Co-Sleeping can be a very controversial topic. Many families do it and many doctors disapprove.
In 2009 I became the mother of a beautiful baby girl. We spent the first few weeks getting to know each other, figuring out breastfeeding, and I was just learning how to Mom. Things were going as well as one could expect for a first timer.
Then out of nowhere, the nightmare began.
My sweet little baby became a monster. Well not in the literal sense. But every day, starting in the afternoon and through much of the night, she was virtually inconsolable. Nothing I did worked. She was fed and had a clean diaper; she wasn’t too hot or cold; she didn’t need to burp and wasn’t gassy. What was I doing wrong?
After many sleepless nights she was officially diagnosed with colic. What a relief!
But not really though, because while we had a diagnosis there wasn’t really anything we could do but wait out this stage.
I made little adjustments to help; I got a Babyhawk infant carrier and made some homemade wraps so I could carry her hands-free and still get things done. We worked together to tag-team early evening care, and the baby and I moved out of the bedroom and into a guest room because I wasn’t working at the time and my fiance had to work early in the morning.
All these little adjustments helped, except I still wasn’t getting any sleep. One night, in a fit of exhaustion I brought my sweet baby to bed with me. And guess what? We both got the best sleep EVER. I figured this must be a fluke, a magical evening of sleep. It was glorious. I felt like a new woman! Ready to conquer the world! We tried it again the next night, and it worked again! Hallelujah! I had cracked the code!
Of course this revelation came with a healthy dose of guilt. What was I thinking bringing my baby to bed? What about SIDS? Was I ruining my babies sleep habits for life? What if I roll over on her? I’ll never be able to get her out of my bed! Every resource I had screamed at me that co-sleeping was the WORST!
Admittedly, those first few weeks of co-sleeping we did everything wrong. I hate to think of what could have happened. Fortunately, I stumbled upon some amazing resources that validated my choice to co-sleep and taught me how to do it safely. I’ve co-slept with all of my children and it has been one of the best choices we’ve made for our family.
Many parents in our position end up succumbing to the guilt and resort to very unsafe sleep practices because they rationalize that it’s actually safer because they were never taught otherwise. I am happy to share our experiences and clarify the myths and truths about co-sleeping as well as how to do it safely.
What is Co-Sleeping?
First of all I think it is important to clarify that what my family does is actually considered bed-sharing. I believe that one major reason co-sleeping gets a bad rap is because many people believe that bed-sharing is co-sleeping and many people bed-share in an unsafe way. When in reality it is just one of many ways you can co-sleep.
Co-Sleeping is actually just sleeping with your baby in close proximity. It may be in the same bed or just in the same room. Some ways that families co-sleep are:
This is what our family does; parents sleep in the same bed as the baby
Securely attaching a crib to the parent’s bed; most often on the mother’s side. 3 sides of the crib remain up and the front is lowered or removed so the parent and baby have easy access to each other. Commercial co-sleeper/side-car cribs are available, like the Arm’s Reach Co-Sleeper. We have done the Side-Car Arrangement and loved it as well since the baby has their own sleep surface but is still easily accessible for night time nursing.
Different Beds-Same Room:
This could be having the crib or bassinet withing arms reach of the parents’ bed or just having the child’s bed in the same room. Some families even have a small bed on the floor for the child next to the parents’ bed.
Myth #1: Co-sleeping is dangerous
Co-sleeping is almost always safe as long as you are practicing safe co-sleeping which we will go over later in this post. Most Dr’s will tell you not to co-sleep because there is a supposed increased risk of SIDS. But that may not be entirely true, according to SIDS researcher, Professor James McKenna, Director of the Mother-Baby Sleep Laboratory at Notre Dame and author of the book Sleeping with Your Baby: A Parent’s Guide to Cosleeping , sharing sleep with your baby can be potentially life saving. He says, “infants and babies give off cues and signals that caregivers need to react and respond to. By sleeping next to baby, the mother is able to promote baby’s breathing stability…. There is no scientific validation that says co-sleeping is bad. Accidents, of course, happen, and there are risk factors, as with everything.”
