I can’t very well point the finger at what people have done WRONG without giving due attention to how people can do things right.
First, let’s get one thing out of the way.
Co-Sleeping means your child sleeps IN YOUR ROOM, within easy reach. This means the child is in his/her own crib, bed, etc.
Bed-sharing means your child sleeps IN BED WITH YOU.
Now that we have that out of the way, with Bug, we started out as co-sleepers. We have a gorgeous wood cradle we put right up to our bed. She was put to sleep on her back and had one blanket tucked under her arms, so there was no danger of it ever covering her face. There were no stuffed animals or anything else in the cradle with her. My face was literally inches away from hers when we slept. When she woke to fed, I fed her and put her back into her cradle. This lasted a few months.
After a few months, we moved her into bed with us. She slept on her own infant mattress (removed from the cradle) in the middle of the bed, between Ash and I. Again, she had one blanket that we tucked under her arm pits so there was no danger of it getting up by her face. After a few weeks, she moved into bed with us.
I removed my pillow. I slept with only a sheet. This continued until just a few months ago.
Until a few days ago, Bug would sleep in bed with us, on a flat pillow, using her own blanket. She has her own mattress on the floor, next to our bed (our mattress is also directly on the floor, in order to be flush with hers.) Her mattress is in a corner of our room, so our mattress and the two walls prevent it from moving anywhere. Ash covers up with the comforter, I cover up with the sheet. Bug would start out in our bed and go back and forth between our bed and her own mattress, at her own whim. She still wakes up once a night to breastfeed.
Now that she’s a year old, we put her to sleep on her own mattress. She sleeps there until she wakes to feed. Once she’s done, she falls back asleep and I put her back on her own mattress. She stays there until she wakes close to six a.m. and she crawls back into bed with me and nurses until it’s time to get up for the day.
We never planned on being co-sleepers or bed-sharers, it just happened that way.
Off the top of my head, here are the safe sleeping recommendations we adhere to:
1.) Everyone has their own blanket in a family bed.
2.) There should be nothing between the baby and the mattress, except for a tight fitting sheet.
3.) There should be no blankets in the sleeping area if the child has their own crib/sleeping area. (We obviously choose to give our daughter a blanket, which she quickly kicks off and ends up on the floor. We have never had a problem with the blanket getting anywhere near her face.)
4.) There should be no pillows in the baby’s sleeping area. (Once Bug was old enough to roll away/respond when she would bury her nose too far into my boob while she was breastfeeding, we allowed her a FLAT (not big and fluffy) pillow. Due to acid reflux, she sleeps more comfortably being just a little elevated.) I only use a single, flatter pillow when she is in bed with me.
5.) Always put the baby to sleep on their back. Always.
6.) NEVER drink or use any drugs or medication if your child is in bed with you.
7.) Place the child near the primary care parent and not between the two parents. (Ash actually prefers Bug to NOT be next to her, as she is afraid she will roll over on her.)
8.) Do not smoke, allow smoking in the home or allow anyone to smoke around the child.
9.) Keep the temperature of the home comfortable and do not allow the baby to overheat.
10.) Never sleep with the child on a couch, chair, etc. (Bug naps in my arms/on my lap, with me on the couch or a big cozy chair. HOWEVER, I am awake!)
11.) Do not bed share if you are not breastfeeding. PERIOD.
When it comes down to it, every parent needs to make the best decision for their family. However, regardless of how they choose to arrange everyone’s sleep space, they need to be educated on what to do and what not to do! A safe family bed is no more dangerous than a safe sleeping crib (no bumpers, no blankets, no pillows, no stuffed animals, etc.)
Here are some other resources for safe sleeping practices.