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Dr. Ferguson explains the risks of co-sleeping

Oftentimes, moms feel most connected to their new little ones through skin-to- skin contact and/or co-sleeping.

Pediatrician James W. Ferguson, MD explains the risks of co-sleeping and offers recommendations on how moms can most safely allow her baby to adjust to their new sleeping environment.

What is co-sleeping?

Co-sleeping occurs when mom and baby share the same bed.

Why do moms co-sleep?

It is a cultural thing, and it has been happening for thousands of years.  There are several reasons, for instance: a lot of moms have trouble separating from baby after they have carried him for 9 months.  They feel close to their baby when they co-sleep.  Plus, sometimes it just seems “easier” to soothe a fussy baby by bringing her to bed with you.  But this practice is putting our babies at extreme risk.

What are the risks associated with co-sleeping?

Risks include injury to the baby from falling from the caregiver's arms, suffocation or strangulation death.

Statistically, there has been a decrease in crib deaths, or SIDS.  With proper research, awareness and education, moms and nurses know that “back to sleep for every sleep” is the best sleeping position for a baby.  Now we are seeing an increase in suffocation deaths due to co-sleeping.  Our beds are full of bed linens, pillows, comforters, blankets and more.  Babies can inadvertently be strangled or suffocated when co-sleeping with a parent.  There are products that are on the market that claim to aid “safe” co-sleeping.  But co-sleeping is never safe.

What do you tell moms is the best sleep practice for their new baby?

I tell moms the best thing they can do for their baby is to allow them be responsible for their own sleep patterns as soon as possible.  Babies are on similar patterns as the mom during pregnancy.  But as soon as they are born, they begin to imprint what is normal. 

Babies should sleep alone in a crib as soon after birth as possible. Swaddling recreates the tight feeling of the womb and may help your baby settle at first. Gradually loosen the wrap so that baby gets used to the extra space.  By one month of age, they should be sleeping in a onesie, on a firm mattress in a crib with no bumper, blankets, toys, etc.  

Below are the American Academy of Pediatrics’ level A recommendations for safe sleeping:

  • Back to sleep for every sleep
  • Use a firm sleep surface
  • Room-sharing without bed-sharing is recommended
  • Keep soft objects and loose bedding out of the crib
  • Consider offering a pacifier at nap time and bedtime

* Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. November 2011, Volume 128, Number 5.


 Discuss these and other safe practices with your pediatrician or primary care physician.