Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
17 Jan

Co-Sleeping: The Risks and the Benefits

Co-SleepingCo-sleeping, bed sharing, or whatever else you want to call it – is an abomination of a behavior that no self-respecting mammal engages in. If you don’t believe me, consider how other mammals handle their kids. You know the old can and string phones we used to make as kids? New chimpanzee parents will string a vine between two empty coconut shell halves, placing one half in the baby chimp’s nest in the next tree over and the other half in the parents’ nest, allowing them to monitor the baby’s cries and activity during the night. If the baby wakes up, they’ll swing on over to the other tree and produce a hairy teat until the little chimp quiets down. Then it’s back to bed. The first thing female voles do after giving birth is dig a separate hole in the ground where the infants will sleep. Same with gophers. Kangaroos are famous for their pouches, which for years researchers assumed the mothers used to keep their infants safe, with easy access to the nipples. But in actuality, the kangaroo pouch is used to store shrubs, grasses, various other edible plants, and boxing gloves, as well as cover up their breasts (kangaroos are incredibly shy and modest creatures).

That’s all nonsense, of course, in case you couldn’t tell already. Mammals are huge co-sleepers and bed-sharers. Heck, they exclusively breastfeed, avoid epidurals, give birth at home, and, in the case of marine mammals, are totally into the whole water birth thing. And, from what I understand, the North American deer population is solely responsible for the petition to bring Mothering back to print form (their hooves preclude them from typing, or else they’d totally read the online version). You might say that mammals are the hippies of the animal kingdom. But wait – we’re mammals, too. Doesn’t it make sense for us to share beds with our young children, or maybe share bedrooms? At the very least, shouldn’t we explore the possibility that sleeping with our infants – a behavior that many new parents are drawn toward – is safe and maybe even beneficial?

I’m going to level with you guys before I write anything more: I’m a big proponent of co-sleeping. Carrie and I did it with our kids, and I’m convinced it was the right move. It brought us closer to our kids and to each other. It helped us sleep, when sleep was a hot commodity. I certainly understand why some folks are hesitant to promote or attempt it, but I’m pretty biased in favor of co-sleeping for obvious reasons (it just seems to work).

I gave this topic a brief mention in Monday’s post, and the reader response made me feel like writing a more comprehensive series of posts on the subject was in order. So let’s look at the possible risks and benefits.

Is co-sleeping safe?

First, let’s define co-sleeping. Co-sleeping can refer to three different practices:

  • Room-sharing, where the baby sleeps in the same room as the parents but in a separate bed/crib.
  • Bed-sharing, where the baby sleeps in the same bed as the parents.
  • Couch-sharing, where the baby sleeps with the parent(s) on the couch or sofa.

Are there risks associated with the various types of co-sleeping? Somewhat.

Room-sharing is strongly associated with a reduced risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and the American Academy of Pediatrics actually recommends that parents room-share early on. That’s a great start!

Couch-sharing is inherently dangerous, due to the increased chance of the baby falling between the cushions and being pushed up against the back to suffocate.

Bed-sharing is the controversial one. It can be dangerous, if certain precautions aren’t taken, but it also appears to have a host of benefits if done the right way (which I’ll discuss below). Unfortunately, little distinction is made between couch-sharing and bed-sharing when people talk about co-sleeping – even though the two are worlds apart. Even the purported links between bed-sharing and increased danger to the babies are tenuous and confounded by other variables, like drug and alcohol usage, smoking, and poverty. One study, in fact, found that when you control for maternal tobacco usage, the risk vanishes altogether, while a more recent meta-analysis concluded that “there may be an association between bed-sharing and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) among smokers (however defined), but the evidence is not as consistent among nonsmokers.” And other studies have found that “non-elective” bed-sharing, where parents (often impoverished single mothers) co-sleep because of circumstance (crib too expensive, tiny apartment, etc.) rather than choice, is a risk for infant death (PDF). But can the results of co-sleeping as it’s often practiced in impoverished, at-risk households where cribs are a luxury and education about safe bed-sharing is nonexistent serve as indictments of co-sleeping in general?

The fact remains that bed-sharing is the evolutionary norm for mammals, including humans. That can’t be argued. According to James McKenna, perhaps the most prolific co-sleeping researcher, “There exist no ethnographic examples outside of Western, industrialized countries of infants sleeping outside the mother’s room—away from her company.” (PDF) If anything, solitary sleeping is the global and historical aberration. Indeed, in many countries and regions where bed-sharing is prevalent and culturally ingrained, like Sweden, Japan, Hong Kong, and Beijing, SIDS rates are low.

If bed-sharing were always a dangerous behavior, I have to think the instinct to do so would have been weeded out and eradicated from most traditions, rather than solidified as a cultural mainstay. After all, killing the young is unequivocally bad for the fitness of a species.

Is co-sleeping worth any potential risks?

Well, let’s look at the benefits.

Co-sleeping makes breastfeeding easier. By now, we all know how hugely beneficial breastfeeding is to a child’s development and health. Breastmilk confers immunological benefits, transfers commensal gut bacteria, and promotes bonding and closeness between mother and child. It’s nutritious (especially if the mother’s diet is nutritious), and it’s the only food everyone agrees we’re designed to consume. Further, breastfeeding is strongly and consistently associated with a lack of SIDS, a link far more consistent than the unclear link between certain types of co-sleeping and SIDS. All signs point to breastfeeding being a good move for both mother and child, so we should promote behaviors that make it easier to do. Across multiple populations and countries, including Sweden, Malaysia, and Brazil, bed-sharing is consistently associated with higher rates of breastfeeding. It may be that women who breastfeed are more likely to co-sleep, but it’s pretty obvious that not having to get up and walk to another room to feed will make breastfeeding easier.

Co-sleeping, particularly bed-sharing, helps mother and child grow attuned to each other’s sleep and awakening patterns. In one study, researchers ran sleep studies on 20 habitual co-sleeping pairs and 15 habitual solitary sleeping pairs. The co-sleepers woke more frequently, but their awakenings tended to overlap (co-sleeping moms and babies woke up at the same time) and the total nocturnal wakefulness was not increased due to decreased duration of awakenings (co-sleeping moms and babies got back to sleep faster). This allowed co-sleeping moms to respond to their children’s cries more quickly and accurately, thereby enhancing their ability to monitor the status of their children and, the researchers suggest, improving their capacity for caregiving.

Co-sleeping improves sleep. Sure, as mentioned above, you might wake up more frequently, but each awakening is far less disruptive since you don’t have to stumble over to an entirely different room in the dark. You slip right back to sleep. Most successful co-sleepers cite “improved sleep” as an important factor in their decision to do it. One study even found that breastfeeding combined with bed-sharing allowed both mother and infant to get more sleep. Some researchers theorize that these “lighter” sleep periods are even protective against SIDS in their own right.

Co-sleeping modifies the parental response to night wakings. One study found that while co-sleepers saw night wakings as normal and nothing to freak out about, parents of solitary sleepers found night wakings to be highly disruptive. If a stressor doesn’t actually register as a stressor, is it stressful? Probably not.

Co-sleeping normalizes the stress response in children. For infants, cortisol regulation in response to physical stress should be “moderate,” rather than heightened. Babies who are solitary sleepers show greater sensitivity to mild stressors, like a bathing session. In response to a stressor, one study showed that the solitary sleepers secreted more cortisol than normal, while the co-slept child secreted the “right” amount. Another study found that co-sleeping had a positive effect on babies’ cortisol regulation at 12 months. Despite “common sense” claims that co-sleeping babies will become more dependent and unable to deal with stressors, the opposite appears to be true.

Co-sleeping facilitates the bond between parent and child. Skin-to-skin contact promotes the release of oxytocin, a powerful hormone and neurotransmitter that solidifies and strengthens the bond between people.

Co-sleeping may result in better-adjusted, more independent children and adults. While you might think that co-sleeping children grow up to be dependent and helpless, most research suggests this is not the case. Some studies even show that children who co-slept as infants grow up to be more self reliant and independent. Others suggest that co-sleeping reduces tantrums, produces less “fearful” children, boosts self-esteem later in life, and helps both males and females become comfortable with intimacy as adults (among many other possible psychological benefits). At the very least, co-sleeping doesn’t create needy, dependent kids.

Next week, I’ll explain how to co-sleep the right, safe way. I’ll also tell you what not to do, along with a few alternatives to bed-sharing. Until then, do what feels right. If you’re intellectually convinced of the benefits of co-sleeping but can’t quite shake the feeling that you’re going to smother your child, don’t co-sleep. It should be a natural behavior that reduces stress, not a cortisol-laden one.

