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. We might try this with our next one. Mostly because it would be our fourth child in a three bedroom house. So either we co-sleep or the other kids co-sleep. But not because of the “animals do it” argument. Animals also eat their young as often as not. Animals desert their young at early ages. Animals let their pack raise their young. Animals don’t make BA salads for their young. Etc.
    What about when the wife and I would like a little skin on skin ourselves?
    What about when the baby needs to go to sleep at 8 but we don’t go to bed until later.

    Joshua wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • I start the baby off in his bedside crib and bring him into bed once he wakes up during the night. It’s much easier for me to wind down in the evening if it’s just us parents in the bed at first. And that makes the transition easy — as he starts sleeping longer and longer stretches, he spends less and less time in our bed. We moved my first son out at about a year and he was fine because he was already sleeping through the night in the bedside crib.

      Sheila wrote on January 19th, 2013
  2. We’re now co-sleeping (bed sharing) with child #4. Child #3 still spends most of the night in our bed as well.
    Really- it’s great. It may not be for everyone… I was hesitant at first. After the first night, I was won over. I believe not only does it promote better sleep for both the parent(s) and child(ren), but it helps create a closeness.

    Our 7 year old decided on her own at 3 years old to sleep in her own bed, in our bedroom. At 6 years old she decided to move into her own room.
    Our 3 year old has a bed in our bedroom. He’ll often sleep there until exactly midnight, then come to our bed and lay on me.
    Our youngest is almost 10 months old. She has a type of crib next to our bed; sleeps some time there, but mostly in our bed.

    Really, one just needs a very large bed :)

    Dan Halli wrote on January 17th, 2013
  3. This was wonderful to read. I have a 9 week old that I have been fighting the co-sleeping phenomenon with; resulting in tears, frustration and poor sleep for both of us, simply because I felt guilty that it was not the ‘right’ thing to do. Upon reading this I feel it’s ‘right’ for us, and won’t fight it anymore. I usually prop myself up in a semi reclining position with pillows and have the lil princess lay on her belly on my chest with my arms around her. There’s no danger involved- I woke up this morning with my arms still around her and clutching her paci in my hand! =) And as a new mommy I have to say there are worse ways to wake up than with a newborn rooting around your collarbone searching for the good stuff! It actually tickles and is a great start to the day.

    K wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • Please look into safe co-sleeping practices. Soft pillows can be a no-no depending on the set up.

      “Good Nights” by Jay Gordon is one book that has a lot of good info. Good info can also be found on mothering.com

      Karen C. wrote on January 19th, 2013
    • I slept that way a lot with both of my girls when they were really young. I couldn’t put them down without them waking up. Glad it’s working for you.

      Kathy wrote on January 19th, 2013
  4. I’ll pipe in here to say that no arrangement is perfect for all families. I’m a big advocate of room sharing when babies are young because it helped me get more sleep, but bed sharing actually didn’t work for us. The combination of being large chested with a very small baby (<10th percentile) meant that in order to breastfeed I had to actually sit up to nurse every time, even in the middle of the night. It was actually easier to accomplish with my son in his own space than it was when he shared a bed with me, since I didn't have so much to rearrange.

    jj wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • Actually I am a 32g and you don’t have to nurse sitting up. Nursing lying den takes some practice but is awesome. And bing so large cheated I never have to physically move my baby to the other breast because it reached the baby!

      Diane wrote on January 17th, 2013
  5. I’m a step Mom to an 8 year old girl. She’s with us 3 nights and week and with her Mom 4 nights. Since their divorce, my step daughter has slept in the bed with her mom, naked. She has always slept in her own room, in her own bed at our house. I’m hoping for some feedback to suggest that continuing co-sleeping until the time the child is in 2nd grade is inappropriate. Not that I can change the situation, just looking for validation!

    ADJ wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • Unless there is something else going on besides sleeping, there’s nothing inappropriate about it.

      Michelle wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • I was still going into my parents bedroom,naked at that age. Is it the nakedness or the cosleeping that makes you feel is inappropriate?

      Stef wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • Why would this be inappropriate? Her mother is her mother. I don’t think how they sleep is any of your business to be honest. I would say keep your opinion out of this very personal situation.

