Sleeping safely with your baby

This article looks at how to sleep safely with your baby if you decide to co-sleep.

Sleeping in the same bed as your baby is called co-sleeping or bed sharing. One way to get more rest is to co-sleep with your baby in bed, for part of the night or during the day. One advantage is that it is possible to let your baby breastfeed while you dose or sleep. Around half of all UK mums co-sleep with their baby at some time.

Some experts believe parents should be advised against co-sleeping because a larger proportion of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS or cot death) occur in the parents’ bed. Others point out that the risks associated with co-sleeping are very much reduced if neither parent smoke and are probably negligible if they avoid drinking alcohol, taking drugs or falling asleep with the baby on a sofa.

Co-sleeping safely

The Department of Health advises that bed-sharing should be avoided if one or both parents:

  • Is a smoker.
  • Has consumed alcohol.
  • Has taken any drugs, prescription or otherwise, that affect perception, cause drowsiness or affect depth of sleep.
  • Is excessively tired to the extent that this might affect being able to respond to the baby.

The risks of co-sleeping are also increased if your baby:

  • Was born premature (37 weeks or less).
  • Had a low birth weight (less than 2.5kg or 5.5lb).
  • Has a fever or any signs of illness.   

If you do decide to co-sleep, you need to:

  • Make sure your baby can’t fall out of bed.
  • Keep your baby cool by using sheets and blankets rather than a duvet.
  • Always put your baby to sleep on her back rather than her front or side.
  • If she is in a cot, make sure she can’t wriggle down under the blanket by putting her in the ‘feet to foot’ position with her feet at the bottom of the cot, rather than her head at the top.
  • Don’t use a pillow – babies don’t need a pillow until they are one year old.
  • Never risk falling asleep with your baby on a sofa or armchair.

Women who breastfeed and co-sleep generally have a 'c' shape around their baby so she is protected from the pillow or blanket covering her face. Many parents do routinely sleep with their baby in bed and the most important thing is do so in the safest possible way.

Further information

NCT's helpline offers practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700.

You might find attending one of NCT's Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.

For more information and examples of alongside sleeping cots for babies please visit NCT shop.

The Department of Health and Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths (FSID) have published a pamphlet outlining the measures you can take to reduce the risk of cot death.