Photo © fdgfoto/Shutterstock
Your baby has been crying for hours in the middle of the night. Nothing
will calm her. Finally, she settles in your arms but awakens and screams the
minute you set her in her crib. Out of exhaustion, you take her into bed
with you and both you and baby snuggle in for a cozy sleep.
Except for North America and some parts of Europe, most people in
countries around the world sleep with their children. The trend is also
increasing here, although many parents don’t like to admit to the practice.
They worry about safety concerns and receive advice from friends and
relatives that once their baby is in bed with them, they’ll never get her
out, which is unsupported by research, by the way. But the reality is that
most parents will sleep with their baby at some point in time, whether for a
temporary period or as an on-going practice.
Many parents want the closeness and comfort of sharing a bed with their baby
full time. Others do it for half the night while getting the baby to sleep,
or getting more sleep during the early hours of the morning, or for nap
times. Baby could be teething, sick, have night terrors, and need night-time
parenting. Or they could be on holidays with no crib.
Benefits of Co-Sleeping
Parents and baby have close emotional and physical bonding time.
Mom gets more sleep, as she can attend to baby’s needs while both are still
somewhat not fully awake. Mom and baby can get back to sleep faster.
Baby barely wakes to feed, but can easily attach to the breast, so she goes
back to sleep faster.
Mom and baby’s breathing cycles adjusts to be in sync with each other. May
offer SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) protection by keeping baby’s
breathing adjusted to mom’s and preventing deep sleep for babies where they
may “forget” to breathe.
Dad has the ability to provide warmth and bonding time with baby, in order
to give mom a break.
Touch between parent and baby is a necessary survival need.
Provides easier access for on-demand nursing.
Provides psychological and emotional health for baby in that they develop
trust and security that their needs will be met anytime in the daytime or
nighttime of the first year.
Myths About Co-Sleeping
Babies and children will find it so cozy that they may never leave the bed
to go to sleep in their own bed. It’s true that babies and young children
love to sleep with their parents. It makes them feel safe, secure, happy,
contented, and loved. Some children have longer dependency needs than others
and may stay until preschool- or school-aged. Other children are fiercely
independent and may want to share a bed with siblings or sleep on their own.
Research consistently shows that the sooner a child’s security needs are
met, the faster they become independent, so it’s in the child’s and
parent’s best interests to let the child decide when and where they will
Parents will never have sex. Many parents move the child
to their own bed after they fall asleep and then have time and space to
be romantic. Other parents choose the guest room or sofa to have sex; a
variety of settings can add spice and excitement to the relationship.
Children can feel too psychologically powerful if they
sleep with parents. There are no studies that show that co-sleeping does
a baby or child any emotional or psychological harm.
Co-Sleeping Safety Tips
It’s important for parents to know that there are risks and
benefits to co-sleeping just as there are risks and benefits to crib use.
It is possible that baby could be suffocated or entrapped in the first year
by Mom, Dad, siblings, pets, bedding, or surroundings.
How can parents make co-sleeping safer? An adult bed is just like an
automobile; both are not custom made for infants. For cars, we have invented
car seats to reduce the risk of injury and death while travelling. For beds,
we have several safety recommendations to reduce the risk while sleeping
There are basically two ways to have a safer sleep-sharing experience. Some
parents try the sidecar approach. They put the crib in the master bedroom
with one crib side down. The lowered crib side is moved right next to the
bed. This is called co-sleeping. Other parents just get rid of the box
spring and put a king size mattress down on the floor so there is no danger
of falling. Just as adults are aware of the edges of their beds and seldom
fall off, mothers and babies become intuitively aware of each other as they
sleep, so rolling over on baby is not common. This is called bed-sharing.
The following tips can reduce the risks of suffocation, wedging, entrapment,
Never sleep with baby while under the influence of drugs,
prescription drugs, over the counter drugs, and alcohol, or if partner
is under the influence of the same.
Never leave baby unattended on an adult bed.
Keep pillows, comforters, stuffed animals, and sheets away from
baby. Dress baby in a warm fleece sleeper and Mom in a warm cotton
turtleneck so the upper body doesn’t get cold and you don’t need
blankets or comforters to cover up.
Pin away any adult’s long hair and fasten it up.
Make sure sheets are fitted under the mattress.
Always put the baby on her back to sleep.
Avoid siblings in the same bed. If siblings do share a bed, Mom should
sleep between sibs and the baby.
If using a bed with legs, make sure the spacing between headboard and
footboard is no more than currently allowed for mattress-crib spacing in
safety approved cribs.
If mom or dad smoked during the pregnancy, avoid bed-sharing.
The mattress must be firm.
Never co-sleep on couches, overstuffed chairs or sofas, waterbeds, or
Never cover up your baby’s face.
The mattress should not be against a wall or furniture because the baby
could become entrapped.
Baby should not sleep between Mom and Dad due to overheating produced
from both bodies. Sleeping between Mom and the end of mattress on the
floor is the safest. Many countries where sleep sharing is common, only
have Mom and her baby bed share, not Dad, siblings, or pets.
Avoid strings and ties on both baby’s and parent’s nightclothes.
Avoid overheating the room and the baby.
Avoid sleeping near window treatment cords that could strangle, or
windows that could pose a falling risk.
Avoid using bed rails for infants under one year.
No infant sleep environment is one hundred percent safe. But by following
the safety recommendations for cribs or co-sleeping, we can greatly reduce
the risks of suffocation. After the age of one year, there are no safety
concerns and where children sleep is a personal matter of family
No health professional should tell parents where their child should sleep
because research supports that children thrive physically and emotionally in
all sleeping environments where no one is crying and everyone is sleeping
Judy Arnall is a professional international award-winning Parenting Speaker
and Trainer, mom of five children, and author of the best-selling,
“Discipline Without Distress: 135 tools for raising caring, responsible
children without time-out, spanking, punishment or bribery.” She specializes
in “Parenting the Digital Generation.” Contact her: