Lyndsay Buckland: Risks of sleeping with your baby

Co-sleeping has long been linked to an increased risk of cot death. Picture: TSPL
Co-sleeping has long been linked to an increased risk of cot death. Picture: TSPL
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I CAN’T believe there are many parents who have not at some point fallen asleep with a young baby in their arms. Despite guidance on the risks of so-called co-sleeping, whether in bed or on a sofa, the exhaustion experienced by new mothers in particular means than many succumb to doing pretty much anything if it means an hour or two of uninterrupted sleep.

Warnings about the dangers of 
co-sleeping have been highlighted once again in new draft guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) which say mothers should be taught about the risks of sleeping with their babies to try to cut the number of infants who die from cot death.

Co-sleeping has long been linked to an increased risk of cot death, with the dangers heightened in parents who smoke, drink or take drugs.

But it seems experts believe we are not fully aware of this risk factor, with the recommendations being that midwives, GPs and health visitors should play a greater role in making parents aware of the link.

Set against this are those groups who advocate co-sleeping as a way of bonding with a baby and encouraging continuing breast-feeding.

It is not hard to see why parents may be confused.

The National Childbirth Trust has pointed out that around half of UK mothers bed-share with their baby at some point in their first few months and said the guidance needed to reflect this reality.

They expressed concern that the recommendations would lead to parents hiding the fact that they are bed-sharing, or doing so through desperation or exhaustion without safety strategies in place.

Midwives have welcomed the updating of guidance, but said staff would need time to be able to explain the risks to parents – as well as the 101 other things they have to go through with them.

The sudden and unexpected death of a baby is unimaginably tragic. Each year around 40 cot deaths are reported in Scotland, with 250 in England and Wales.

In most cases the cause remains unexplained, leaving parents feeling guilty that they did something wrong. It would be interesting to know how many of these deaths involve cases of co-sleeping.

Everything possible must be done to reduce the terrible toll of cot death by informing parents of the risks and what can be done to minimise these, including warnings about co-sleeping. But if it is a choice between co-sleeping or no-sleeping, it is easy to see why some may choose to do something they know isn’t ideal however much they had hoped to avoid it.