The practice of co-sleeping or sharing a bed with an infant is a hotly debated parenting topic. Supporters of bed-sharing believe that your baby belongs in your bed. Others worry that sharing a bed with your baby is unsafe and exposes them to danger.
What are the benefits of co-sleeping?
While parents co-sleeping with a baby may not be viewed as an acceptable norm in the United States, it's common in most other parts of the world and encouraged. To many people, co-sleeping is practical and provides an opportunity to enjoy physical togetherness with your baby. After all, sleeping next to a loved one feels completely natural and innate. Your baby longs for comfort throughout the long hours of the night. Additionally:
- Co-sleeping creates more time for bonding with your infant.
- It encourages breastfeeding by making nighttime feeding more manageable and more convenient.
- It helps your baby fall asleep more easily.
- It gives you a more extended time to breastfeed your baby.
The risks of co-sleeping with your baby
Unfortunately, the risks of sharing a bed with an infant far outweigh the advantages.
The practice of co-sleeping goes against medical advice in the United States. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, bed-sharing with babies should be avoided at all times. This is especially applicable to full-term, normal-weight infants below the age of four months. According to the Academy, bed-sharing puts your baby at an increased risk of suffocation, SIDS, and strangulation.
What is SIDS?
SIDS refers to sudden infant death syndrome, the death of a baby under one year that happens suddenly and unexpectedly. It's one of the leading causes of death for infants during their first year of life, most of which are tied to sleep.
SIDS is more likely to occur in babies who sleep on their stomachs than those who sleep on their backs. Sleeping on the stomach makes your baby more likely to re-breathe their own exhaled air. This can cause the accumulation of carbon dioxide and low oxygen levels, causing your baby to suffocate.
Stomach sleeping also puts your baby at the risk of overheating, sudden drop in blood pressure, and inability to control their heart rate, increasing their SIDS risk.
Soft or loose bedding on your bed, your adult mattress, and pillows all pose potential suffocation hazards for your baby. Depending on the sleeping position, you also risk having the baby trapped or wedged between the mattress and headboard or wall.
If you are a heavy sleeper, you also risk rolling over your baby while you sleep. This actually happens in some cases, and the risk increases if you smoke or drink.
Having your baby sleep between you and their other parent or your partner also increases the risk of suffocation. Other risk factors include the following:
- Sleeping on the couch with your baby
- Sleeping with your baby when you're exhausted
- Bed-sharing with other children
- Co-sleeping with your baby when they are unwell
- Bed-sharing with pillows and bed covers
- If your baby is less than four months old, was born premature, or has a smaller birth weight than most babies at birth
When is the right time to bed share with your baby?
Data suggests that co-sleeping with babies is on the increase, with a survey in 2015 revealing that more than 61% of babies in America co-sleep with their parents some of the time.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents share a room with their babies for at least the first six months of life. Most preferably, they should continue with this for the first year of the baby's life.
This creates a gap between what parents should do and what they do as far as co-sleeping with their babies is concerned. Consequently, most are afraid to let their pediatrician know they bed-share for fear of being reported to child protection services.
After the first six months of life, your baby’s physiology is more settled, and you can make a solid decision about co-sleeping with your baby. However, ensure you make bed-sharing as safe as possible for your baby by following these parenting guidelines:
- Always placing the baby on their back to protect them from the risk of SIDS
- Dressing your baby minimally to prevent overheating
- Not putting your baby in an adult bed to sleep alone
- Not putting the baby in soft places like a waterbed, soft mattress, or sofa to sleep
- Ensuring your bed’s headboard and footboard don’t have openings to avoid having your baby trapped
- Not covering your baby’s head while they sleep
- Not having pillows, quilts, comforters, and other soft items in the bed
- Not placing your bed near binds or draperies where they can get caught and strangled
- Not falling asleep with the baby on your chest
- Not sleeping on rockers, couches, or recliners with your baby
- Not smoking or drinking alcohol when co-sleeping with your baby
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Greater Good Magazine. "How Co-Sleeping Can Help You and Your Baby."
International Journal of Pediatrics. "Is 'Bed Sharing' Beneficial and Safe during Infancy? A Systematic Review."
Journal of Primary Care & Community Health. "Same Room, Safe Place: The Need for Professional Safe Sleep Unity Grows at the Expense of Families."
Kids Health. "Bed-Sharing."
The New England Journal of Medicine. "The Sudden Infant Death Syndrome."
NPR. "Is Sleeping With Your Baby as Dangerous As Doctors Say?"
Nursing Children and Young People. "Parent-infant co-sleeping and the implications for sudden infant death syndrome."
OFFICIAL JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN ACADEMY OF PEDIATRICS. "Duration of Breastfeeding and Risk of SIDS: An Individual Participant Data Meta-Analysis."
PEDIATRICS. "Sleep Environment Risks for Younger and Older Infants."
Raising Children. "Co-Sleeping with Your Baby."
United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Safe Sleep for Babies."
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Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)The cause of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is unknown. The risk of SIDS peaks in infants 2-4 months of age. SIDS is more common among male infants, particularly African American and Native American infants, during the winter months. Putting the baby to sleep on his/her back, avoiding fluffy, loose bedding, using a firm mattress, and avoiding co-sleeping may help to prevent SIDS.