      Naked does not mean perverted. It is your issue with nakedness that is the problem, not your husband’s ex wife.

      erikaS wrote on January 18th, 2013
  6. BTW they have been divorced since she was 2 1/2…

    ADJ wrote on January 17th, 2013
  7. I think this post is useful because it presents a new light on a practice that is often portrayed negatively in today’s society, yet it is certainly a valid option for parents. However, posts like these are tough because most of us are here trying to learn about optimal health and what is most “natural” for our bodies. So when a practice (such as co-sleeping)is presented, it’s basically considered the “right” thing to do. Thus those who have chosen not to do so are left defending their decision against the majority.

    I think in general people should be left to their own decisions based on their own situations. If the choices you make in life leave you happy & everything is working well, don’t change what you’re doing or regret what you’ve done because it wasn’t the “right” thing to do. Likewise, if something isn’t working (e.g. you’re exhausted from going into the other room to nurse, you feel anxious about leaving your baby in a separate room, etc), then look into alternative options and hopefully find something that does work for you.

    In most decisions in life, but especially in parenting, people are so eager to profess the ideal way to do something, but what that is truly differs from person to person. If it works, don’t change it. If it doesn’t work, ask for advice & consider other options. Mark’s advice is excellent, but there are times when it isn’t the only “right” way.

    Megan wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • ” Thus those who have chosen not to do so are left defending their decision against the majority.”

      No, you’re not. The best advise I ever got regarding well thought out personal decisions was: “don’t apologize and don’t explain”. When I hang out with vegans/vegetarians I feel no particular need to defend or apologize for my carnivorous side. If they have a problem, they need to speak up so we can come up with mutual solution. Social empathy yes, is an important skill, but telepathy, alas, was is not something I can ever hope to acquire.

      What I like about Mark’s blog in particular is that he’s very open to the idea that YMMV. If co-sleeping didn’t work out and everyone survived, it’s fine. The human condition has always been less than perfect.

      Take on some confidence about your own decisions and what’s right for you. Mark had a post here a few days ago about eating seaweed, which I’m sure is totally Paleo and “right”, but trust me, we will not be pursuing anytime soon. ;) I don’t need to defend that decision or feel uncomfortable about Mark’s opinion on it. We’re both right.

      Amy wrote on January 17th, 2013
  8. For those of you asking what would the real Grok family do….well Grok would have raised children with the extended family. Most primitive cultures today (and many all over the world) heavily involve Aunts and Grandmothers in baby care. Truly, it would be rare for a mother to do more than 75% of the work in a real “Grok” situation. There would even be shared breast feeding amongst lactating mothers.

    William wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • Yes. In Asia, we slept on the heated floor on large futon-type mattresses. During the day, when I wasn’t strapped on my mother’s back, I was strapped to Grandma or someone else. We no longer have the extended family/village life that others have. Sadly, Asians are now adopting Western ideals of living in separate homes away from extended family, and buying Western-style beds.

      Pure Hapa wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • “Truly, it would be rare for a mother to do more than 75% of the work in a real “Grok” situation.”

      Maybe, maybe not.

      This is the idealized version of an extended family. Let me tell you about mine…

      Out of our parents, my father is hands down the most awesome of all them. However he is very uncomfortable with anything to with infants because, well, he just nervous and doesn’t want to be wrong. My FIL is sweet guy but he defaults completely to my MIL’s opinions on almost everything.

      My MIL is woman with serious control and emotional problems who is inattentive to almost everything but her own feelings. The few times I’ve trusted her to my young children’s care, I’ve found them in rather obviously dangerous situations. My SIL was in the hospital quite frequently as a young child for bruises, concussions, and the like. This was always blamed her “cluziness” but I suspect it was really due to my MIL’s inattention.

      My Mother was more physically able to take care of young children but emotionally she also just barely survived our childhoods. She had no advice to give when pregnant when my first — most of her thought patterns was centered around making a sweater for her first grandchild, rather than how it might impact her daughter’s life. Like my MIL, she too, had checked out emotionally from our lives ages ago (if she was ever there in the first place).

      My sister and SIL are much more in our lives, but their parenting style is different and not always compatible.

      If faced with the situation above would Grok and Grokette lazily pass the baby around the tribe? I don’t know..I tend think they might have wanted to form their own tribe “over there” somewhere, where ever that was.

