have been introduced to acknowledge the reality that, sometimes, babies and adults wind up in the same bed.
In the report, “SIDS and Other Sleep-Related Infant Deaths: Updated 2016 Recommendations for a Safe Infant Sleeping Environment,” the Academy continues to draw on the latest findings to recommend that babies never share beds or other sleeping environments with parents, listing this as one of the major risk factors for SIDS and suffocation for an infant. However, the report also acknowledges that breastfeeding — which is recommended as another way to decrease SIDS risk — often leads to a sleepy mother and child. This often ends with parents unintentionally breaking the rules for safe sleep. So the AAP is now making some recommendations to help parents make better choices.
In fact, the guidelines now state that if you’re going to fall asleep while feeding a baby, a bed — one with no soft blankets or pillows covering mother or child — is a much safer place than a chair or sofa. “Parents should never place the baby on a sofa, couch, or cushioned chair, either alone or sleeping with another person. We know that these surfaces are extremely hazardous.”
“If you are feeding your baby and think that there’s even the slightest possibility that you may fall asleep, feed your baby on your bed, rather than a sofa or cushioned chair,” wrote Lori Feldman-Winter, MD, FAAP, in a statement. Feldman-Winter is a co-author of the report. “If you do fall asleep, as soon as you wake up be sure to move the baby to his or her own bed,” she said.
Though the AAP isn’t saying it’s ever safe to co-sleep, they are encouraging “open and non-judgmental conversations” between families and pediatricians about their sleeping practices.
About 3,500 infants a year die of sleep-related causes, a number that has steadily fallen since the 1990s, when national campaigns began recommending safe-sleep guidelines. These include always putting babies to sleep on their backs on firm surfaces without any blankets, sheets, or bumpers, in rooms that are not overly warm. Research has also found that children should not sleep around smoke, and that they should be breastfed. The AAP now also recommends that babies sleep in the same room as their parents for at least six months or ideally up to one year, and that pacifiers be offered at bed and nap time.