Thanks for reading folks! Be sure to leave your thoughts in the comment section; be civil. This can be a testy subject.

You want comments? We got comments:

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  1. I remember reading a recent article where you mentioned co-sleeping and thinking: “get ready for some emails, Mark, you’ll be writing a post on this topic soon..” haha!

    Logan wrote on January 17th, 2013
  2. I co-slept with all three of my children and loved it. We shared a bed for about 6 months, then shared a room for several more months after that. I was never concerned about the safety aspect; however, my husband was and chose to sleep in a different bed while I bed-shared with two of my children. I don’t smoke, drink or use narcotics, so I was not concerned about being too deeply asleep to notice my babies were in distress. I don’t have my own anecdotal comparison for bed-sharing vs. not, but I know I did the best thing for my children and our relationships.

    Kate L wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • Does having your husband in the bed while co-sleeping raise the risk? I would imagine that having two full grown people who could roll over on the baby is riskier than one.

      Wayne Atwell wrote on January 17th, 2013
      • Wayne, have you ever slept with a pet – a dog or a cat? Did you ever roll over on them?

        I’m not sure where the belief comes from that sober people will roll over onto something and not notice. If there’s the smallest lump of lint in my bed, I notice!

        My husband and I co-slept (bed sharing) with both our kids, taking into advisement all the ways to do it safely. I never once rolled into or over either of them.

        Karen C. wrote on January 17th, 2013
        • I totally agree with Karen – it just won’t happen…I co-slept with husband and 2 kids and no one ever got crushed —

          Julia wrote on January 17th, 2013
        • No I have never slept with a pet so I don’t know what it is like.

          Wayne Atwell wrote on January 17th, 2013
        • I went on a camping trip once and woke up in the morning on the other side of the person I was sleeping next to. She told me that I had rolled right over her in the middle of the night. It woke her up, but not me. That was a full grown adult; much bigger than an infant.

          When I have children I don’t think I’ll risk the same bed because of that incident. Some people are very heavy sleepers.

          quidam wrote on January 18th, 2013
        • But the difference is is that a pet will move out of the way, while a baby can not if rolled on to.
          We sleep with a dog and while I’m not a roller, I know my husband has often rolled on to our dog and not moved to roll back off. And when I say roll on to, it’s more like a lean on to w/ his arm across which would still be enough to harm a baby.

          LisaL wrote on January 21st, 2013
        • I have definitely rolled on to my cats. They just don’t care. And I was sober, don’t have apnea, am in great shape; I’ve just always been a heavy sleeper.

          Mia wrote on December 11th, 2013
      • I worried about this same thing actually, especially as a dad that sleeps really soundly. However, it used to be normal for me to have my laptop in bed and rolling over that could have been bad. I never did. It’s almost as if going to sleep being aware of something makes it pretty easy to avoid.

        The biggies are don’t drink, don’t smoke and have no drugs (prescribed or otherwise) that will put you out in your system.

        We’ve had no close calls or anything resembling one in 9 months. Sometimes she scoots up on me and sometimes she scoots up on mom. Sometimes she sleeps between us. On rough nights where she’s upset or not feeling good or whatever, I’ll plop her across my chest.

        It’s fantastic. It’s also something you have a very short window of time to experience so I suggest that everyone strike while the iron is hot so to speak.

        Joshua wrote on January 17th, 2013
        • When you become a parent your “spidie” senses go off when ever you move. When something is so precious to you you know it is there. Have you ever fell asleep holding something valuable? How deeply did you sleep? You baby is far more valuable.

          Jenny wrote on January 19th, 2013
      • I took my babies to bed with me long enough to nurse them, but then I always returned them to their crib. It was and still is my opinion that a very young infant sleeping in the same bed with two adults is a cozy-sounding bad idea that hasn’t been well thought out.

        Rolling on top of the baby is definitely a risk, but probably not as much as the possibility of blankets or quilts inadvertently being pulled up over the baby’s head, or the baby getting stuck under a pillow and not being able to breathe. Also, many people are restless sleepers who thrash around at night, in which case the baby could easily get hit with a hand or elbow. Lastly, how are the parents going to get any quality sleep if they are trying to be careful of a vulnerable infant lying between them? And then later on, when you want the child to sleep in his own bed, you’re likely to have problems on your hands because you’ve established a bad habit early on.

        Equating having a baby in the bed to having a dog or cat in the bed is a poor analogy. Animals who sleep with their people are usually able to fend for themselves.

        Shary wrote on January 17th, 2013
        • “Lastly, how are the parents going to get any quality sleep if they are trying to be careful of a vulnerable infant lying between them?”

          The same way I did before, as it turns out. There are plenty of options anyway. There are baby sleepers that go between the parents to prevent rolling and protect the baby if you think you need one.

          “And then later on, when you want the child to sleep in his own bed, you’re likely to have problems on your hands because you’ve established a bad habit early on.”

          I don’t have time to dig them up, but modern studies are indicating otherwise. I also take issue with the idea of having your kids sleep in the same bed as their parents as being a “bad habit.” It’s really not.

          What’s the rush in making children “independent” anyway?

          Joshua wrote on January 17th, 2013
        • I guess you have to ask yourself, would you notice if you rolled over onto a pet, or a pillow, or a toy, or a book…if not, then you shouldn’t co-sleep. However, after co-sleeping with three babies, neither me or my husband ever came close to rolling over on any of them. There were never any blankets or pillows near their faces either. It’s something you have to do intentionally and responsibly.

          I’ve slept much better with a baby in my bed than with one in a crib…we tried that with my first because “that’s the way it’s done” and it was a disaster. I was so exhausted…co-sleeping saved my sanity.

          I’ve transitioned two boys to their own beds and had no problems whatsoever. It’s all about setting boundaries and being consistent.

          Co-sleeping is NOT a bad habit. It is something that parents do intentionally because they believe it is best.

          It is most definitely up to each family as to whether co-sleeping works for them or not, but these points are usually ones brought up by those who have not co-slept and refuted by those who have.

          Michelle wrote on January 17th, 2013
        • There is something instinctive about a mom (can’t speak for dads here, since I’m not one) sleeping with her infant. I coslept with both of my children, the first until he was 3, and the second until she was two before moving them to their own beds. Both times, especially when they were teeny tiny, I would curl myself around them in my sleep in a protective fetal position and NOT MOVE the entire night. We all got better sleep. Their dad was also in the bed, but I kept my infants between myself and a mesh bed rail with lots of room. Never once, in a collective five years of cosleeping, did they get buried in blankets, rolled on, or otherwise harmed. I just.. knew.. where they were at, asleep or awake, and I was far more in tune with their wants and needs during waking hours as a result of so much close contact with them, nevermind the fact that all of us got way more rest. I slept lighter, yes, but definitely more sleep was achieved all around.

          Also, the time spent sleeping with my children resulted in positive behaviors, not negative ones. Moving them to their own beds was a simple and easy transition, with neither of them ever experiencing night terrors, fear of the dark, or bedwetting. They’re now two very outgoing and confident elementary aged youngsters. We never experienced separation anxiety when leaving them with sitters, either. I’m not sure if that’s the sleeping choice or just the general “attachment parenting” style I instinctively gravitated towards, but it definitely smoothed out some bumps in the road, especially given my oldest is on the autistic spectrum and has severe ADHD. Tantrums were also not a common thing – dealing with ‘stressors’ well is something i can confirm, even if only in an anecdotal manner.

          B. wrote on January 17th, 2013
        • “I took my babies to bed with me long enough to nurse them, but then I always returned them to their crib”

          Push the crib up to the bed, put a connector over the bump in the mattress (like when you connect 2 twins to a king, using a towel or those foam things) and put the baby back in her crib an arm’s length away. No getting up in the night but no baby in the bed either. It works great for us.

          Mark is completely right — if rolling over a kid is going to freak you out, don’t co-sleep. But almost every co-sleep problem, including lack of mattress space, has a solution. :)

          Amy wrote on January 17th, 2013
        • “a very young infant sleeping in the same bed with two adults is a cozy-sounding bad idea that hasn’t been well thought out.”

          Apparently you missed the evidence to the contrary in the article above.