      That Asians are moving to Western style living only suggests they are more willing to take on the sacrifices of independent living because they see the rewards. “Traditional” living wasn’t and isn’t all good. I’m sure it’s great if the tribe is rational; not so much if the tribe has got some serious problems.

      Amy wrote on January 17th, 2013
  9. I am a 10 1/2 year old girl(on my moms e-mail). I co-slept tell about 3 years old . And if i am sick or upset still do.

    ponymama wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • It is awesome that you are reading Marks’ Daily Apple! My daughter also co-slept with us until she was six. Now she is 18 and a very happy, independent young lady. You got a great start! Keep it up!

      Rhonda the Red wrote on January 17th, 2013
      • This just reminded me… I slept with my parents off and on til at least 6. But the last time slept with them I was home from college, about 19, and there was a small earthquake (large enough to wake us up). My dad came into my room and invited me into their bed, where I slept comfortably between my parents, and we were all together in case of another earthquake!

        Kathy wrote on January 19th, 2013
  10. I co-slept with my older daughter out of necessity, to get some sleep. I said I’d never do it again, and here I am 2.5yrs into it with my second one. Once again out of necessity, to get sleep. Some nights are good, some nights I want her to wean & learn to sleep on her own. I sleep in my kids room & sneak off to see my dh for alone time. I don’t have the heart to cry my toddler out. I do enjoy the special bond with my children and I know one day soon they will be sleeping without me.

    Anna wrote on January 17th, 2013
  11. For a different take – I was ‘co-slept’ as a baby, as were all of my siblings. We are now all over 50 and we turned out okay! My mom and dad were recent immigrants and thankfully unaware that sleeping with their kids was thought to be child abuse. I asked my mom how she got us out of their bed, and she said we just naturally transitioned to the “Big Girl” or “Big Boy” room (5 girls, 4 boys) around the age of four.

    As in all things, this comes down to personal choice. Forcing someone to sleep with their kids when it doesn’t work for them is just as bad the opposite situation.

    Siobhan wrote on January 17th, 2013
  12. Bless you for writing about this Mark! Yes, sleeping with our babies, even our children, is the natural, Grok-like human behavior. Not putting your infant in a crib in another room – THAT is the abomination. To think that we have gotten to the point where natural, healthy ways to live are considered an abomination. So sad. Co-sleep! Breast-feed! Eat like a hunter-gatherer! Get back to what nature intended and stop listening to the woefully wrong conventional thinking.

    Pure Hapa wrote on January 17th, 2013
  13. Good subject. Here’s my take after having 3 babies. I agree, there’s something very logical/natural about co-sleeping with a brand new baby who feeds on demand. That’s good for the baby, but also preserves mom’s sanity. We transitioned our babies to their own beds after a couple of months, when we knew they could go 4 or 5 hours without feeding. It took just a few days to develop a routine of getting them to fall asleep on their own, which is what I most definitely needed as a mom. I had friends who were okay with a willy, nilly feed-on-demand schedule well into the baby’s first year. In fact, I think these moms liked it. That would not work for me and I think each mom needs to block out all that well meaning advice and think about what she needs to be the best mom possible. Our way was the right way – for us. We have 3 pretty fun teenagers now who don’t have any major developmental issues…that we know of! :)

    Miki wrote on January 17th, 2013
  14. I came to cosleeping naturally out of necessity with my firstborn. Before having kids, during my pregnancy, I was vehemently against it, although I knew I was going to be at least room sharing with my son because of space issues. I insisted, however, that it wasn’t healthy and was dangerous, etc etc etc to have him in our bed.

    Fast forward to having ultra-needy somewhat premature newborn that INSISTED on nursing 24/7. Would scream with dachshund-level tenacity if he was put down. After leaving my bank card in the ATM and several other horrid sleep-deprived foibles in the first few weeks I “caved” and have not gone back as a parent. I started tuning into my instincts, not only because, well, my son DEMANDED it, but also because, it felt better and we were all happier in those first few very hard months with him. He gained weight better, was more content, and definitely got more to eat as a result of cosleeping and babywearing. He was a preemie, and just.. not ready to be separated from mom. The adjustment took him quite some time.

    Turns out, I cherish that time and how right the choice was for my family then. I look at how he is now, and while being born prematurely and other factors have contributed to some issues he has, many many many other things that are common to both autistic spectrum kids and neurotypical kids we avoided. I attribute most of that to the basics of attachment parenting. It creates secure and happy kids, not clingy and needy ones.

