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Why is co-sleeping dangerous for babies?

There are plenty of ways parents can bond with a new baby, but co-sleeping (or sharing a bed) should never be one of them.

Sleeping next to your newborn is dangerous and can even be fatal, says Rebecca Reamy, M.D., chief of pediatrics at Piedmont Columbus Regional. She’s seen babies die from suffocation and other causes after co-sleeping, and lately, those cases have been on the rise at her hospital.

Where should your baby sleep?

“The best place for a baby is in a crib or a bassinet,” Dr. Reamy says. When babies are very young, she encourages parents to keep the crib or bassinet with them in their own bedroom, but infants should never sleep in the parents’ bed.

Suffocation is a common culprit in co-sleeping deaths. But the practice poses other dangers for children too, like rolling off the bed or becoming trapped between the mattress and headboard.

Educating parents about safe sleep for babies

At her hospital, Dr. Reamy and her colleagues talk to parents about the safest ways to care for their newborns, but she recognizes that even well-intentioned parents may not absorb everything at once.

“The problem is, how much do you remember when you just had a baby and you’re exhausted?” she says. “You can’t retain everything.”

That’s why she and other doctors push the message as often as they can. Dr. Reamy is also an advocate of Safe to Sleep, a public health campaign promoting the best ways for babies to rest.

When pediatricians and other providers repeat warnings about co-sleeping, she says, they help new parents who may misunderstand or need reminders. As babies grow into toddlers, parents can decide the best ways for them to sleep, but in infancy, they should be put to bed the same way.

Baby sleep safety: What puts your child at risk?

Co-sleeping – even only on a couch – is always a bad idea. Parents should also avoid the following:

  • Crib bumpers. “There’s absolutely no use for them,” Dr. Reamy says. “There’s a significant danger of suffocation.” Unfortunately, she adds, retailers continue to stock bumpers and photograph them in cribs. Parents should note that not everything sold for babies is safe for them.
  • Blankets and pillows. “Babies don’t need blankets,” Dr. Reamy says. A fitted sheet is all an infant requires in the crib; anything else could endanger them.
  • Overly warm room. A baby should wear just one more layer than adults are wearing. Over-warming a room for them is unsafe.

The safest sleep position for your baby

A baby’s sleep position is also key: Parents should always put their babies to sleep on their backs. While they’re awake, babies should have regular tummy time, which promotes neurodevelopment and prevents heads from becoming misshapen.

If parents are concerned about the affordability of cribs and bassinets, they can talk to doctors about reduced-cost or free options. Federal programs can help, and some hospitals offer free bassinets.

Dr. Reamy knows that caring for a newborn can be overwhelming, but the baby’s sleep routine doesn’t have to be. She recommends every parent follow the ABCs of infant sleep: alone, on their back, in a crib.

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