Myth #2: You will never get baby out of your bed
This has not been our experience, we gently transitioned the kids out of our bed when they were around 2.5 years old. And while our youngest(3) still joins us from time to time, all three kids sleep in their own beds. The fact is, if at any point your sleeping arrangement is no longer working, you can make changes as needed.
Myth #3: Co-sleeping will ruin your relationship
Having baby is a big change and will affect your relationship no matter where the baby sleeps. Communication and respect are the keys to a happy relationship, not blaming relationship issues on where baby is sleeping. As most mothers know, there’s nothing like exhaustion to put a damper on your sex drive. Letting baby sleep where everyone can get the most rest can help. If that is in your bed this may mean that you have to get creative about where you have sex. If anything, this could spice things up for you and your partner.
Benefits of Co-Sleeping:
- Parents get more sleep.
- Babies often get more sleep. When baby starts to stir and wake up because it needs to eat, mom can quickly nurse or have a bottle prepped for baby to help soothe it back to sleep.
- Breastfeeding at night is easier when baby is nearby
- Sleeping in the same room as your baby reduces the risk of SIDS by as much as 50% [AAP].
- Breastfeeding through the night helps maintain a mother’s milk supply
- Fewer bedtime hassles
- You get to wake up next to a smiling baby every morning!
One of the most important things you can do when deciding where to let baby sleep is to learn how to do it safely. Some of these guidelines apply to any surface your baby sleeps on (cribs, nap pad, bassinets, play pens or adult beds)
- Baby should be placed on its back to sleep.
- Sleep surface should be firm. You should not place baby to sleep on a waterbed, pillow, bean bag, boppy, sheepskin, or any soft surface to sleep.
- Bedding should be tight fitting.
- There should be no large gaps between the headboard or footboard (or sides of crib) and the mattress.
- There should be no loose pillows, blankets, stuffed animals near baby’s face.
- Babies (with or without an adult) should never sleep on a sofa, couch, futon, chair, recliner, or any other surface where baby can slip into a crevice or become wedged.
And if you choose to bed-share you should be aware of a few more guidelines on safe sleeping. While their are risks to bed-sharing, knowing about unsafe and safe practices can help you make an informed decision.
- Premature or low birth weight babies can be at a higher risk for complications, but can benefit from co-sleeping nearby on a different surface.
- Do not bed-share if you are a smoker.
- Do not sleep in the same bed as your baby if you are under the influence of drugs/alcohol/sedatives/or and other medication or substance that makes you less aware.
- Do not sleep in the same bed as your baby if you are overly tired.
- Do not swaddle your baby when you are bed-sharing; baby can overheat and will not be able to effectively use arms or legs to alert an adult who may be too close or move covers from face.
- Long hair should be tied up so it does not become wrapped around baby’s neck.
- A parent who is an exceptionally deep sleeper or an obese parent who has trouble feeling where baby is should consider having baby sleep nearby on a separate surface.
Co-sleeping or bed-sharing is a personal choice that should be made by each individual family. Being aware of the risks involved and knowing how to be safe will help you make an informed choice. We recommend reading the following resources to help you with your decision.
Where Babies Sleep from the ISIS Infant Sleep Information Source
Guidelines to Sleeping Safe with Infants by James J. McKenna, Ph.D.
Safe Sleep 7: Is it safe to bedshare? is a free handout for parents, produced by La Leche League International
Infant Health Research: Bed Sharing, Infant Sleep and SIDS from the UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Initiative
Babies sharing their mothers’ beds while in hospital: a sample policy from the UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Initiative
Guideline on Co-Sleeping and Breastfeeding, Clinical Protocol Number 6 from the Academy for Breastfeeding Medicine
AAP Policy Statement: SIDS and Other Sleep-Related Infant Deaths: Expansion of Recommendations for a Safe Infant Sleeping Environment (Oct. 17, 2011)
How do you feel about co-sleeping?
Let us know in the comments below!