    That being said, it must be done safely, without excessive bedding. Make the space safe the same as you would a crib. Use common sense.

    And don’t make it a big deal. Kids and sleep are a part of life. Just take it in stride, set the example, and your children will follow it.

    B. wrote on January 17th, 2013
  15. I’m not a mom, however this-all reminds me of the misconception we see in dating and relationships as well as in children. *IF* a child (or dating partner/girlfriend/wife) KNOWS that a response is always available (that she can rely on someone to answer her when in need) — then they don’t become grasping and “needy” and desperate to keep checking to make sure help / connection WILL be there if they need it! Just like with air — we only become frantic if it’s NOT there; when we know there’s a supply, we don’t worry — or even THINK — about breathing!

    Letting (forcing!) a primate infant (to) be “independent” and learn to ‘manage’ a situation (being alone, away from mom) that it is hard-wired to avoid (because it’s deadly!) at too early an age leads (I believe) to an unconscious sense that the universe is a dangerous place.

    If a baby (or partner) CANNOT rely on mom (the other partner) to *be there* when needed, then there is no security, which leads to … what else? INsecurity! (And thus, grasping, demanding, worrying, reaching, etc.)

    Men who pull away from a woman because “she’s needy” are not providing the confidence (in him, in his response, that) the woman needs to BE independent of him, knowing he’ll be there if necessary. Granted, some women (maybe those “taught” in infancy and beyond that there WAS no one reliable to come when she called?) have an unfillable desire for security — but many, maybe most, aren’t needy unless they don’t have a sense they can rely on a response.

    With an infant/child, it’s more than that, it’s hard-wired. The adult women won’t DIE (even if it feels like it); the baby is programed to call (more and more frantically) for help — because being ignored means death!

    Elenor wrote on January 17th, 2013
  16. To all the folks who have said we need to trust our instincts, let me add my voice as well. My daughter breastfed until she was just over two and co-slept with us until she was six. We did what was right for US. Trust your own gut feeling for each situation and each child. I never regretted either choice or length of time because it was right for us. But I would have bitterly regretted it if I’d weaned her too early or pushed her out of my bed before we were both ready. Now she’s 18 and a happy, healthy, primal, well-adjusted college student. I miss her now very much, but that’s made easier by knowing I held her close when I had the chance.

    Rhonda the Red wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • What a sweet way to say that.

      Miki wrote on January 18th, 2013
  17. I don’t know if my parents co-slept with me, and I don’t have children so I’ve never had to make the decision myself. To be honest, until reading this I never even knew co-sleeping was a thing with a fancy name and research studies attached to it. I just assumed it was normal. There are people who think it’s somehow detrimental to a child’s health? My instinctual reaction is why would you not sleep with your children that close?

    Grace wrote on January 17th, 2013
  18. Yeah, all five of my babies roomed/bedded in with me (and husband when he was around). I don’t understand how any mother can bear to be parted from an infant overnight(although I do understand the need for a good night’s sleep).

    Having said that, all of my babies were good sleepers so the actual bed-sharing was minimal. In very early days I had them in a moses basket beside me and would put them in bed with me for breastfeeding only. By six weeks all of them slept through the night (I’d wake up anyway and check on them).

    When they were big enough to climb out of the cot they’d spend most nights in with me – what precious nights they were! By this age the risks are pretty minimal. Anyone who’s ever slept with a toddler knows that the parent is more at risk of falling out of the bed/waking up with a crick neck/injury from arm or leg-fling.

    When they were big enough to go into a bed of their own I bunked them in with a sibling (we have a lot of big beds).

    Some pointers for parents considering co-sleeping:
    – put the mattress on the floor!
    – minimise pillows, blankets, heavy quilts and comforters
    – eat lightly in the evening so tiredness doesn’t override your baby-awareness
    – avoid alcohol Dad
    – never, ever, EVER lie down on the sofa with a baby.

    My girls are all affectionate, confident, independent and well-balanced young human beings. As a parent I consider myself blessed for every moment I got to hold them.