          Whatever you do, never open your mind to things that might challenge your firmly held and incorrect beliefs. It might lead to something horrible, like *learning*.

          michael wrote on January 17th, 2013
        • I coslept with both of my children. My first son had sleep apnea. Even my sleeping brain was able to monitor his respiration’s and prod him into wakefulness when they became too slow or there was a gap. His pediatrician told me quite directly that a mothers brain is more accurate than any apnea monitor and to keep him next to me during sleep and trust my ability to do the protection work the mothers brain has done for eons. I have always felt it is probably an unhealthy habit for the human mammal to sleep away from its offspring. We are the only mammals to practice that separation. Our bodies are so sensitive to the baby’s cues. Even sleeping, we’re counting respirations, monitoring temperature, coming into wakefulness together. And, while our infants are waiting for their nervous systems to learn how to calm overactivation, our body can do that for them. An infants place is next to his mother.

          lisainsouthernmaine wrote on January 18th, 2013
      • I’m not sure why my husband was nervous about it with our last child. We both shared a bed with our oldest, without incident. When our second child was born, my husband was suffering from a herniated disc. He slept in a separate bed at that time just because he didn’t need more interruptions to his sleep. With our third child, he just didn’t feel comfortable co-sleeping. He’s always been more of an alarmist than me anyway though (I also suspect it had something to do with his alarmist family–we lived far away from them with our first two children, but now live closer and he seems more susceptible to their influence).

        Kate L wrote on January 17th, 2013
      • My husband has sleeping apnea and he uses CPAP machine and his sleep is usually very, very deep, so I was afraid he might actually roll over our baby. In the beginning we had the baby’s crib next to our bed, BUT she never really slept in it – the crib was there simply so that she was able to sleep in our big bed between me and the crib, without the risk of falling from our bed, and I slept in the middle. Nowadays my hubby sleeps in a single bed next to us, so we all have plenty of space and no risk to roll over the baby.

        Eliza wrote on January 18th, 2013
  3. I’m not a parent yet so this doesn’t affect me yet, but it does raise my curiosity about what was sleeping patterns and habits of couples. Personally I dislike sharing a bed with anyone because I always seem to get worse sleep. You stay up later talking and then if they are too close to me or touching me then I overheat and wake up sweaty and nasty. Yet all of the girls I have dated have really liked sleep overs and sharing a bed. Does anyone know what the primal sleeping patterns for couples are? I wonder if sleeping together vs apart has any impact on your hormones.

    Wayne Atwell wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • My husband and I like space between us when we sleep, and once we started co-sleeping we bought a king size bed. Even without a baby in our bed, we sleep on opposite sides. But even with a baby in the bed, he’s never come close to rolling over on them. I’d say it really just depends on the people.

      Honestly, most parents become hyperaware of the baby when they are in the bed. They wake right before the baby cries, they instinctively know where the baby is in the bed. However, if one parent sleeps extremely deeply and is difficult to rouse, or if they move around and kick and rolll and night, you would want to take that into consideration. Always follow safe co-sleeping guidelines…no blankets, pillows…we don’t even have a headboard.

      For us, there was no other option. This is what instinct called us to do, and neither one of us regrets a moment of co-sleeping with our three boys.

      Michelle wrote on January 17th, 2013
      • +1!

        Karen C. wrote on January 17th, 2013
      • A king size bed would be nice and helpful but I am still young and move apartments every year or two so it is a little impractical for me at the moment.

        Wayne Atwell wrote on January 17th, 2013
        • Right? My room can’t even FIT a king sized bed.

          carla wrote on January 18th, 2013
        • Do you have kids? If not its kind of a moot point. Everything changes when it is real rather than theoretical.

          Kathy wrote on January 19th, 2013
    • Get a bigger bed.

      Colleen wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • Have you tried it long enough to get used to the specific other person? My partner and I have been together for about five years, and even though I found him really disruptive at first, now I find that I sleep much worse when he’s not there, because I’m used to his sleep patterns, breathing, etc.

      I think it’s just another thing you adapt to, and it becomes normal. That said, I suspect innovations like bouncy mattresses that transfer movement, blankets that you share, and things like that make it a lot harder.

      Sarah wrote on January 17th, 2013
      • Sarah, I think you are so right! On the ground, with maybe just a skin over some leaves or grass, a person nearby might well be more of a comfort than a jarring presence in the night.

        I relate to Wayne’s experience, though. I’m a hot sleeper.

        Joy Beer wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • I don’t think men have evolved to sleep all night in the same bedding as their mate and babe, but space limitations and the amount of recreational sex we have make it seem much more natural (both would increase oxytocin). Our ancestors would have never slept like we do, though, so unless you are willing to release a couple tigers in your neighborhood, sleep on the ground, and do it in the same room as a dozen or more of either your or her closest relatives (who will take turns talking all night), you aren’t getting the real primal sleep experience. Of course, they also didn’t have rigid schedules, and would likely never have the sleep deficit that so many modern people have because they would be able to sleep late or nap as their bodies dictated. So really, it shouldn’t matter very much how you get your sleep, just that you get enough of it.

      Charles wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • Wayne I’m like this too. Much prefer to sleep alone (unless I’ve just watched bloody ‘Prometheus’, jeeze what a creepy flick). I used to justify this ‘weirdness’ to CW types by saying, ‘In the pre-industrial days people would always have their own bedroom (in ye olde ‘class system’ of England that is). People started sharing beds for the space factor when they started being rounded up in to the cities.
      For the record co-sleeping works wonderfully for me, but the husband has his own room.

      Madama Butterfry wrote on January 17th, 2013
      • ” Much prefer to sleep alone…In the pre-industrial days people would always have their own bedroom

        Absolutely. There’s something to be said for not being kicked in the middle of the night.Co-sleeping almost always works out for the kiddos because they aren’t the ones being kicked. Not always for the adults. Co-sleeping is totally a YMMV moment. The hard part only is when other people get weirded out by it because they are convinced you’re damaging (or going to damage) the shorter human.

        Amy wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • My husband and I have our own rooms and we love it! I think that a lot of people worry that the intimacy will be lost if they sleep in separate beds, but we’ve found the opposite to be true. We have different work schedules (I’m up 4-5 hours earlier) and we both feel the same way about sharing a bed as you do. We just don’t sleep as well! We get to spend time together just before I go to bed. It’s nice because we never feel annoyed with each other for bumping elbows, we still get our snuggle time in, and we both sleep better.

      Kristi wrote on January 18th, 2013
    • My husband and I do not sleep in the same bedroom due to his incredibly loud snoring. It only took a night or two of bed-sharing early in the relationship for me to become a sleep-deprived zombie woman with homicidal intent ;-). The overheating thing was an issue for me too as hubby is a sleep-snuggler.

      We have been sleeping in separate rooms for four years now and we are still very much in love, and have plenty of…umm…physical contact 😉 Just not while we’re sleeping.

      It is true that cuddling is VERY important for most women, but as long as you are supplying lots of spontaneous affectionate kisses and hugs during the day, I don’t think the suggestion of separate beds would be a dealbreaker.

      Ozquoll wrote on January 18th, 2013
      • Has your hubby been checked for sleep apnea? I was always a horrendous snorer, and it wasn’t until I was 65 with high blood pressure that my Primary Physician suggested that I have a sleep study done. I now require a CPAP machine, BUT am no longer on high blood pressure meds. Sleep apnea causes all sorts of horrible health problems like strokes and heart attacks, and sometimes the only clue is the loud snoring.

        NMCynthia wrote on January 18th, 2013
    • My husband and I now sleep quite comfortably together but it took awhile to work that out. We had issues with our first bed because he weighs about twice what I do. The mattress would slant towards him – and I’d find myself sleeping on an awkward angle & waking up with a sore back. Fixed that with firmer mattress. Heat was also an issue – but we found sheets that are made of fabric that doesn’t retain as much body heat, and we switched to using a couple of sheets on top rather than big heavy blankets. You gotta figure out what works – whomever you’re sleeping with.

      Kate wrote on January 18th, 2013
    • I don’t know of any scientific data involving the sleep patterns of couples but I do have personal experience. I remember the first night that I slept beside the father of my children. It wasn’t awkward but I was very aware that he was there. The second night it became second nature. It is so that neither of us can sleep at night with out the other. We also bedshare with our 3 month old as we did with our 2 year old. Our two year old now sleeps alone in her own bed that was originally pushed up beside ours so that all four of us could sleep together. We all get sleep. I think it is only uncomfortable the first day.

