As any parent of a child with eczema knows, a good night’s sleep is very hard to find.
Sleep is often the first casualty of the condition, with babies and toddlers itching and scratching all night long, distressed by how very uncomfortable their skin feels. Kids with eczema tend to need a whole lot of cuddling, comforting and support during the night, which means that parents lose sleep as well.
Every family has to find its own way to cope with night-time flares, making choices about who’s on duty, which parent gets up to cuddle an itchy little person back to sleep, and what tactics fit their own unique circumstances.
One strategy that can help both children and parents get as much sleep as possible is to share a bed with an eczema-prone baby or toddler during itchy episodes.
What are the benefits of co-sleeping?
Also known as co-sleeping, this method of night-time parenting means that mums or dads are close on hand to comfort an upset baby, helping them through a flare-up and parenting them gently back to sleep. Sharing a bed means that parents are right there to help divert scratching, distract distressed babies from the itch and hold little hands gently to prevent skin getting scratched raw.
Lying down in bed while doing this means that parents get more rest than if they’d had to get up and sit on a rocking chair or sofa to comfort a sleepless, hot and bothered child (falling asleep on a sofa or chair with your baby is actually more risky than sleeping together on a large, flat, clear mattress). Sleep comes easier, lasts longer and is easier to return to when eczema-prone babies sleep next to their parents, and babies tend to be calmer and cry less.
It’s also easier to breastfeed if your baby is right there by your side, which is great news for sensitive atopic babies that might not be able to tolerate formula.
How can families co-sleep safely?
The benefits of co-sleeping when your child has eczema are clear, but what about the downsides? Is co-sleeping safe? Well, official advice is that babies shouldn't sleep in the same bed as their parents if:
- the baby is premature
- either parent smokes
- either parent has been drinking alcohol
- either parent has taken medication that could cause them to sleep deeply
- either parent suffers from sleep apnoea
- either parent is excessively tired.
And obviously, everyone involved needs to be happy and informed about the situation! There’s no point in doing something designed to help you rest, if it's making you feel so anxious that you can’t sleep soundly anyway.
The Lullaby Trust advise in their factsheet that if you fulfil the criteria (see above) for safer co-sleeping, you need to find a clear, safe space for you and your baby to sleep in.
- a firm flat adequately-sized mattress with no raised or cushioned areas
- no pillows, quilts or duvets, bumpers
- no pods, nests or sleep positioners
- keep your baby’s head uncovered so they don’t get too hot
- put babies back to sleep on their backs
If you’re feeling concerned about sharing a bed with your baby, you could try a three-sided sidecar cot instead; co-sleeper cots have many of the advantages of sharing a bed, but give both children and parents a bigger area to get comfy in, and provide reassurance to parents worried about rolling over onto their babies.
Co-sleeping is normal!
And also remember that co-sleeping, practised safely, is routine for many millions of families around the world and has been the norm for human beings and their babies throughout history. Sleeping alone is a relatively recent convention!
How to make co-sleeping work for you
Here some top tips from parents who’ve turned to co-sleeping for relief from eczema-related sleeplessness:
- Follow official advice - do not ever co-sleep if you’re intoxicated or if you smoke.
- Get a BIG bed! Everyone needs enough space to stretch out. Get rid of the bedframe and add another mattress on the floor if necessary.
- Wash bed linen often and at high temperatures to get rid of house dust mites which can aggravate flare-ups
- Keep pillows, cot bumpers, and bedcovers well out of the way
- Sleep facing your child
- Keep pets out of the room
- Use separate, light, removable, cotton covers on your baby to reduce the risk of overheating
- Keep a fan next to the bed to cool down
In conclusion, if you follow safe co-sleeping guidelines, sharing a space with your baby at night can be a really effective way of getting through those difficult night-time itchfests.
If you require medical advice we recommend you always contact your healthcare professional.
If you or someone you are caring for seems very unwell, is getting worse or you think there's something seriously wrong, call for emergency services straight away. For general medical advice, please contact your healthcare professional, this article does not contain or replace medical advice.
Do not delay getting help if you're worried. Trust your instincts.