Room-Sharing: This is when a baby sleeps in the same room as his or her parents, in their own crib, bassinet, or bed.
There are some general guidelines that should be mentioned about safe bed-sharing right off the bat. These appeared in the Mothering article just mentioned:
* If bottle-feeding, without breastfeeding, or if the mother smoked during the pregnancy, it is recommended to use separate-surface cosleeping such as a side-sleeper or bassinet.
* It is best to have the bed away from the wall, even without a bedframe. Mattresses can pull away from the wall and the baby can become trapped between the mattress and the wall.
* If you keep the bed frame on the bed, make sure there are no spaces between the mattress and the head-board and foot-board. Be aware, also, of furniture surrounding the bed, such as a nightstand, that the baby could fall and suffocate.
*No children should sleep in an adult bed with an infant.
*Bedsharing should be avoided under the following circumstances: the adult(s) are overly exhausted, desensitized by drugs or alcohol, or sleeping with an unrelated adult.
*Use a stiff mattress, lay baby on his/her back, avoid using duvets or heavy blankets, and keep baby away from pillows.
* Never bedshare on a waterbed, couch, sofa, recliner, or chair. Do not leave baby alone on an adult bed.
*Both adults should agree to the sleeping arrangement if choosing bedsharing. They should both be responsive to and responsible for the baby.
Now that "the rules" are out of the way...
With all the recent hype, there are some important items to mention about the possible dangers of not co-sleeping or bed-sharing. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has stated that it is important for an infant to sleep in close proximity to his/her parents. It is called roomsharing. In this situation, the baby and the parent(s) sleep close enough for sensory exchanges, but not on the same surface. Does the room protect the baby? Of course not. But being near the mother does. Babies who room-share are half as likely to die of SIDS as infants who sleep alone or with siblings. Why is this?
For starters, babies are programmed to be in constant contact with their mothers, especially in the early weeks. Their only form of communication is to cry when they are stressed. Generally, babies will protest being "put down" or left alone for long periods of time. They have a need to be with their mothers. It is physical, emotional, and psychological. When a baby is left to cry for long periods of time, that can cause severe stress, raising the cortisol levels in the infant. (This also happens when a male infant is circumcised.) High cortisol levels can lead to permanent changes in brain structures and leave the infant especially vulnerable to stress. (Dr. William Sears, in The Baby Book, said that when you leave a baby to cry, you are teaching him/her to just give up. You are not coming back.)
Other physical reasons that a baby should sleep near his/her mother include: Premature and full-term infants breathe more regularly when next to each other, infants use energy more efficiently, they maintain lower blood pressure, grow faster, and experience less stress, as previously mentioned. Being near the mother also helps regulate the baby's temperature, brain-cell connections, calorie absorption, breathing, sleep, arousal patterns, and heart rate.
These benefits are all well documented. So what's the deal with the "Babies sleep safest alone" (NY State) and "All babies should be placed to sleep in cribs" and "For you to rest easy, your baby must rest alone" (Philadelphia) campaigns? Especially when the AAP has recommended roomsharing, emphasizing close proximity with your infant? Parents are only getting half of the information they need. These public health campaigns are making it sound as though bedsharing in-and-of-itself is unsafe and is disregarding the importance of the mother and baby sleeping near one another.
All families are different. All couples are different. And, yes, all babies are different. You have the guidelines to safe bed-sharing and co-sleeping, if that's what you choose. It's important that your baby sleep, at the very least, in the same room, if not the same bed, with the parents. Maybe someday, AAP will declare that infants should never sleep alone and end all this nonsense. Maybe someday, American babies will sleep safely next to their mothers like they do in other cultures, breastfeeding -- because it's the norm, because there was a wonderful public health campaign that encouraged them to do so, for the safety and security of their baby.