A survey of over 8,500 parents carried out by The Lullaby Trust has shown that 76% have co-slept with their baby at some point. However, over 40% of parents admitted to having done so in dangerous circumstances such as on a sofa, having drunk alcohol or as a smoker. All of these circumstances greatly increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (also known as cot death or SIDS).

Co-sleeping on a sofa or armchair was the most prevalent risk, with 40% of parents admitting to having done so and 25% having done so more than once. An adult falling asleep on a sofa or armchair with a baby increases the risk of SIDS by up to 50 times.

12% of respondents smoke and share a bed with their baby and 9% have done so after drinking alcohol. Studies have found that bed-sharing with your baby after drinking alcohol or using drugs or if you are a smoker has a very high risk of SIDS.

According to the latest available figures, around 133 babies die each year in co-sleeping situations, many of which will be in high risk circumstances. The Lullaby Trust wants to try and reduce these deaths by highlighting the importance of open discussion between parents and health professionals on co-sleeping. In some instances parents feel they cannot be honest about co-sleeping with their child so don’t receive information on how to do so more safely.

It’s not uncommon for parents to doze off with their baby so all parents should be advised on how to prepare for unplanned co-sleeping. In the survey 33% of parents had shared a bed with their baby in an unplanned situation, which could mean risk factors were present such as loose adult bedding.

The Lullaby Trust has collaborated with Public Health England, Unicef UK Baby Friendly and Basis to produce a guide for health professionals as well as resources they can share with parents. The increase in SIDS shown in the latest ONS figures and the need to ensure that all new parents receive key messages has led the organisations to work together to make this easier for health professionals to achieve. The guide emphasises the vital importance of having open, non-judgemental conversations with parents about safer sleep, including co-sleeping.

Jenny Ward, Acting CEO of The Lullaby Trust said

“Co-sleeping needs to be discussed with all families. We know from talking to parents that if they are told not to co-sleep they will then feel they cannot discuss what actually happens. As a result they will not get important advice on how to co-sleep more safely. It is a reality that even if parents do not plan to co-sleep, many still fall asleep with their babies unintentionally. Babies can and do die in high risk co-sleeping situations. If given the right advice, parents can prepare for planned and unplanned co-sleeping that will help to mitigate those risks and reduce the chance of SIDS.”

The Lullaby Trust, Public Health England, Unicef UK Baby Friendly and Basis give some key advice for safer co-sleeping

  • Keep the space around your baby clear of pillows and duvets
  • Always sleep your baby on their back
  • Avoid letting pets or other children in the bed
  • Make sure your baby cannot fall out of bed or become trapped between the mattress and wall
  • Never leave baby alone in the bed

You should never sleep with your baby on a sofa or armchair, this increases the risk of SIDS by 50 times.

It is important to know there are some circumstances where it is dangerous to share a bed with your baby. You should not co-sleep if:

  • Either you or anyone in the bed smokes (even if you do not smoke in the bedroom)
  • Either you or anyone in the bed has recently drunk any alcohol
  • You or anyone in the bed has taken any drugs that make you feel sleepy
  • Your baby was born prematurely (before 37 weeks of pregnancy)or weighed under 2.5kg or 5½lbs when they were born

For more advice on safer sleep for your baby, download the free guide at www.lullabytrust.org.uk/about-us/safer-sleep-week-2019/new-safer-sleep-publications/ or read our information on co-sleeping