      Mirah wrote on January 19th, 2013
    • Wayne,
      In my experience, I put the baby on the outside of us on my side, not between us. My husband is a wild sleeper and sleeps deeply so it wasnt a good idea for baby to be between us. When you do have children, If you are afraid baby could fall off the bed without someone on the other side if him/her that could pose a problem but since babies naturally move toward their parents in bed, not away from them, it worked fine and safely for us. Just some suggestions :)

      Sunset G. wrote on January 23rd, 2013
  4. I almost killed my son by letting him sleep in our bed when he was little. I don’t know why I awoke in time to see that he was being smothered. No drugs, alcohol or anything else was involved. This is dangerous and stupid parenting. Don’t do it.

    My son is now a fine 28 year old man. But I still feel the shame of doing something so stupid that put him at risk.

    John D wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • And what was smothering him?

      Michelle wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • “And what was smothering him?”

      Excellent point. You have to prepare a safe place particularly when they are under 6 months. If you are a hard sleeper, drink before bed or take sleeping pills you should consider a co-sleeper. Some common sense applies.

      That said my wife co slept with our daughter and son. Many parenting sources refer to “the 4th trimester” where an infant endures anxiety (sometimes extreme) anytime they are away from the mother especially in the first few months. Seriously, what mom put her child in a different part of the cave while she slept?? lol.

      Willy wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • You woke in time to see that he was being smothered because you were so in tune to him. You do have to make a safe bed, but honestly I think your comment reinforces the point of bed-sharing.

      Kate L wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • So nothing bad happened as a result of co-sleeping, then? Thanks!

      michael wrote on January 17th, 2013
      • It takes a fairly conceited attitude to dismiss a child almost smothering as “nothing bad happening.” A child in danger is inherently bad a thing.

        Jim wrote on January 22nd, 2013
  5. Bed sharing can become more problematic if done during cold weather. One can easily shrug a blanket over a baby’s face while sleeping in an effort to stay warm.

    William wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • That is why you should always follow safe co-sleeping guidelines. Wear more layers instead of using covers, and if you cannot sleep without covers and tend to bury yourself into them, then don’t co-sleep.

      My husband and I use separate bedding…he likes to cocoon himself in his comforter on the other side of the bed, and I only have mine over my hips, while the baby sleeps by my head. Neither of our blankets as ever come close to covering any of our kids.

      Really, you just have to be smart and careful about it.

      Michelle wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • What kind of blankets do you have?

      Ive co-slept with my children, as most people do in Sweden. They have slept under de cover hundreds of times without any problems.
      Ive also slept with kittens and puppies witch have slept under the cover without problems.

      MJ wrote on January 18th, 2013
  6. Co-slept with all three of my children and never even came close to smothering them. It’s not dangerous or stupid if you do it right. It’s the way it was meant to be…skin to skin, breast available for nursing, mom’s proximity helps baby’s breathing and temp regulate…there are so many positives. We never had any sleep issues like other parents complained of, and transitioning them to their own beds went smoothly when it was time.

    Michelle wrote on January 17th, 2013
  7. I’m big on co-sleeping. My baby, however, is not! She sleeps with us if she’s sick or needs us, but otherwise has to be in her own bed because now she thinks our bed means playtime.

    Chantal wrote on January 17th, 2013
  8. Our boy is getting a bit huge and next month he’ll turn four years old.
    I’m looking forward to making a bed for him in the spring … and get him out of ours. Bedsharing : the mere fact that there’s a ‘term’ for this normal behaviour, and whole cultures don’t have this as the default behaviour : bunch of freaks! Do they feed their babies some artificial crap instead of breastmilk too?
    Get a grip, do it right. :)

    Ulfric wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • One of the things I did when my boy was cosleeping with us was use a sound machine in the bedroom. It was the crickets setting. Then, when we got round to moving him into his own bed, we put the crickets noise machine in his room. It seemed to help with the transition.

      BJML wrote on January 17th, 2013
  9. I imagine softer beds and pillows increase the modern risk for infants. When my daughter was first born we room shared, but I woke up with every time she moved and so sadly moved her out at about 3 weeks. I could easily fall back to sleep so this did not disrupt breastfeeding. When she wakes on occasion (now 3) and comes to our room it’s nice to have her in bed.

    Colleen wrote on January 17th, 2013
  10. I’m a few years out from having kids (thank goodness, I can barely manage taking care of myself) but I really love learning about all this now. It’s starting to shape my perspective well before actually having to do it. Pretty much everyone I know with infants does some form of co-sleeping anyway. That giant lazy boy recliner in the nursery? Totally used for co-sleeping.

    Susie wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • The recliner is used for room-sharing, not sleeping in the recliner with the kid. That probably wouldn’t be safe. But I know moms that basically sleep in their kids’ rooms because it is so much easier. Why not bring the kid into your room and get to sleep in your own bed?

      Susie wrote on January 17th, 2013
  11. Co-sleeping does impede the return to a normal sex life, in my experience.
    Just wanted to add another drawback.

    William wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • Never had that problem ourselves…too many other places in the house to explore! 😀

      Michelle wrote on January 17th, 2013
      • Michelle, I like you more and more with every comment :)

        And I couldn’t agree more. So many places in the house (and out!) can be used for sex.

        Karen C. wrote on January 17th, 2013
        • Kindred spirits :)

          Michelle wrote on January 17th, 2013
        • Heck, have a couple bassinettes or pack’n’plays scattered throughout the house. Put one in the living room or a playroom. Not a big deal, really. It only impedes normal sex if you let it.

          B. wrote on January 17th, 2013
        • Totally agree…hasn’t affected our sex life at all. It’s actually kinda rejuvenated it because we use other rooms/furniture in the house….very reminiscent of the early days of our relationship when anywhere was game.

          Kay wrote on January 18th, 2013
      • +1 On the the parts of the house to explore. :) Also, if it doesn’t squiwk you out too much – the baby is a)unconscious and b)won’t remember anything anyway even if they do wake up.

        If they are able to tell the other kids at pre-school/kindergarten what they woke up to last night; it’s probably time to find them another sleeping venue for the sake of your marriage anyway.

        Amy wrote on January 17th, 2013
        • Seriously, the baby’s asleep. How do you think humans have been having sex/babies all this time? Hello, one room cabins.

          Lazurii wrote on January 21st, 2013
      • Assuming you have a large space to begin with.

        carla wrote on January 18th, 2013
    • I wondered about that too! Has anyone seen the movie “Away We Go”? There’s a couple in that movie that are portrayed as total freaks and they practice “family bedding”. Another character asks them if they go to the car when they want to have sex. Priceless.

      Susie wrote on January 17th, 2013
      • LOL, we’ve discussed the back porch :)

        Kids in general can impede your sex life…and having a new baby for sure…but co-sleeping doesn’t have to be an issue unless you make it one. We’ve co-slept off and on for 9 years now…managed to make two more kids after our first. We don’t have as much sex as we’d like because there’s so much going on now with three boys running around the house and by the time we have time to ourselves, we’re just plain tired… but there’s always weekend mornings, and my husband comes home for lunch sometimes 😉

        Michelle wrote on January 17th, 2013
        • Totally! General exhaustion and hormonal issues played a far bigger role in our sex life than bed-sharing ever did.

          Karen C. wrote on January 17th, 2013
        • The only time in the last 5 years of co-sleeping that we had issues with were to have sex was when we lived with my in-laws. Couldn’t exactly utilize the other rooms in the house when people might wander through them. Often times we would sneak off to our room when the kiddo and Gramma were busy elsewhere in the house. Or if we were really needy, we had a huge walk-in closet in our room with a pretty comfy floor, and a quiet door…

          Tina wrote on January 23rd, 2013
    • It turns out you can have sex not just at night, and anywhere in the house! But seriously, you’re right, it will impede nighttime spontaneity–but you can figure out ways to make “dates” in order to give your kids what they need for that short window of development time.

      Tom B-D wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • To be honest, the only reason that co-sleeping would impede a normal sex life is because of the stigma we as a society has placed on it. Do you think Grok and Madame Grok ever hid away from their children when they wanted to have sex? Everyone probably shared in every aspect of life because for Grok and his friends, every aspect of life was a matter of life and death. It was and in my opinion still should be a normal aspect of life that everyone should be able to share without fear of reprimand. Sorry I’m only 18 and this is a soapbox of mine.

      Dalton K. wrote on January 17th, 2013
      • Anyone read ‘Clan of the Cavebear’? I only remember the one scene by the river. Must have been about 16 when I got hold of a copy.

