mum co-sleeping with baby

Having your baby in with you and your partner is a big decision. Read on for what you need to know.

Co-sleeping: the basics

The safest place for your baby to sleep in their first six months is in a separate Moses basket or cot in the same room as you.

But at some point in the first few months after having a baby, around half of all parents in the UK co-sleep or bed share with their newborn (Blair and Ball, 2004).

It might be that you co-sleep by choice, perhaps because you and your baby nod off more easily that way. Or it might be because you doze off accidentally in bed or on the sofa while you’re feeding or cuddling your newborn.  

So, even if it’s not part of your plan, it’s worth being armed with some information on co-sleeping in case you end up doing it.

Is co-sleeping safe?

Although Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is rare, it does happen more often if you co-sleep with your baby.

The dangers of co-sleeping are greater if:

  • you’re on a sofa or chair
  • you’re a smoker
  • you’ve been drinking or taking drugs
  • your baby was premature or had a low birthweight (less than 2.5kg or 5.5lb)
  • you’re excessively tired
  • your baby has a fever or any signs of illness. (NICE, 2015)

Co-sleeping more safely: positions and tips

If you do co-sleep with your baby:

  • Make sure your baby can’t fall out of bed or become trapped between the mattress and wall.
  • Use sheets and blankets rather than a duvet.
  • Don’t let bedding cover your baby’s face or head.
  • Always put your baby to sleep on their back.
  • Keep your baby away from pillows – babies should not have a pillow until they are at least one year old.
  • Never risk falling asleep with your baby on a sofa or armchair. (Ball, 2006; Blair et al, 2009; Blair et al, 2014; Ball and Blair, 2017; Lullaby Trust, 2018)

Follow the same rules if your baby’s sleeping next to you in a bedside cot or side sleeper too.

Co-sleeping and breastfeeding

Lots of women worry that they’re going to drift off while they’re feeding their baby in the night. Meaning they end up co-sleeping when they don’t mean to. If you’re concerned, try one of these ideas for breastfeeding at night:

  • Get your partner to stay up with you for support, especially in the early weeks when you might be at your most tired.
  • Feed your baby somewhere else, e.g. in an upright chair.
  • Avoid the sofa if you feel like you’re going to fall asleep.
  • Some parents suggest doing mundane tasks you’ve meant to get round to on your phone, like clearing out your phone book or deleting pictures. Or play a game.
  • Get up to date on those books or websites you’ve have less time to read since you had a baby.
  • Don’t feel like you can’t breastfeed because of this – breastfeeding actually reduces the risk of SIDS, just with a couple of tweaks. (Lullaby Trust, 2018b)

This page was last reviewed in February 2018.

Further information

Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 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.

Find all the latest research-based evidence about infant sleep, including co-sleeping, on the Infant Sleep Information Source (ISIS) website.

The Lullaby Trust has a really informative website, with useful videos, and support for parents about safe sleep, including their Safer Sleep for Babies guide for parents.

See Unicef’s guide for caring for your baby at night (updated in 2017) here.

See Unicef’s guide to co-sleeping and SIDS here.

Ball H. (2006) Parent-infant bed-sharing behavior: effects of feeding type, and presence of father. Human Nature: an interdisciplinary biosocial perspective. 17(3):301-318. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26181475  [Accessed 1st February 2018]

Ball H, Blair P. (2017) Health professionals’ guide to caring for your baby at night. Unicef Baby Friendly UK. Available from: https://www.unicef.org.uk/babyfriendly/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2011/11/Caring-for-your-Baby-at-Night-A-Health-Professionals-Guide.pdf [Accessed 1st February 2018]

Blackwell C. (2004) Infection, inflammation and SIDS. FEMS Immunol Med Microbiol. 42(1):1-2. Available from: https://academic.oup.com/femspd/article-pdf/42/1/1/19167331/42-1-1.pdf [Accessed 1st February 2018

Blackwell CC, Gordon AE, James VS, MacKenzie DA, Mogensen-Buchanan M, El Ahmer OR, et al. (2002) The role of bacterial toxins in sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Int J Med Microbiol. 291(6-7):561-70. Avaulable from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11892683 [Accessed 1st February 2018]

