Nine in 10 parents have slept alongside their baby, but only four in 10 have been advised by a health professional about how to reduce the risk of cot death, according to a survey of 3,402 new parents by charity The Lullaby Trust.
More than 40% of parents admitted they had fallen asleep with their baby in a potentially dangerous way, such as on a sofa or in an armchair, which can increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) by up to 50 times.
This comes as a new report from top academics – including from the University of Oxford – found more needed to be done to raise awareness of safe sleeping practices. It called for open conversations between parents and professionals, with an emphasis on finding ways to communicate important messages to deprived communities.
Some 42% of sudden infant deaths happen in deprived neighbourhoods, compared with just 8% in the least deprived areas.
The Lullaby Trust said there needed to be much more information for parents, and highlighted the need to co-sleep as safely as possible.
If you do sleep with your baby, the charity advises you to keep pillows and adult bedding away from the baby, and any other items that could cover their head or cause them to overheat.
Babies should sleep on their backs, other children or pets should not be brought into the bed, and parents should ensure babies cannot get trapped, wedged or fall out of bed.
Babies should also not fall asleep with parents on the sofa or in armchairs, something to be aware of if you think this could happen accidentally.
Additional dangers include if parents drink alcohol, smoke or have a premature or low birthweight baby.
Fewer than one in 10 (9%) parents who currently co-sleep with their baby had decided to do so before their baby was born. More than half had fallen asleep with their baby by accident, with 40% having done so more than once.
"Co-sleeping needs to be discussed with all families," says Jenny Ward, chief executive of The Lullaby Trust.
"It is really important that parents feel able to have open conversations about co-sleeping with health professionals so they get the right advice.
"Most parents will co-sleep at some point, whether this is planned or unintentional.
"Simply telling parents not to co-sleep, or not discussing co-sleeping at all means that a lot of families could miss out on vital safer sleep advice that would help to reduce the risk of SIDS for their baby."
Of all 6,503 infant and child deaths occurring between April 2019 and March 2021 in England, 30% occurred suddenly and unexpectedly and, of these, 64% had no immediate apparent cause, National Child Mortality Database data shows. Overall, 126 babies were certified as SIDS deaths.
Around half of babies who died from SIDS were co-sleeping with an adult or older sibling at the time of death. Some 60% of deaths happened when co-sleeping was unplanned and at least 92% were in hazardous circumstances, like sleeping on a sofa or with a premature baby.
"To reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) the safest place for a baby to sleep is in their own clear, flat and separate sleep space, such as a cot or Moses basket. However, we know that many parents find themselves co-sleeping whether they mean to or not," the Lullaby Trust website states.
Here's a reminder of when not to sleep with your baby and how to sleep with them more safely, as per The Lullaby Trust.
When not to co-sleep
You or anyone in the bed has recently consumed alcohol
You or anyone in the bed smokes
You or anyone in the bed has taken any drugs or medication that make you feel sleepy
Your baby was born prematurely (before 37 weeks of pregnancy) or weighed under 2.5kg or 5½lbs at birth
Never fall asleep on a sofa or armchair with your baby.
How to co-sleep more safely
Keep pillows and adult bedding away from your baby or any other items that could cover their head or cause them to overheat
Follow all The Lullaby Trust’s other safer sleep advice to reduce the risk of SIDS such as sleeping baby on their back
To reduce the risk of accidents, do not bring other children or pets into bed with you
Try to make sure or check that baby cannot be trapped, wedged or fall out of bed or get trapped between the mattress and the wall
Never leave your baby unattended in an adult bed
To find out more, visit The Lullaby Trust website.
You can also call 08088026869 for information and advice, or 0808 802 6868 for bereavement support.
Additional reporting PA.
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