        Madama Butterfry wrote on January 17th, 2013
        • yes! The whole series is actually wonderful and very meaningful to me – stright-up feminist and emotionally moving. I read it when I was a teenager and the rape scene was all I remembered then, but it’s good enough to change as we get older. Also, are you an opera singer by any chance?

          Ashley wrote on January 17th, 2013
        • I was in 5th grade (10 yrs old) when we moved into a new house and I found the book in the basement. Read the whole thing in one sitting -.-‘ Did you know its the first part of a 6book series? It is a riveting look at what life might have been like. Its actually just how I imagine it!

          Alex wrote on February 16th, 2014
      • I agree. My ex and I still had sex even though the baby was in the bed too. Like another poster mentioned: the baby is asleep and even if he woke up he wouldn’t know what he was seeing or remember it.

        Egglet wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • Nope, it doesn’t. We had a sleeping bed and a sex bed (in our guest room.) Once the kid falls asleep in the sleeping bed, make sure it can’t fall out. Then utilize the sexbed.

      R-grok wrote on January 17th, 2013
      • Sex bed, now that is AWESOME! We used to have a “love” seat that we used instead of the bed sometimes because we could.

        Oh, and after the first couple months, we move our babies from our bed to a crib in our room, and after baby was asleep, my husband and I would engage in relations. We figure a nine-month-old wouldn’t remember if he did happen to wake up (which none of them ever did, fortunately). Seriously, how much does anyone remember before 3 or 4 years?

        One more thing, we co-slept with all four until 4-6 months, and never once was there ever even a hint of harm to our babies. I held them in my arm (whichever side they were nursing from), and I would not move until it was time to switch sides (then I’d wake up long enough to roll over and reattach the baby). I really think keeping them in my arm, and not free floating in the bed is what kept them safe.

        Arley wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • How?

      MJ wrote on January 18th, 2013
  12. I’m a long way off from having kids, but thinking about it evolutionarily, it seems as if the real danger lies in modern beds and other sleeping paraphernalia, rather than the practice itself. In the Paleo days, I’m guessing people just slept on the ground, and the likelihood of rolling over onto a baby next to you on the ground seems almost 0. As an above poster mentioned, the softer beds, pillows, and blankets are probably the real issue! Looking forward to the post on how to co-sleep properly.

    Alyssa wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • Modern bedding actually plays a large role in SIDS, which is one reason they now recommend no blankets or stuffed animals in the crib with the baby. IMO, it plays less of a role in bed sharing.

      Karen C. wrote on January 19th, 2013
  13. I am applying most of this (minus the breast-feeding for one) to my 2 dogs. We co-sleep and I feel we have many of the benefits in the article.

    Elaine wrote on January 17th, 2013
  14. Do any of these benefits apply to children around the age of 12 months? It seems like a lot of this talk is based around 6 months or less. If so, are the benefits diminished in any capacity? Are the risks reduced?

    I have an 11 month old child and am interested in having her sleep with us maybe a couple times a week to see how it works out.

    Jacob wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • Jacob, I think bed-sharing can be beneficial at any age. It may take some adjustment if you and your child aren’t used to it. There are few precautions needed with an older infant/toddler, since they are capable of moving things off their face!

      We were still co-sleeping with my son when he unexpectedly vomited in his sleep, at about 15 months old. He was laying on his back, and if we hadn’t been RIGHT THERE, there’s a chance he could have aspirated some of the vomit.

      Karen C. wrote on January 17th, 2013
      • I was always more afraid of aspiration than smothering…one of the many reasons we co-slept. IF something like that happened, I wanted to be right there. So scary!

        Michelle wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • We co-slept with our older two until they were 3 and 4…and our youngest is 21 months and still in our bed.

      As they get older the risks decrease. They roll over, turn their heads, sit up…they’re bigger and take up more space :) And they kick and try to squirm their way as close to you as possible.

      Our current bed companion loves sleeping with us. If he doesn’t fall asleep early, we all go to bed together, and he lays down and babbles to us before falling asleep without tears or needing to nurse. Some nights he sleeps through, some nights he wakes to nurse…but it never disturbs our sleep. He stirs, latches on, and we go back to sleep. He wakes up happy in the mornings, more talking to us and being cute in general…it’s moments I will always cherish.

      I’ve found that co-sleeping created a sleep security in my children…they know bedtime isn’t something to fear or dread…they have happy, comforting memories associated with sleep…and we have had no bedtime struggles with my older boys. I have also noticed, with my youngest, since we co-slept from birth, that he naturally adapted to our sleep schedule and never mixed up his days and nights. The only nights where he is up a lot is if he is sick or teething.

      Michelle wrote on January 17th, 2013
      • Haha, Michelle, the “toddler foot in my face” was the rule of thumb for “ready for their own beds”. Once I was waking with a toddler foot in my face more mornings than not, it was time to put them in their own rooms. They’re still contortionists at night, but at least they’re not kicking at me in the process 😉

        And speaking of memories, what about lazy sunday mornings waking up slowly? Those are the best for me.

        B. wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • We have a 9-month-old and have been co-sleeping (same bed) for most of those 9 months. We did try moving our daughter to the crib in the same room for a few weeks, but I don’t think anyone was exceptionally happy with the results! So, we’re back.

      Frankly, I don’t think the trend will end for while. In my mind I see it evolving into her getting her own bed either when she wants one or we have a second kid. I figure her new bed will be in our room. At some point they’ll want their own rooms, but why rush the process?

      Joshua wrote on January 17th, 2013
      • That’s how we did it… our first two were 19 months apart, so when we brought the younger one home, daddy and the older boy slept on a mattress on the floor, while me and the newborn slept on the bed. We only had a full size bed at the time. When the younger one was old enough to “fend” for himself and it was safer (and we bought a king size)…we co-slept with both boys in the bed with us. Then we moved them to their own bed in our room, and eventually to their own room. They would still crawl in bed with us some nights, and that was okay with us…it didn’t hurt anything and we liked to snuggle. Once I was pregnant with our third, we started telling the boys they couldn’t come to our bed any more. It wouldn’t be safe to have them both in the bed with a newborn, and frankly, it would have been a little crowded! They took it in stride, respected our request and stopped coming to our bed in the wee hours of the morning. Now we will often find them in a bed together in their room, but I’m sure as they get older they will want their own space and sleep in their own beds.

        There is absolutely nothing wrong with co-sleeping…the taboo placed on it really makes my head spin.

        Michelle wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • Jacob,
      If your child sleeps alone already, then don’t bring them into your bed. Trust me you will have a hard time getting them out. A couple times a week becomes every day very quickly. If your child is not sleeping well through the night, then you may want to, but if they are self soothers and sleep alone, why ruin a good thing.

      Anna wrote on January 17th, 2013
      • Well she sleeps well for the most part…mainly waking up to be fed (usually 2 times during the night). I was more wondering if it would help with tantrums and fostering independence and not gonna lie….I think we’d all like the bonding of snuggling up as a family.

        Jacob wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • Unfortunately I wasn’t smart or confident enough to trust my judgement when my daughter was an infant. We followed the “rules” and she slept in her own crib in her own room. It made for a rough first year. We didn’t start co-sleeping until she was 2, shortly after a big move.
      Our daughter just turned 7 and we still co-sleep, except for the past 2 months she sleeps on a mattress on the floor next to our bed instead of in bed. We always kept our bed against a wall (or heavy bookcase) cause she tends to roll out of bed. For the longest time she had night terrors and by co-sleeping, I could respond instantly (by talking quietly to her) at the slightest hint of distress.

      Tina wrote on January 23rd, 2013
  15. First let me say that co-sleeping is what led me to MDA over four years ago. We co-slept with our first child until he was about 11 months old. During that time we (dad and mom) only slept when the baby slept and ALWAYS slept when the baby slept. That was because he was up every 1.5 hours insisting on feeding, which typically took 30-45 minutes. So in the course of an average day of working, chores, baby duty, etc. I personally was getting about 5-6 hours of sporadic sleep per day. Going to the primal diet helped (thanks Mark) by keeping my energy levels more stable even with the reduced sleep. Putting him in his own room made a huge difference in that he (and therefore WE) slept through the night from then on.
    I think this winds up being a) an appropriate subject for an n=1 (or perhaps 3 as it were) experiment and b) a case where society, that demands you work regular hours and be able to function in high stress environments such as interstate traffic, precludes such instinctive activities.

    Dave Covington wrote on January 17th, 2013
  16. Interesting topic. I don’t have kids (yet), but I think I would try co-sleeping. Baby would at least be in the same room for the first few months.