Blair PS, Platt MW, Smith IJ, Fleming PJ. (2006a) Sudden infant death syndrome and the time of death: factors associated with night-time and day-time deaths. Int J Epidemiol. 35(6):1563-9. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17148463 [Accessed 1st February 2018]

Blair PS, Platt MW, Smith IJ, Fleming PJ. (2006b) Sudden infant death syndrome and sleeping position in pre-term and low birth weight infants: an opportunity for targeted intervention. Arch Dis Child. 91(2):101-106. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15914498 [Accessed 1st February 2018]

Blair PS, Ball HL (2004). The prevalence and characteristics associated with parent-infant bed-sharing in England. Arch Dis Child. 89(12):1106-1110. https://adc.bmj.com/content/archdischild/89/12/1106.full.pdf [Accessed 1st February 2018]

Blair PS, Ward Platt M, Smith I J, Fleming P J. (2006) Sudden infant death syndrome and sleeping position in pre-term and low birth weight infants: an opportunity for targeted intervention. Arch Dis Child. 91(2):101–106. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15914498 [Accessed 1st February 2018]

Carpenter R, McGarvey C, Mitchell E, Tappin D, Vennemann M, Smuk M, Carpenter J. (2013) Bed sharing when parents do not smoke: Is there a risk of SIDS? An individual level analysis of five major cases-control studies. BMJ Open. 3:e002299. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23793691  [Accessed 1st February 2018]

Carpenter RG, Irgens LM, Blair PS, England PD, Fleming P, Huber J, et al. (2004) Sudden unexplained infant death in 20 regions in Europe: case control study. Lancet. 363(9404):185-191.  Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14738790 [Accessed 1st February 2018]

Fleming PJ, Blair PS, Bacon C, Bensley D, Smith I, Taylor E, et al. (1996) Environment of infants during sleep and risk of the sudden infant death syndrome: results from 1993-5 case-control study for confidential inquiry into stillbirths and deaths in infancy. BMJ. 313:191-195.  Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8696193 [Accessed 1st February 2018]

Gilbert RE, Fleming PJ, Azaz Y, Rudd PT. (1990) Signs of illness preceding sudden unexpected death in infants. BMJ. 300(6734):1237-1239. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2354292 [Accessed 1st February 2018]

Lullaby Trust. (2018a) The best mattresses and bedding for your baby. Available from: https://www.lullabytrust.org.uk/safer-sleep-advice/mattresses-and-bedding/ [Accessed 1st February 2018]

Lullaby Trust. (2018b) Co-sleeping with your baby. Available from: https://www.lullabytrust.org.uk/safer-sleep-advice/co-sleeping/ [Accessed 1st February 2018]

Morris JA, Haran D, Smith A. (1987) Hypothesis: common bacterial toxins are a possible cause of the sudden infant death syndrome. Med Hypotheses. 22(2): 211-22. 29 Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3646461 [Accessed 1st February 2018]

NICE (2015) Guidance CG37: Postnatal care up to 8 weeks after birth. Available from: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/CG37 [Accessed 1st February 2018]

Scragg R, Mitchell EA, Taylor BJ, Stewart AW, Ford RP, Thompson JM, et al. (1993) Bed sharing, smoking, and alcohol in the sudden infant death syndrome. New Zealand Cot Death Study Group. BMJ. 307(6915):1312-1318. Availablke from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8257885 [Accessed 1st February 2018]

Stanton AN, Downham MA, Oakley JR, Emery JL, Knowelden J. (1978) Terminal symptoms in children dying suddenly and unexpectedly at home. Preliminary report of the DHSS multicentre study of postneonatal mortality. BMJ. 2(6147):1249-1251. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/709302 [Accessed 1st February 2018]

Vennemann MM, Hense HW, Bajanowski T, Blair PS, Complojer C, Moon RY, Kiechl-Kohlendorfer U. (2012) Bed sharing and the risk of sudden infant death syndrome: can we resolve the debate? J Pediatrics. 160:44-48. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21868032 [Accessed 1st February 2018]

 

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