    Danae Sinclair wrote on January 17th, 2013
  19. We have coslept with our 3.5 month old daughter since birth. After she was born at the birth center they placed her in between both of us on the queen sized bed. We have a queen sized mattress rotated on the floor and she sleeps near me. I cannot imagine her sleeping in another room! In fact I am convinced she would probably starve,my milk would dry up and I am would have to formula feed her, I just do not think I would be able to hear her especially since when she is hungry she just nuzzles up next to me and latches on. We will definitely be getting a bigger bed so all our babes can sleep with us.
    The way I look at it is that your kids are probably going to come into your bed anyways. I still remember coming into my parents bed when atleast until I was 9 because of bad dreams,ect so they might as well just start there!

    Stef wrote on January 17th, 2013
  20. Funny how some kids dictate their own time frame for co-sleeping. My third child slept in the crook of my arm and nursed when needed until about 6 months when one night he reached to his crib that we had in the room and insisted to sleep there. Needless to say I was sad to see his night time with me come to such an abrupt end so unlike his sisters.

    His nursing days ended just as abruptly at one year of age. He crawled into my lap one afternoon to nurse as was our habit and became engaged in doing something and I couldn’t convince him to nurse ever again.

    Very bright, successful young man these days, BTW.

    Dragonfly wrote on January 17th, 2013
  21. I was never able to comfortably co-sleep. I’m already prone to insomnia and having a baby in the bed only made it worse. I did keep my daughter right next to me in a bassinet and would bring her into bed to feed- so she always had that instant attention. But I found I had to move her into her own room at about 4 months because she was an incredibly restless sleeper. I’d inadvertently wake her up thinking she needed to be fed. It was actually more restful for us both when she slept alone. Her room was so close to ours (small home) that she still never had to wait long for me to get her when she wanted to be fed. So, I guess it all comes down to what works for the individual.

    I have to admit that I did have a negative impression of co-sleeping going in though. We had friends that co-slept and as their kids got older they couldn’t go to sleep alone. The wife had to lay down with the oldest kid for an hour-and-a-half a night just to get her to go to sleep. And I knew a few people who ended up with kids who couldn’t (or wouldn’t) fall to sleep on their own. I’m guessing, from everything I’ve read here, that they didn’t make very good transitions into independent sleeping arrangements and that co-sleeping wasn’t the particular culprit I thought it was.

    sqt wrote on January 17th, 2013
  22. We co-slept with all 3 children while they were nursing. Never rolled over on anyone and my wife still managed to kick me in the middle of the night. The benefits far outweigh the loss of privacy.

    Kids are awesome!

    Pierre wrote on January 17th, 2013
  23. Co-sleeping and sex? It’s when the youngster sits at the end of the bed and roars with laughter at you, you know its time they moved on!! Happened to a friend of mine.

    Jenny W wrote on January 17th, 2013
  24. My son slept with me until he was about 3 years old. He usually slept in his own room after that. If ever he was scared or felt the need for his mom, he was more than welcome to sleep in my bed. He is now a teenager (who would never ever think of sleeping in his mom’s bed), but we have a very close relationship and I attribute that to the co-sleeping when he was younger.

    Madijo wrote on January 17th, 2013
  25. Co-sleeping has worked great for us! (I was happy to see this post; I linked to James McKenna the other day!) A lot of the negative studies do come from crib manufacturers and similar interest groups. For us, it was not a problem having the newborn in the middle; the babies would naturally move towards me and basically sleep on their sides facing me. Very cozy. I was always conscious of their presence. My husband is a heavier sleeper, but doesn’t thrash around or anything. (To his benefit, he could fall asleep fast, and wake up pretty fast to help–without really remembering being awake.)

    One thing that McKenna pointed out in a Michigan news story (I believe) is that newborns are oriented to where their mothers are by nursing. In several tragic SIDS cases he found that none of the babies had been nursing, and actually had become disoriented while sleeping. Obviously, safety precautions need to be followed, regardless of whether one is nursing or not.

    The few times we tried to put our oldest in the crib at all, it ruined our evenings…and affected our sleep and hers. Mine have all loved having someone next to them. The two older ones separate very well from us, and are very independent. The youngest is still with us, but in daytime is very independent.

    I really recommend co-sleeping, obviously!

    Thank you for this post!