    Tasha wrote on January 17th, 2013
  17. I remember reading a baby-oriented magazine at the pediatrician’s office when my daughter was a newborn. We had bed-shared with my son, and were bed sharing with the new baby. So, on page 12 of the magazine is an article citing statistics that 75% of parents bed-shared at least one night a week, even though most hadn’t planned on it. On page 15 was an article about how HORRIBLE it is to share a bed with your baby.

    I couldn’t help but think how much better served those parents would be if instead of an article condemning a practice of 75% of the population, someone had published an article about how to bed share safely.

    Humans have bed shared for eons. Many cultures still do. The modern (American?) quest for independence starting practically from birth is a detriment to healthy emotional development.

    Karen C. wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • There is the history of children being nursed by their nurse maids and raised by nannies in the nursery. At some point it was encouraged as a sign of status to have a “nursery” instead of your kid in your bed — kind of like spending resources on having a green lawn that isn’t used for feeding animals. So consumerism has really encouraged some of this, helped along by an expert here or there to scare people. It’s really sad that people think they need to spend 5k in furniture and nursery renovations. Better to put that cash towards nutritious food and savings for the unexpected and work on intimacy instead.
      I do have two cherished baby gadgets: ring-sling (sleeping baby productions) which has a big pocket on the tail, and my one size cloth diapers. Everything else ends up getting dusted.

      Oly wrote on January 18th, 2013
  18. my twins (boy and girl) shared our room until about the age of three, where they spontaneously wanted to have their own room, which had been ready for a long time, at first they shared a room, then moved to separate rooms around age 6, although they had a few months phase at 7 where they shared the same room again. When they were sleeping with us, we had our matresses on the floor, one double and one single on each side, so falling off the bed wasn’t an issue.

    Joelle wrote on January 17th, 2013
  19. As practicing Catholics who eschew artificial birth control, my wife and I have discovered another closely related benefit.

    Extended, unscheduled breastfeeding usually causes an extended period of breastfeeding related amenorrhea, and consequent delay in return of fertility. However, the largest factor causing this is unscheduled breastfeeding during the overnight hours, which is difficult (if not impossible) without co-sleeping.

    In cultures where co-sleeping is the norm, along with unscheduled, extended, on-demand breastfeeding, the natural interval between children is between 3 and 4 years, due in large part to delayed return of fertility.

    In the case of our three children, we experienced 22, 16, and 18 months of delayed fertility after the birth of each of them, all due to the co-sleeping/breastfeeding combination.

    That is primal family planning at its best! :-)

    SteveG wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • Exactly. It’s the frequency that’s most important, but fertility has better odds of returning if there’s at least one 8 hour stretch with no nursing at some point. Depending on the goal, that’s the upside to being a human pacifier for the toddler.

      Oly wrote on January 18th, 2013
  20. It really speaks volumes about how messed up and far removed our society is from our natural instincts that co-sleeping is even a controversy.

    Next thing you know, people are going to advocate the “dangers” of breast milk and how we should only feed babies manufactured formula.

    Or the dangers of regular water, which lacks vitamins and added calcium. Everyone should drink Vitamin Water.

    jinushaun wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • The human race didn’t get to nearly 7 billion people on modern American ideals of how people should live and raise their kids. This is especially true when you consider the population sizes of China and India with their lax sanitation policies and traditional conservative culture. America didn’t invent people having sex and raising healthy kids.

      jinushaun wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • Oh I’ve already encountered plenty of people who think breastmilk is “dangerous” because of jet fuel and other chemicals being found in it, but also because they think it is lacking in nutrients and only formula can give the baby everything they need.

      One of my biggest pet peeves is the societal construct in the United States that insists we ignore almost every instinct mothers have in regards to their infants. We’ve let so-called experts tell us how to raise our children, nourish our bodies and a myriad of other things in ways that contradict nature and instinct. We were given those instincts for a reason…ever seen a baby do the breast crawl? One of the most amazing things to watch…

      Michelle wrote on January 17th, 2013
      • When my son was born, I actually had a male nurse try to help me with breastfeeding. He was uncomfortable, I was uncomfortable. After that incident, I gave up and bottle fed. I think things would have been different if I hadn’t had such a bad experience right off the bat.

        Cindy wrote on January 17th, 2013
        • Yuck and triple yuck. When mothers give up it’s almost always because stories like this. :( The better hospitals/birthing centers/pediatricians have lactation consultants (every one female that I’ve met). It won’t help your past, but if you have any more children ask for a lactation specialist for help.

          Amy wrote on January 17th, 2013
        • I was furious with the tired woman nurse who grabbed my breast, grabbed my newborns head, then jammed them together. She backed off at my growl and said, ‘I’m just doing my job’. I said thank you, but don’t touch me.

          Madama Butterfry wrote on January 17th, 2013
        • Madama…I had the same thing happen to me with my third! I’d breastfed my two previous children to age three (and had told her this). He had been suckling, but at the moment she came in he was comfort nursing and she got all upset telling me he wasn’t suckling right. He had lost a normal amount of weight, but she tried scaring me with the whole “if he loses any more weight, we’re going to have to give him formula” and then she grabbed my breast without permission and began squeezing it saying I needed to stimulate them more. I almost smacked her. With lactation consultants like that, I can easily see how a new mother could be made to doubt that her body would work right and give up easily.

          Made me so mad!

          Michelle wrote on January 23rd, 2013
      • From my understanding, back in the 70s, because breastmilk was so mistrusted as infant nourishment, pediatricians would routinely check moms and babies for ‘deficiencies’.


        B. wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • They did push formula for “health reasons” in the 70s.

      Carolyn wrote on January 18th, 2013
  21. I do not have kids so the only risk to co-sleeping I forsee is if my girlfriend catches me. (Johnny Carson golf swing)

    Paleo Bon Rurgundy wrote on January 17th, 2013
  22. We co-slept with a cradle by my side of the bed. Worked great w/ my daughter, but my son was too noisy for me to get much sleep.
    Jokes on me, though. As soon as my son was big enough to get out of the crib for himself he wandered into our bedroom. I have been co-sleeping almost nightly ever since, whether we go to bed that way or not! :-)

    Beth wrote on January 17th, 2013
  23. I really enjoyed this well research post. Related to this, I would be very interested to see something about infant sleep patterns and sleep training tactics such as “cry it out”/extinction. I’ve not applied these methods to my little ones because they make no evolutionary sense to me, but it’s incredible how widely applied they are in our culture. How did we ever think it was acceptable to teach our babies to cry to sleep?

    Sally wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • This train of thought is the main reason I never let my kids cry it out (they are great sleepers now). Can you imagine the tribe all being kept awake for hours on end while a distraught mother ignores her screaming baby? Ridiculous! The fact that we have huge McHouses where you can isolate screaming babies at one end, close the door, then retreat to the other end so they don’t bother you doesn’t mean it’s okay to do!

      Danielle wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • Massive levels of cortisol in both infants and mothers with ‘cry it out’. I can’t handle it.

      It’s one thing to hear a post-1 year old throw a fit and scream relentlessly, it’s another thing to hear an infant. I can’t ignore strangers’ babies crying like that, without some sort of anxious response, let alone my own.

      No issues with toddler fits though 😉 Scream all you want dear, you’re not getting that cookie!

      B. wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • In the hunter/gatherer societies that still exist, infants spend the majority of the day and night physically touching a relative, whether by being held in the arms or held against the body with a type of sling. As toddlers they’d have more independence, but, if I remember correctly, the average amount of time it takes before someone would respond to a crying child was about 10 seconds (the benefits of living with extended family). I’d laugh if someone told me that letting a baby cry themselves to sleep was healthy for them.

      Charles wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • Sally I remember being some sort of tiny, maybe ten months, and seeing my mothers shadow on the wall outside my bedroom. I cried and screamed forever and she occasionally shifted but never came to me. I remember it really clearly, felt emotionally shattered as I fell asleep looking at the ceiling with subsiding sobs. Been quite a while since then! But the strange thing is, it set the theme for the rest of our relationship. I don’t hate her for it, but I don’t trust her at all and never really have. She was only doing what she was told was right. And boy have I learned from her mistakes so it’s not all bad…

      Madama Butterfry wrote on January 17th, 2013
  24. Taking the opposite viewpoint here. For the first 6 weeks, each of my children shared our bedroom (in a bassinet right next to the bed). We ended up with an entire family of sleepless people. Babies make a bunch of noises that do not necessarily mean they are waking up but an anxious mom with super hearing will instantly wake up and try to tend to the baby. I could never distinguish between the noises and ended up not sleeping a single wink all night. My husband removed our first child from our room at 6 weeks as I cried. That night we all slept for our first 6 hour stretch ever. I thanked him later. It is important that you keep your baby close for the first several weeks but after that, you need to do what you feel is right for you. Not to mention, it is very difficult to have adult activities with a child sleeping in the same room or bed with you. Again, I don’t mind the concept of co-sleeping but it was not a good choice for us.

