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Co-sleeping is a huge topic in the world of parenting. Most new parents are desperate for a sleep arrangement that will allow everyone to get the most sleep but that is also safe. This article aims to provide accurate information on the different types of co-sleeping so that you can make a more informed decision on what will work best for your family.
When many people hear the term co-sleeping, they think of bed-sharing. The terms are often used interchangeably, but they’re not actually the same.
Bed-sharing is common in other countries and has become increasingly popular in the United States. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has raised safety concerns about the practice. We’ll go into these and how to decrease the risks associated with bed-sharing later in this article.
The AAP recommends room sharing for your baby’s first six months and ideally for a full year.
Mothers and babies have slept close to one another for thousands of years, probably since our species first evolved. A recent article states that it’s still common in about 40 percent of documented cultures. Bed-sharing began to wane in popularity in Western culture as early as the 10th century, but really fell out of favor in the late 1800s. Even co-sleeping was discouraged in Europe as a means to prevent the spread of disease. It also became a way for wealthier families to distinguish themselves from those of lower economic status because they simply had the money for separate rooms and beds.
Bed-sharing, specifically, has recently become more popular in Western culture. One recent study found that 24 percent of parents report bed-sharing all or most of the time, up from just 6 percent in 1993. Though there are a variety of factors at play, including demographics and cultural norms, wider acceptance of bed-sharing in the West is related to increasing popularity of a philosophy known as attachment parenting. The approach focuses on promoting a secure, nurturing attachment between parents and babies through responding to babies’ needs immediately. It’s highly dependent on nearly constant physical contact.
Safety is a top concern for most new parents, and there’s a wealth of information out there related to sleep safety. In this section, we’ll explore the safety of different types of co-sleeping, including bed-sharing and room-sharing.
While a variety of factors may influence the way your family chooses to sleep, the AAP’s official stance is that babies should sleep in the same room with their parents—but not the same bed—for at least six months, if not a full year. Most pediatricians tell new parents that room sharing comes with a variety of benefits, including close proximity for breastfeeding and the ability to quickly respond to a baby’s needs. Pediatricians in Canada, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Australia provide similar recommendations.
Bed-sharing remains common in much of the rest of the world, but the AAP sites a variety of risks associated with the practice, including suffocation, overheating and entanglement. Because these risks are much greater if you fall asleep with your baby in a chair or on a couch, the AAP recommends moving to your bed if you’re feeding your baby and fear you might fall asleep.
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is a major concern for most new parents. SIDS is the sudden, unexplained death of an infant younger than twelve months, and because it often happens during sleep, sleep arrangements are thought to play a role. Co-sleeping is thought to reduce the risk of SIDS when babies sleep in their own bassinet or crib, which is why the AAP recommends room-sharing.
When it comes to bed-sharing, safety becomes more complicated and is highly dependent on a variety of risk factors. While many advocate that bed-sharing can be done safely, there are risks, including suffocation, strangulation, entrapment and SIDS.
These risks are greatly influenced by other factors. One study looked at 400 SIDS infants and found that 36 percent were bed-sharing with their parents. However, the risk was much higher for infants who were co-sleeping on a sofa or next to a parent who had been drinking or smoking. Another study found that while bed-sharing alone increases the risk of SIDS, the risk is much higher when paired with other factors, like smoking and alcohol use.
In addition to environmental factors, when it comes to SIDS, biology also plays a role. Premature babies and others with low birth weight are at a higher risk for SIDS, especially if they bed-share. Babies with brain defects also have a higher risk as do those whose parents smoke. The risk for SIDS decreases as babies get older, with 90 percent of cases occurring before six months of age.
One of the reasons bed-sharing can be hazardous is that an adult bed is not an ideal surface for a baby for a variety of reasons:
There are a variety of ways to practice co-sleeping with your child. We’ve summarized the most common:
Every family’s approach to co-sleeping is different. The AAP recommends room-sharing for at least six months and ideally one year. After that, babies can be moved to a crib in their own room. For a variety of reasons, some parents choose to make the move earlier or later, and there is some research to show that babies (and probably parents) sleep better when babies are in their own rooms after nine months. Especially if you want your child to sleep in his or her own room, and bed, long-term, it can be a good idea to start the move earlier rather than later.
The difficulty of making this transition will depend a lot on your current sleeping situation, with bed-sharing infants having a harder time transitioning to sleeping in their own bed. Be sure to ease into the change gradually. Consider moving your child into his or her own bed in your room for a few nights, or sleeping on a cot in his or her room until your child gets used to the new setup.
Co-sleeping comes with a variety of benefits.
Both room-sharing and bed-sharing parents experience these benefits, though bed-sharing parents will likely assert that they’re more pronounced in a bed-sharing situation. For example, if a baby and mother share a bed, the baby can breastfeed throughout the night even without waking the mother. Some also believe that bed-sharing allows mothers and babies to fall into a similar sleep rhythm, and it can be comforting to be so close. As we’ve discussed, the benefits of bed-sharing also come with risks.
Co-sleeping, and specifically bed-sharing, does have associated risks.
While you may not be interested in being intimate with your partner right after your child is born, chances are you’ll want to rekindle this part of your relationship sooner or later. It can be difficult to do so if your baby is sharing your room, and might feel next to impossible if you’re all in the same bed.
Co-sleeping advocates stress that intimacy can, and should, be maintained. It often requires being more creative and strategic. Look for other ways to be intimate and consider sneaking off to other parts of the house while your baby is sleeping. Also remember that everything is temporary. Once your child moves into his or her own room, your sex life can return to normal.
A safe sleep environment is important for any baby, and it’s especially vital that you take precautions if you do decide to bed-share. Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind:
Families need to decide what works for them when it comes to sleeping arrangements, and our role is to provide quality information so they can better understand the subject. Co-sleeping, when it involves babies sleeping in their parents rooms but in their own cribs, is the preferred sleeping arrangement of the AAP for at least the first six months. While bed-sharing works well for many families, it is important to remember the increased risk of SIDS, which is most likely when paired with other risk factors. Whatever you decide to do, be sure to do your research and consult your pediatrician.