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Tools you can use: Checklist for safe cosleeping

By Elizabeth Pantley

Throughout my book The No-Cry Sleep Solution, readers will see that it's evident all four of our babies have been welcomed into our family bed. My husband Robert and I have allowed our children to share our bed, and our children have enjoyed sharing a “sibling bed” as well. Of critical importance, however, is the fact that we have religiously followed all known safety recommendations for sharing sleep with our babies.

The safety of bringing a baby into an adult bed has been the subject of much debate in modern society, especially recently. In 1999, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) announced a recommendation against cosleeping with a baby under age two. Nevertheless, some polls show that nearly 70% of parents do share sleep with their babies either part or all of the night. Most parents who do choose to co-sleep are avidly committed to the practice and find many benefits in it.

The CPSC's warning is controversial and has stirred heated debate among parents, doctors and childhood development experts about the accuracy and appropriateness of the recommendation. Many experts believe that the issue demands more research. In the meantime, it is very important that you investigate all the viewpoints and make the right decision for your family. And remember: Even if you decide against sleeping with your infant, you can look forward to sharing sleep with your older baby if that suits your family.

The following safety list, as well as any references to co-sleeping in my book, are provided for those parents who have researched this issue and have made an informed choice to cosleep with their baby. Wherever you choose to have your baby sleep, whether for naps or nighttime, please heed the following recommended safety precautions:

Your bed must be absolutely safe for your baby. The best choice is to place the mattress on the floor, making sure there are no crevices that your baby can become wedged in. Make certain your mattress is flat, firm, and smooth. Do not allow your baby to sleep on a soft surface such as a waterbed, sofa, pillowtop mattress, beanbag chair or any other flexible and yielding structure.

Make certain that your fitted sheets stay secure and cannot be pulled loose. If your bed is raised off the floor, use mesh guardrails to prevent baby from rolling off the bed, and be especially careful that there is no space between the mattress and headboard or footboard. (Some guardrails designed for older children are not safe for babies because they have spaces that could entrap tiny bodies.)

Check every night to be sure there is no space between the mattress and wall or furniture where baby could become stuck, if your bed is placed against a wall or against other furniture.

An infant should be placed between his mother and the wall or guardrail. Fathers, siblings, grandparents, and babysitters don't have the same instinctual awareness of a baby's location as do mothers. Mothers: Pay attention to your own sensitivity to baby. Your little one should be able to awaken you with a minimum of movement or noise — often even a sniff or snort is usually enough. If you find that you sleep so deeply that you only wake when your baby lets out a loud cry, seriously consider moving baby out of your bed, perhaps into a cradle or crib near your bedside.

Use a large mattress to provide ample room and comfort for everyone.

Consider a “sidecar” arrangement in which baby's crib or cradle sits directly beside the main bed.

Make certain that the room your baby sleeps in and any room he might have access to is childproof. (Imagine your baby crawling out of bed as you sleep to explore the house. Even if he has not done this — yet — you can be certain he eventually will!)

Do not ever sleep with your baby if you have been drinking alcohol, if you have used any drugs or medications, if you are an especially sound sleeper or if you are suffering from sleep deprivation and find it difficult to wake.

Do not sleep with your baby if you are a large person, as a parent's excess weight poses a proven risk to baby in a co-sleeping situation. I cannot give you a specific weight-to-baby ratio; simply examine how you and baby settle in next to each other. If baby rolls towards you, if there is a large dip in the mattress or if you suspect any other dangerous situations, play it safe and move baby to a bedside crib or cradle.

Remove all pillows and blankets during the early months. Use extreme caution when adding pillows or blankets as your baby gets older. Dress baby and yourselves warmly for sleep. (A tip for breastfeeding moms: wear an old turtleneck or T-shirt, cut up the middle to the neckline, as an undershirt for extra warmth.) Keep in mind that body heat will add warmth during the night. Make sure your baby doesn't become overheated.

Do not wear nightclothes with strings or long ribbons. Don't wear jewelry to bed. If your hair is long, pin it up. Don't use strong-smelling perfumes or lotions that may affect your baby's delicate senses.

Do not allow pets to sleep in bed with your baby.

Never leave your baby alone in an adult bed unless that bed is perfectly safe for your baby, such as a firm mattress on the floor in a childproof room and when you are nearby or listening in on baby with a reliable baby monitor.

No proven safety devices exist for use in protecting a baby in an adult bed as of this writing. However, a number of new inventions are beginning to appear in baby catalogs and stores in response to the great number of parents who wish to sleep safely with their babies. You may want to look into some of these nests, wedges, cradles, sheet securers and so on.

For more information, please visit:

Parenting educator Elizabeth Pantley is the author of numerous parenting books, including the widely cited The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night. She is a regular radio show guest and is quoted frequently on the web and in national family and women’s publications. Her next book, Gentle Toddler Care, will be available in 2004. Elizabeth lives in Washington state with her husband, their four children and her mother.


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