    Kris wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • 6 week olds should not be sleeping a 6 hour stretch!

      But, yes, every family needs to decide what works best for them. But with condemnation of bed sharing/co-sleeping and a lack of education on how to do it safely, that choice is taken away from a lot of people before they even know it exists.

      Karen C. wrote on January 17th, 2013
      • One of my babies did start sleeping six hour stretches at six weeks. One at eight weeks, and another not until six months. Every baby is different. I was not going to wake my kids every two to four hours to feed them because the doctor said so. I fed them when they were hungry. None of them starved or had any signs of malnutrition.

        Although, like Kris, I am a super light sleeper and woke at every little move and noise. Both the babies and I slept better in other rooms. I still always woke a few seconds before they started crying, ready to eat.

        Meagan wrote on January 20th, 2013
        • Over Right ButCo-sleeping makes nighttime breastfeeding more convenient.
          Makes it easier for a nursing mother to be on the same schedule as her child.
          Helps babies fall asleep more easily, and stay asleep, because they awaken more often, with a shorter feeding time.
          Helps parents gain closeness to their infant.
          But despite these pros, various medical groups and doctors warn parents that co-sleeping is dangerous, and should not be done. Co-sleeping puts babies at risk of suffocation, strangulation, and sudden-infant death syndrome (SIDS). Adult beds have many safety risks for children

          Doctor Ethan wrote on April 19th, 2016
    • I agree that room sharing with an infant during the early weeks is a must. After that, space permitting, the baby should be allowed to sleep in his own room.

      Shary wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • I could not agree more with your take on this. Exactly our experience. I felt like I could be a much better mom if I was well rested. Plenty of time to bond while we were awake. I know other moms actually slept better with their children in their beds, however.

      Miki wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • I will say that a bassinet does not confer all the advantages of co-sleeping as you still need to get up to attend to the baby. It’s better than a separate room, but it’s really room sharing rather than doing the “lazy mom gets to stay mostly unconscious while feeding the baby” thing. You *may* have been less freaked out by the random noises if the baby actually slept near you.

      That said, the point of co-sleeping (for me anyway) is to make sure everyone is getting enough sleep. If baby in a crib elsewhere gets that accomplished, seems to me it’s all good.

      Amy wrote on January 17th, 2013
  25. I coslpet with our sone (now 14) for the first 18 mos. 6 months in a family bed, then a year in a futon on the floor in anohter room becaue my husband needed more sapce as teh baby got bigger and more active. I woudl do it agian in ahearbeat.

    Also, I want ed to plug childwearing. I feel so sad for those young moms struggling with those combo carseat/baby carriers. SO ergonomically nasty. I would transfer my son to a sling once we got anywhere and wear him. It facilitated nursing in public. I carried him in a sling for 4 years. It was always with me in case I needed it if he got tired walkign, couldn’t keep up or it was congested, crowded conditions. I felt better wearing him on my body rather than on a leash.

    mims wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • I was unable to baby wear with my kids due to arthritis in my lower back-it made the last trimester pure misery. With my youngest(son) my younger teenaged daughter did a lot of the packing around of her little brother, mostly because she wanted to. Enough so that I got my son an “I love my big sister bib” to keep people from glaring at my 14 year old daughter thinking she was mommy. I was happy for a good stroller and I did do the leash thing when they got to feeling independent. The girls were 13 months apart and would head in opposite directions so leashes in public were a necessity until they were about 4 and would stick to me.

      ingvildr wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • Slings are awesome if you can do it and the baby likes it. My eldest loved a sling, the younger 2 were not been impressed.

      The best thing we got for number 3 was a “frame” stroller where the car seat snaps into it. ($50 new, not one of those “travel” systems) We never needed to disturb baby naps or struggle carrying a seat designed to withstand an impact at 65 MPH. Just snap the seat in and go.

      Amy wrote on January 17th, 2013
  26. With all three of my kids we had a bassinet next to the bed within arms reach. It made nursing in the middle of the night a lot easier and I could calm their fussing before they got really wound up. I had diaper supplies and changing pad next to the bed as well so I could change them without getting out of bed. I also had what is called a TV pillow on the head of the bed that I would lean on while nursing. With my third child I had a nursing pillow which was really nice to have especially after a C-section. I do remember lightly dozing sitting up while nursing on a number of occasions. One of the down sides is that my husbands snoring kept waking up the baby. I’m past the baby stage now and getting to the looking forward to grandbabies to spoil stage. My baby is a red headed hurricane of a superhero crazy kindergarten boy. His sisters are college students. The are adventurous curious kids.

    ingvildr wrote on January 17th, 2013
  27. Just yesterday I was explaining cosleeping to my now 9-year old daughter and why we did this with her when she was a baby. I found myself thinking how sad it is that the distinctions and safety precautions you just described are not shared more often. Safely cosleeping with my daughter when she was a baby was a great joy to me and I think it worked out quite well for her as well. Thank you so much for this article!

    Erika wrote on January 17th, 2013
  28. Thanks for this post! Very interesting stuff. In addition to the topics you say will be discussed next week, I would also be interested in transitioning the child & parent for that matter out of co-sleeping.

    When do you have the child sleep alone & how do you accomplish it in a non-stressful way?


    Caitlin wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • My son was exceptionally big ( my hubby is 6’7″) and we moved him out when he got too big for us all to sleep easily. That was our criteria.

      BJML wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • “When do you have the child sleep alone & how do you accomplish it in a non-stressful way?”

      As an experienced co-sleeping family that has now moved on, I’d like to reassure you that in time your kids will want to have their own bed/room. It is such a natural process! Our eldest son (now 14) moved into his own room when he was 8 and our two daughters moved together into a different room when they were 6 & 8. No issues, no trauma, they were all just ready. Looking back on it, I am soooo happy we had those years together… all our kids have a sense of security, self-esteem and independence and I’m convinced co-sleeping has played a big role in it.
      Now my husband and I have the rest of our life to co-sleep, just the two of us!

      Because a standard bedroom didn’t allow for 2 king sized beds, we actually changed things around and made the living room our bedroom for a few years. I think it is important that you have enough room and make it work; think outside the box!

      Irma wrote on January 18th, 2013
    • I moved both kids fairly easily into their own beds between 18 months and 2yo. There was a bit of transition time when I would need to lie down with them until they fell asleep, but my 2y2m daughter can now be put to bed with simply a pat and a kiss.

      Bed-sharing/co-sleeping teaches a child that you will always be there for them, and that feeling of comfort and security transfers to their own bed/room when the family is ready.

      Karen C. wrote on January 19th, 2013
      • Meant to also recommend the book “Good Nights” by Jay Gordon – it’s all about bed-sharing and ways to make it work safely for your family, including transitioning kids to their own bed(s).

        Karen C. wrote on January 19th, 2013
  29. We co-slept with both daughters, no problems. We were sensible; a very low pillow and a light duvet and no alcohol etc. It was so much better for breastfeeding at night, which I learnt to do in the dark! Here in the UK it is also frowned on, but I now have 2 well adjusted independent young women. I think they started with a strong physical basis of knowing how much they were loved and cared for. I just felt right for us, but we didn’t shout about it.

    ragwort wrote on January 17th, 2013
  30. I’m convinced co-sleeping saved my daughter’s life. She was very mucusy as a newborn and there were times when she would struggle to breathe because her airway was blocked. I slept with her on my chest and a bulb aspirator in my hand for her first month of life and there were many times I would wake suddenly to find her squirming and struggling — completely silently. I never would have heard that on a baby monitor and she would have suffocated on her own fluids.

    She continued to share a bed with my husband and me until she was 14 months old, then shared a room with us for several months after that, and she nursed for almost 3 years. She is now 15 years old, by far the more independent of my two children, and has the best immune system of any of us! (My older child has an autism spectrum disorder, did not like to be held/swaddled/cuddled, so we had a “sidecar” arrangement with him when he was a baby. The bottom line is do what feels right to you, your spouse and your kid. Follow your instincts — they’re there for a reason!)

