The risks of bed-sharing with your baby

A mother and her newborn at Kibagabaga Hospital in December last year. / File photo.

While some parents may take it for granted, creating a safe sleeping environment is one of the most important steps to take as a parent to avoid possible accidental suffocation, injury or sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), which occurs when a baby younger than one year of age dies unexpectedly while sleeping, according to paediatric experts.

Experts argue that good sleep habits are important for your baby’s physical health and emotional well-being and an important part of safe sleep is the place where your baby sleeps, his sleeping position, the kind of crib or bed, type of mattress and the home environment.

For many mothers, it is natural to sleep with a baby up to four years or more. This tradition is common in both rural and urban areas to the extent that there are sometimes zero efforts made to buy a crib when there is a newborn in the family.

Some parents think that if the baby is right next to them, they can tell if there is a problem and protect the baby.

Nursing moms who sleep with their babies report feeling better rested and comfortable because they do not have to leave the bed to nurse; their sleep patterns are less disturbed and, thereafter, feel alert and focused during the daytime.

“I prefer sleeping with my baby rather than putting her in the crib. For every two hours my baby wakes up to nurse or for a diaper change, sleeping by her side makes it easy for both of us. I respond to her needs  immediately and sleep comfortably,” Angel Niyigena says.

Sometimes, tired parents may fall asleep while feeding the baby.

“When I was preparing for my newborn, buying a crib was one of the first things I did. I believed the only way for my baby to sleep comfortably was in her crib. Unfortunately, there were many occasions when I would bring her to our bed to breastfeed, or play with me before we fell asleep together,” Vanessa Ingabire recalls. 

Experts discourage the practice of parents sleeping with their infants in the same bed; rather, they should keep them close but in a separate bed. They warn that babies who sleep in their parents’ beds stand high chances of being rolled over during sleep or suffocated, leading to SIDS. 

In an interview with Healthy Times, Iba Mayale, a gynaecologist at Clinic Galien, Kimironko, said that parents should not sleep with their infants in the same bed; rather, they should keep them close but in a separate bed and keep the crib or bassinet within reach. The mother can easily watch or breastfeed a baby when sleeping nearby.

“Normally, new-borns sleep about 16 hours a day, usually in three to four-hour periods. The baby needs to feed every few hours, which is why they don’t sleep for a long period of time. However, the baby may get irritable or tired if it doesn’t get enough sleep. For this reason, creating a safe sleeping environment for babies should be the priority for all parents, as it will not only contribute to the healthy development of the baby, and lower the risk of injury and SIDS as well,” he said.

Dr Tharcisse Ngambe, a paediatrician at King Faisal Hospital in Kigali, says, “For the first year of your baby’s life, the safest place for them to sleep is in their own crib or bassinet. Make sure the sleeping area meets safety standards. Soft objects, loose bedding, or any objects that could increase the risk of entrapment, suffocation, or strangulation should be kept out of the crib,” he says.

Ngambe says that, generally, babies should be dressed in no more than one layer. If you are worried that the baby is cold, infant sleep attire designed to keep babies warm without the risk of covering their heads is suitable.


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