While many parents cherish the idea of having their children sleep beside them, experts discourage this practice due to safety concerns. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises against co-sleeping with children, highlighting the risk of suffocation due to limited space. However, many parents, especially in India, prefer having their kids sleep with them. In such cases, mitigating the potential health risks becomes paramount through the implementation of certain safety measures, enabling parents to create lifelong memories while safely co-sleeping with their children.
Sonia Dutta Gupta (33), a Bangalore-based freelance designer, recalls her early days as a new mother. Her son Dhruv, now two years old, is always around her. “Dhruv is always with me and likes to play when I try to make him sleep. His playtime starts on the bed as I narrate stories and sing songs to make him sleep. These small moments with my son relieve my stress and boost my energy,” says Gupta, who firmly believes that co-sleeping builds a strong bond between the parents and the child. “It makes him feel secure as well,” she adds.
Why do parents choose co-sleeping?
For Gupta, the practice of co-sleeping started when she was a child. “It was natural for me to sleep with my mother. I was moved to another room when I turned eight years old,” she recalls. She also adds that co-sleeping helped her breastfeed her son and keep a close eye on him during the night. “Sometimes, I needed to change his diaper. He would also be hungry, and co-sleeping made it easier to tackle all such situations,” she notes.
Speaking about co-sleeping, Dr Haridharshan G J, consultant pediatrician, Apollo Hospitals, Bangalore, says it is very common in India. However, he points out that sharing the bed with a baby has its advantages and disadvantages.
Benefits and risks of co-sleeping
♦ Benefits of co-sleeping
According to Dr Saurabh Aggarwal, consultant pediatrician, Sehgal Neo Hospital, New Delhi, co-sleeping improves the bonding between parents and their children. In addition, it provides a sense of security to the child, averting any chance of stress or anxiety. He suggests sleeping with both parents is better for a child; if one parent doesn’t wake up, the other can address their needs.
“It is better to sleep with the infant till a certain age, as it helps the breast-feeding mother to feed her child easily, strengthening the mother-child bond,” says Dr Sumita Saha, consultant pediatrician and neonatologist, Fortis Hospital, Kolkata.
♦ Risks of co-sleeping
Co-sleeping can increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome. “Sudden infant death refers to a situation where a baby dies due to unexplained causes. Co-sleeping can cause a child to experience suffocation, which can be fatal in certain cases,” says Dr Aggarwal.
According to him, some other cons of co-sleeping include:
- Both the parents and the child may get poor-quality sleep if the bed space is limited.
- If the parents want to transfer the child to a separate room later, they may experience separation anxiety.
Co-sleeping with your baby: Precautions you must take
Dr Aggarwal suggests the following measures that parents should undertake to ensure the safety of their child while co-sleeping:
- The bed should have adequate space so that the baby can be comfortable and get a good night’s sleep.
- Avoid keeping soft toys on the bed, as they contain dust mites that might trigger an allergic reaction in the child.
- Parents need to be alert while sleeping with the baby so that they can recognize if the child feels any discomfort. Avoid drinking alcohol while co-sleeping, as it can affect your ability to notice such issues.
“Avoid keeping extra pillows on the bed and use the maximum space while sleeping with your baby. This eliminates the risk of suffocation,” cautions Dr Saha.
When to separate your child and why?
Experts say children should sleep separately after a certain age. “It is better to start separating the child gradually after two years in order to teach them self-dependency,” says Dr Aggarwal.
According to Dr Saha, it’s better to separate a child no later than the age of five; otherwise, they may develop separation anxiety in the future.
“Shifting the baby to a separate cradle is a good option if the bed space isn’t sufficient. Parents can keep the cradle in the same room,” says Dr Haridharshan.
Zoha Merchant, psychologist and co-founder of I Spy Hope, a counseling center in Bangalore, says children and even teenagers sometimes prefer to sleep with their parents as they fear sleeping alone. “In such cases, it’s always better to find the cause behind this behavior before reaching any conclusion. It could result from being bullied in school or some kind of anxiety issue that should be addressed with the help of a professional,” she explains.
She also adds that if a child is finding it difficult to break the habit of co-sleeping, parents can initially transfer the child to a separate bed or cradle in the same room. “Once the child gets accustomed, they can be moved to a different room,” she notes.
- Co-sleeping strengthens the bond between parents and their children. It also helps the breastfeeding mother feed the child easily and keep an eye on them during the night.
- Co-sleeping can also cause suffocation in the child if proper precautions are not taken. Parents should ensure that the bed has adequate space for them and their children.
- Parents should also avoid keeping soft toys on the bed and be alert during the night to notice if the baby is experiencing any discomfort.
- It’s essential for parents to start separating their children between the ages of 2 and 5 years old to prevent them from developing separation anxiety.