    Kathy S. wrote on January 17th, 2013
  31. Is it possible that the the entire Grok family co-slept until it was time for the children to have their own families?

    Dalton K. wrote on January 17th, 2013
  32. I think something that’s important to remember is that regardless of what studies say, you’ll always wind up doing what your little study of N=1 (i.e. yourself) is comfortable with. My wife and I were pretty firm that we’d co-sleep up to a point and then transition the kids. Well, then our 1st was in the NICU and got used to sleeping on her own. The 2nd needed co-sleeping badly. My wife has night terrors and wakes up twice a night and THROWS the blankets, jumps up, and sprints for another room before she stops herself (not a good time to have a baby in the bed). Last week our 1 year old was sick and she slept with us…and thrashed her way off the bed and her head hit the ground with the worse splat ever.

    What I’m trying to say is different things work for different people at different times of their life. You have to try it out and see how it fits your situation. It can be great for some and a headache for others. Don’t judge!

    Rob R. wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • +1, exactly.

      Paul wrote on January 17th, 2013
  33. I think co-sleeping is great (and just as safe as non-co-sleeping when done correctly). They even make those cool co-sleepers that attach to the bed now (great for small beds & those concerned with rolling over).

    My personal issue with co-sleeping is that even while I nursed in bed with baby next to me I still got up afterwards to change his diaper! It wasn’t like I could just stay half-asleep the whole time. I wonder if some co-sleeping (& nursing) parents don’t do night-time diaper changes?? I was always worried about the diaper leaking or baby getting diaper rash (which he – unlike many kids – never once had the whole time he was in diapers). Anyway, co-sleeping is great… it just didn’t equate to me not getting up in the night.

    I’m pregnant with # 2 now… it’ll be interesting to see what she likes! At the very least she’ll be in our room for the first few months. I agree with the previous poster about following your instincts & doing what’s right for your family. Don’t worry about being judged for co-sleeping or nursing “too long!”

    sara wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • We co-slept with both of our boys and I very quickly gave up on the night time diaper change. Since I was exclusively breastfeeding for at least 5 months, neither got diaper rash even from night poops. I think breastmilk has the perfect composition for the babies to use almost all of the nutrients and not leave much to be excreted.

      I had a waterproof mattress pad under our regular mattress pad in case of leaks, but leaks were very uncommon. Just make sure the mattress pad and sheet are VERY tight fitting so that no lumps or wrinkles can form under the baby.

      MathTeacher wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • I honestly only change maybe 2-3 X a night but we also cloth diaper and with 2-3 soakers inside the diaper the part that she sits on doesn’t really get soaking but more damp and during the day we practice elimination communication so no diaper rash here.

      Stef wrote on January 17th, 2013
      • How about baby Grok never wearing nappies? (Diapers). Just got my 3yr old potty trained, what a ‘mare. There are whole societies who never touch the things right?

        Madama Butterfry wrote on January 17th, 2013
        • That’s true that other modern cultures don’t have diapers and I’m sure Grokette didn’t either. I’m also sure that dirt floors help. :)

          We did some experimenting with #3 going diaper free. Our results were that we didn’t have the time to as a family to attend her at the level that would make it work. Diapers allow time shifting when lots of things are going on. Learning her signals meant a lot of mess initially (which is okay), but it was just too much with the other children. We just didn’t want to spend cumulative hours chasing after accidents, even though I felt diaper free would be workable. At this point, she’s reasonably happy in diapers. Although it’s annoying to change diapers, no one ever handed out awards for “earliest potty trained”.

          Amy wrote on January 17th, 2013
        • We did regular potty training with my older son and it was a nightmare. Took over a year and he still has accidents. I figured it would be just as much work whenever we did it, so why not do it sooner. We started elimination communication with #2 at six weeks. Really, it’s much less work than I expected. Especially with cloth diapers, it saves on the laundry every time you get a pee in the potty. And don’t get me started on NOT having to clean sticky yellow poo off of, well, everything.

          Having hardwood floors does help with the occasional accidents. And when we’re not able to take him potty as often or he’s learning a new skill and not interested in going, I just put a cloth diaper on him without a cover so I can see right away if he’s wet and change him.

          Some people do it at night too! Researchers reported that hunter-gatherer babies slept by their parents naked without ever peeing the bed by just a few months old. Sometimes if the baby’s having trouble going back to sleep, I have him pee in the bedside potty, but other than that I just keep him in a plastic dipe and don’t worry about it. I don’t have the luxury of sleeping all the hours of darkness like hunter-gatherers do.

          Sheila wrote on January 19th, 2013
  34. We have a family bed made up of a king and queen mattress on the floor. We sleep with our 6 year old and 2.5 year old. We have always co-slept and I am confident that when my kids are ready they will ask for their own bed. In the meantime there is nothing so wonderful as snuggling with both my babies. And I am right there for the vomit, nightmares, potty breaks! Going to bed is never a struggle for us since we all just cuddle in together.

    The cry that babies make when left alone in a crib in another room is a cry of fear and desperation and death. Just think about – not until recently have we separated mama from baby in our species. Previously when this happened the baby would be in serious trouble since he would have no one to protect him from animals, cold, everything. Human babies have not yet evolved to know that they are “safe” while still being alone.

    Diane wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • Amen.

      And as a culture we continue to separate ourselves from each other physically and emotionally until we die.

      Pure Hapa wrote on January 17th, 2013
  35. We co-slept with both baby groks. Older BG moved to a twin bed in our room when younger BG was born and came into our king bed. Then both moved to a bunk-bed in the same room when the youngest turned three. That absolutely got us the best sleep any if us could have at that stage.

    R-grok wrote on January 17th, 2013
  36. We had twins so co sleeping in a queen bed just wasn’t an option but my twins co slept (with eachother)until almost 6 months old . With just one baby I imagine it would be easier but I still think it would disrupt my sleep. I don’t believe that humans co slept in the past but would have room shared. This is what bassinets are for and they’ve been around a long time. Safer and still keeps baby close.

    Katie wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • “I don’t believe that humans co slept in the past but would have room shared.”

      Sorry, I am fascinated by the history of mothering and have looked into this several times in the past. It absolutely was the way it was done in the past. AND The majority of the world STILL co-sleeps. Separate sleeping is a relatively new idea and found mostly in Western culture.

      Michelle wrote on January 17th, 2013
  37. I think it is really a choice every family needs to make. My son went in his own room at about 2 months, because I just couldn’t sleep with him right next to me. He made so many little noises and I would instantly wake up at the slightest noise, so it worked better to have him in another room. My daughter stayed in a crib in our room for a little longer, but is now in her own room and doing well.

    Again, I think it is choice everyone needs to make depending on what works best for them. Some of my friends co-sleep and love it, so I certainly do not think it is a bad thing for some people.

    I would say, though, in regards to it being very primal and something we have done for centuries, that modern conveniences can be useful to many and a natural, loving connection to your child is still very possible. I doubt Grok had a whole lot of options when it came to putting the baby in a separate room (like the west wing of the cave???) and safety from predators was a constant motivation to keep baby within arms reach at all times. Luckily, we do not face those same hazards and the invention of baby monitors makes it quite a bit more convenient for those who do not want to co-sleep. Again, to each their own!☺

    Stefanie L. wrote on January 17th, 2013
  38. One more thing – I have just started reading your new book, Mark! Something struck me about following our instincts – totally agree that we need to do this more often! It just feels right.

    I never realized the important of “instincts” until being a mother. Man, those motherly instincts are strong (I’m sure fatherly ones are too).

    Anyway, I think a lot of new moms are somewhat unhappy because on the one hand they are trying to conform to societal norms (raising & teaching an “independent baby”) while on the other hand they have very strong instincts to do the opposite (feed on demand, wear baby most of the day, co sleep, etc.).

    Our society is so out of touch with our natural instincts when it comes to new babies… it shouldn’t be so!

    I’m glad this is being talked about & I have to think we’re making progress from when our parents & grandparents had children. At least we have the options to do water births, etc… we are not strapped to a bed (or don’t have to be) & pressured into feeding formula.

    sara wrote on January 17th, 2013
  39. We co-slept with all four babies. They all turned out like brats, but don’t know if co-sleeping had anything to do with it…

    Jeremy wrote on January 17th, 2013
  40. I slept with my little ones in the crook of my arm, and that way I never lost track of where they were or what was near their face, plus that put them right by their food source, so to speak.

    Sarah wrote on January 17th, 2013

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