Co-sleeping and bed-sharing, can be controversial topics. Here is what you need to know about it, it's risks, why some families choose it, and safer alternatives.
Co-sleeping is a practice in which babies and young children sleep close to one or both parents, as opposed to in a separate room.
Bed-sharing is a practice in which babies and young children sleep in the same bed with one or both parents. It is a subset of co-sleeping.
While it is recommended by The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the U.K.'s National Health Service (NHS), to share a room with your baby until they are 6 months old, it is strongly advised to sleep on separate surfaces. The tragic truth is that co-sleeping and bed-sharing are associated with an increased risk of accidental death in babies, caused by suffocation and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
The AAP recommends that infants sleep on their backs in a crib or bassinet on a flat, firm mattress with a tightly fitted sheet. There shouldn't be any other items in the crib —such as toys, crib bumpers, loose blankets, or positioners.
Despite the evidence that highlights the risks, many families choose to co-sleep. Some parents believe that it promotes bonding, helps children feel safe, and makes nighttime nursing easier. But how much truth is there to those claims?
Why parents choose co-sleep?
From a practical point of view, co-sleeping offers convenience: Not only does bed-sharing keep parents physically close by to respond to the baby's needs at night, but the proximity can make it easier for the breastfeeding mother to nurse throughout the night with minimal interruption to her own sleep.
Beyond practicality, parents have an instinctual drive to stay close to their infant, and some parents believe that children feel a greater sense of security and well-being while sleeping near their parents.
Co-Sleeping almost ruined my marriage. My husband and I never thought we'd co-sleep. Then, our daughter was born, and all of our plans went out the window. Co-sleeping turned out to be terrible for our relationship.
The disadvantages of Co-sleeping
Beyond the physical risks, sharing a family bed, eventually, becomes problematic for a variety of reasons.
Being always around during sleep, can make you a sleep-prop, which is something your kid can't fall asleep without. It may develop severe separation anxiety during the day too. Children tend to become more confident when they are independent sleepers.
Another disadvantage to co-sleeping is poor sleep quality. Children are very active sleepers. They can kick and turn all night long. If you breastfeed, you become an open buffet, leaving you to sleep on one side, normally facing the baby, with one arm folded under your head, topless, which with time, will cause you back, arm and neck pain.
Last but not least, your relationship with your partner is at risk. I've seen many families in which one parent, most often the father, ends up sleeping in a different room entirely. For many couples with children, evenings are the only time they have, to be alone together. When you're sharing a bed with your kids, they're literally separating you from your partner. The co-sleeping arrangement could lead to limited space and time for intimacy.
Safe Alternative to Co-Sleeping
While the AAP strongly advises against parents bed-sharing with infants, they strongly recommend room-sharing (for the first 6 months of the baby's life), which keeps babies close to their parents but on their own safe sleeping surface like a bassinet or crib. This closeness still supports breastfeeding and allows parents to quickly attend to their baby's needs at night while reducing the risks associated with co-sleeping.
Always remember that you can create strong bonds with your baby with or without co-sleeping. Your baby can benefit from bonding activities, physical closeness, and skin-to-skin contact without bed-sharing at night.
If you've been sharing your bed with your baby, it's not too late to break the habit and help your child to fall asleep in their own bed.