Having your baby sleep snuggled up next to you in your bed certainly sounds like a lovely sleeping arrangement. There are benefits to co-sleeping, but there are also risks. If you're considering sharing your bed with your baby, it's important to be aware of the risk factors and how to reduce them.
Choosing the best option for your family
Co-sleeping, sometimes referred to as the 'family bed', is the act of having your child in your bed with you during sleep. Surveys show that 25 to 30 percent of American parents routinely let their children sleep with them, either for part or all of the night.
Co-sleeping is promoted by many individual health professionals, advocates of 'Attachment Parenting' and breastfeeding groups around the world, as a means of enhancing emotional attachment. On the other hand, co-sleeping is also actively discouraged by many individual health professionals and some health care authorities (groups as opposed to individuals), due to safety concerns.
Below describes some of the many comments often made in support and in opposition of co-sleeping. As with many parenting issues there are advantages and disadvantages related to co-sleeping. Deciding whether to co-sleep or not is a matter of personal choice. Only you can decide the best option for your child and your family.
No sleep arrangement is 100% safe for a child. Whichever alternative you choose it's recommended that you follow relevant sleep safety recommendations to make the environment as safe as possible for your child.
In support of co-sleeping
- Co-sleeping is a common practice in many cultures involving around 2/3 of the world's population.
- Co-sleeping enhances an emotional attachment between parent and child.
- Co-sleeping makes nighttime breastfeeding more convenient.
- Co-sleeping makes it easier to soothe an infant back to sleep in the middle of the night.
- Studies suggest the mother's sleep becomes more in synch with her infant's sleep. Co-sleeping mothers often awaken just before their babies start to cry for a feeding and can nurse them back to sleep before they both fully awaken.
- Co-sleeping is believed to enhance breastfeeding. A recent study showed that co-sleeping infants nursed up to twice as often as infants who sleep separately.
- Prolactin (milk producing hormone) levels are increased with increased nighttime breastfeeding.
- Some parents who are separated from their child during the day believe that co-sleeping helps them to regain the closeness with their child that they missed during the day.
- Some parents find they sleep better when they co-sleep because they are not lying awake worrying about their child.
- The proximity of a parent may help an infant's immature nervous system learn to self-regulate during sleep. Sleeping with a familiar person may smooth the transition from one sleep state to another and lessen an infant's anxiety.
- Children who co-sleep tend to have fewer nightmares and nighttime disturbances.
- Co-sleeping may help to prevent SIDS by preventing an infant from entering into sleep states that are too deep. In addition, the parent's own breathing may help the infant to 'remember' to breathe.
- Although the safety risks of co-sleeping are acknowledged, there are also safety risks associated with a child sleeping separately in a crib or bed.
In opposition of co-sleeping
- As most of the world's children live in poverty in cramped conditions, the observation that the majority of cultures sleep with their child may have more to do with necessity than choice.
- Evidence to support claims regarding emotional and psychological benefits for children who co-sleep with parents has not been documented. There is no evidence that confirms co-sleeping enhances a better (or worse) emotional attachment than children who sleep separately.
- Where some may see the increased frequency of nighttime feeding beneficial, others believe feeding a child to sleep during the night may extend beyond an age where overnight feeding fulfills a nutritional need.
- Co-sleeping can lead to what some parents perceive as very dependant and demanding sleep behavior at night.
- A child who requires full parental involvement for nighttime sleep often requires full parental involvement for daytime sleep as well.
- Some parents find their quality of sleep is affected by co-sleeping. Co-sleeping with an infant may prevent parents from getting a good night's sleep for fear or rolling onto their infant. The restless movements of an older child during sleep, often makes co-sleeping unacceptable to many parents.
- Claims that mother and infant's sleep cycles become in synch, although possibly beneficial for an infant are not necessarily beneficial for the mother. An adult spends approx 80% of their sleep in Non-REM sleep, with sleep cycles lasting approx 90 minutes, compared to an infant, who spends only 50% of sleep in Non-REM sleep, with sleep cycles lasting approx 20-40 minutes. Without sufficient Non-REM sleep an adult may wake feeling exhausted.
- The average age a child will stay in the 'family bed' is 3 - 4 years. (Some leave sooner, some will stay to 5 years or older.) If parents tire of co-sleeping before the child it can be a very stressful process to encourage the child to accept a situation (sleeping independently) that he/she is unfamiliar with.
- The connection between co-sleeping and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is unclear and research is ongoing. An American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) policy statement says that although co-sleeping may have benefits (such as promoting breastfeeding) there are no scientific studies suggesting that it reduces SIDS. In fact, the opposite may be true. The AAP say that some studies suggest that under certain conditions co-sleeping may increase the risk of SIDS. (Co-sleeping environments involving mothers who smoke is associated with an increased risk of SIDS).
- The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) warns parents and caregivers about the dangers of placing infants to sleep in adult beds. A CPSC study published in the October issue of the Archives of Pediatics and Adolescent Medicine found that placing babies to sleep in adult beds puts them at risk of suffocation or strangulation.
Written by Rowena Bennett.
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