What do a million dollars and a good night’s sleep have in common? They’re both something that most new parents lack, and desperately covet. When a new mom enters the sorority of motherhood, she can pretty such say buh-bye to guaranteed restful nights of sleep. But, of course, as with any issues of parenting, new moms can find what works best for them.
For thousands of families, what works best for them is to sleep in the same bed with their child. This is referred to as co-sleeping. Also known as bed-sharing, or “the family bed”, co-sleeping offers many benefits to both the parent and child.
While the term “co-sleeping” is relatively new, the concept is not. Co-sleeping as been practiced since the beginning of time. Cribs weren’t even introduced until the 15th century. It is the norm for many cultures around the world. In some places, cribs and baby beds are unheard of. Co-sleeping has become more popular in the US in recent years. It is not the best choice for every family, but for some it can make nighttime parenting a little easier.
One of the greatest benefits of co-sleeping is that it is more convenient for nighttime breastfeeding. Moms enjoy not having to get out of bed and pick up their baby for feedings. Amy T., a co-sleeping mom of two, stated that “not having to wake up every twenty minutes when they were newborns saved my sanity.” Another co-sleeping mom of one, Monica M., remarked. “My baby nursed for extremely long periods, like 45 minutes at a time. This provided a way for him to breast feed without having to leave the comfort of the bed and both of us could fall back to sleep at our leisure.”
A second benefit of co-sleeping is that it can help prevent sleep deprivation, in both parents and children. Since parents will not need to get out of bed to tend to the baby, they will get more sleep. The June 2005 Paediatric Respiratory Reviews article “Why Babies Should Never Sleep Alone: A Review of the Co-Sleeping Controversy In Relation to SIDS, Bedsharing, and Breastfeeding”, found that co-sleeping infants obtained more REM sleep that infants who slept alone. You can download the full article here.
Many moms feel that co-sleeping promotes bonding. Lori S., a mom of two from Arizona, feels that co-sleeping is “cuddle time. It’s the one time that the world stops and we can be physically close and find comfort.” Traci S., a working mom of two, found that co-sleeping “allowed me closeness with the kids I just couldn’t get during the day.” Samantha S, a mom of one, believes “Co-sleeping ‘helped me to establish a closer bond to my son.”
Co-sleeping does have its drawbacks. Most moms are quick to mention that it can affect intimacy time with their husbands. Some parents have stated that it can be uncomfortable to be kicked, punched, and have their hair pulled by little ones. Of course, some say that a larger bed can help provide more space. It can also be very difficult to transition older children and toddlers to their own beds.
In recent years, some medical experts have advocated against co-sleeping. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission warns against placing babies in adult beds as it does pose a suffocation risk. One study found that 64 deaths each year are caused by infant co-sleeping. (Read the CPSC statement here.) However, Dr. William Sears advocates co-sleeping and feels it lowers the risk of SIDS because it helps babies rouse themselves. You can read Dr. Sears’ response here.
Dr. Stephanie Levine, a member of the Board of Directors of Keeping Babies Safe (www.keepingbabiessafe.org), released the following statement regarding co-sleeping: “Co sleeping, or the practice of parents sharing a bed with infants or young children, is an extremely controversial issue in the United States. Although widely practiced in many parts of the world, the question is how safe is co sleeping? Both the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and The American Academy of Pediatrics believe co sleeping puts children at risk for suffocation and strangulation. The CPSC described 515 deaths over a seven year period all associated with co sleeping. Certain risk factors have been clearly associated with unsafe co-sleeping and it is our goal to educate caretakers how to make co-sleeping safer.”
One alternative to co-sleeping, that still allows the baby to sleep close by, is to use a bassinet or crib that attaches to the bed. One to try is the Arm’s Reach Co-Sleeper bassinet here. Another option is the “Snuggle Nest” here.
Co-sleeping is not for everyone, and does have risks. For some parents it can truly make a positive difference in their families. To learn more about co-sleeping safety and advice, it might be helpful to join on an online co-sleeping support group. One to try is Cafemom’s Breastfeeding and Co-sleeping group here. As a parent, you need to find what works best for you, while seeking the overall best interest for your child. Always think safety first, and consult with a doctor when needed. Happy Parenting!