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  • Writer's pictureHeidi Ripplinger

Practice safe sleep with my newborn?

Updated: Apr 19, 2021

It used to be, when we talked about sleeping with our babies, we'd say co-sleeping and mean they shared a sleeping surface with their primary caregiver and (possibly) whomever else shared the sleep surface. Now, when we mean to describe a baby who shares the same sleep surface as us we use the term bed-sharing and the previous term, co-sleeping, refers to a baby who sleeps in its own space but is in the same room with their primary caregiver. •Bed-sharing = same sleep surface as primary carer.

•Co-sleeping = separate sleep surface but same room as primary carer.

You've probably seen LLI's useful Safe Sleep 7 printable graphic. If not, click on the link provided below. Safe Sleep 7 breaks down the conditions required to have a safe sleep space with your child. World renown mother-baby sleep expert Dr. James McKenna has spent his career understanding the breastfeeding/chestfeeding dyad and how it's linked to safe infant sleep. In addition to the linked video interview he gave about this topic, I've listed a link to his research, articles and website so you can understand it in depth. I've also included the infant sleep research of Professor Helen Ball who is considered (along with Dr McKenna) a pioneer in her field.

So, let's get to it! What does practicing safe sleep mean? According to LLI, BASIS, and Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory the simple breakdown is:

Primary Caregiver is next to the baby and:

•Nurses full-time, ie: Breastfeeding/Chestfeeding, meaning the breast is your baby’s food AND comfort spot, day AND night.

Primary Carer and everyone else sharing the sleeping space are:

•Sober. No alcohol, drugs or medications that interfere with normal awareness.


Both Primary Caregiver and Baby use a:

•Safe sleep surface. Meaning NO soft mattresses, extra pillows, toys, or heavy covers. Clear the area of strings and cords. Pack all the cracks for baby's safety (water noodles, rolled towels etc). Stay off sofas, upholstered chairs, and recliners for sleep. Babies younger than 3 months should not rest their head on the primary carer's arm.


•Full term and healthy.

•Sleeps on their back when not nursing.

•Not swaddled or overheated. Never cover baby's head.

In addition to the 7 safe sleep practices listed above, it's also a good idea to incorporate the following configuration if you decide to bedshare, these are true for all ages, even before baby can officially roll.

  1. Place your mattress on the floor instead of on its frame so that it's as close to the ground as possible.

  2. Put your mattress up against a corner so that there's less perimeter space for baby to maneuver.

  3. Never leave a baby unattended.

At the end of the day only you can decide what's best for yourself, your family and your baby. The best thing to do is to do your research, understand your options, know the risks and benefits associated with those options, and then make an informed decision.


Additional Resources:

Articles and Essays available for free download from Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory, University of Notre Dame, Department of Anthropology, Dr. James McKenna. Video: Cosleeping With Infants.

Sleep Informational Sheets available for free download from Baby Sleep Info Source, a project of the Durham Infancy and Sleep Centre (DISC), in the Department of Anthropology at Durham University, United Kingdom, Professor Helen Ball. (available languages; Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Japanese, French, and Romanian.)

Safe Sleep Seven graphic available for free download from La Leche League International, Excerpted from Sweet Sleep: Nighttime and Naptime Strategies for the Breastfeeding Family, Chapter 2: The Safe Sleep Seven, by Diane Wiessinger, Diana West, Linda J. Smith, Teresa Pitman, a La Leche League International book, Ballantine Books, 2014.

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