    Nicole wrote on January 17th, 2013
  26. My first was a great sleeper and we had her in a bassinet next to the bed for the first 4 months, then in her crib. I think I tried nursing her in bed a few times at first, but it was such mess, leaking everywhere, turning on lights to change her diaper, it thoroughly awoke my husband, who can have trouble falling back asleep. So I would just get up, change her in her room and nurse her on the couch, comfortably.
    My second wasn’t to be as easy, of course. For the first 4 months I co-slept about half of the time–laying in bed holding her screaming on my stomach while she fell asleep. She taught me that just about anything goes for the first 4 to 6 months. You don’t spoil them. You don’t set up expectations. They just don’t remember.
    My third one had some reflux issues for the first month so she slept draped on me on her stomach for the entire first month and a half. Sometimes I would nurse her in bed (as I was much more adept at the whole breastfeeding thing by then) but that was never comfortable for me. I’d end up with a stiff neck and shoulders and be all out of alignment. Plus, I’d feed her on one side and we’d both pass out and then she’d wake in 45 minutes and I’d put her on the other side and we’d both pass out. Repeat. I much preferred to get up, feed both sides and then have 2 or 3 hours of uninterrupted sleep.
    Overall, I think co-sleeping is a personal decision and some people really seem to enjoy it. I don’t think kids are magically well-adjusted if they co-sleep and insecure brats if they don’t. There are so many other factors that will determine the character of your child. So I think it comes down to the parents’ preference. Co-sleeping would not be good for anyone with two resentful parents. Personally, my husband and I spend so much time with the kids that the time we get to spend together in bed at night and in the morning, whether it’s talking or getting busy, is valuable and meaningful time for us to connect.

    Meesha wrote on January 17th, 2013
    • I collect until my younger sister was born around 6. But my parents also let me cry it out when they transitioned me. It seems silly to say this, but I completely remember how confused I was. They let me cry and cry and I yelled louder, made sadder sounds and no one came. I walked to their room and my mom was folding clothes and my dad had a book open. Neither acknowledged me in some attempt to make me compose myself before getting attention as not to spoil me.I left the room and eventually came back to ask why they didn’t love me. My mom said they still loved me but they weren’t going to talk to me until I calmed down… or something. I remember being relieved she loved me but then almost immediately after deciding it was a lie because she still turned me away physically and emotionally. Like I said, I’m 28 so it seems silly but I still have the same issue with them. They withhold love to enforce rules…. I will never do that or let my child cry it out. I will always talk to my kids until they feel ok.

      As far as co sleeping with my child, he is 5 weeks and I didn’t see it as an option until.now. he sleeps on my chest for naps and in a bassinet at night. For our next child I want to get a king sized bed and co sleep. Though I agree with some posters.my current bed gives me a sore back to nurse.in. a beautifulbgger bed would help.

      erin wrote on February 4th, 2014
  27. I did a combination of bed sharing and room sharing (she had a small bassinet right beside my side of the bed then later a pack and play) with my little one until she was 6 months old and went to her own cot in her own room. first time she slept through the night too in her cot for 6 hrs! i was totally amazed. she was definitely ready for it. of course each baby is individual and each family unique. this worked best for us and her.

    Carly wrote on January 17th, 2013
  28. Love this article! Just wanted to chime in as another happy co-sleeping family. My husband is a restless sleeper so being a bit paranoid I always made sure my daughter was not in the middle, rather on my side. Never had a issue. Love waking up to the 2 people in my life I love the most. Nothing beats it.

    TillyMonstar wrote on January 17th, 2013
  29. We co-slept with our daughter from birth, who is almost 2. She had a crib prepared when we brought her home, and she would never let us put her down in it without screaming, so into the bed she went for the sake of peace at least. Now she has a youth bed in our room, and we have an “arrangement” where she usually falls asleep on the daybed in the living room where we are in the evening, gets carried to her bed when she’s good and asleep, and walks over and climbs into our bed a little before dawn. She isn’t upset, she doesn’t even always wake us up, just climbs quietly into our bed (hers has a frame, ours is a mattress on a goza mat on the floor), covers herself up and goes back to sleep.

    Erin wrote on January 17th, 2013
  30. I’m certain I slept more for co-sleeping than I would have if my daughter had slept in another room or even in a separate bed in my room. If she woke in the night, it was easy to settle her, nurse her if she wanted it, I barely had to wake up. We’ve had musical beds all along, even though she’s not little anymore. She has her own bed in her own room and sleeps there a lot, but her dad travels a lot and she still sleeps with me sometimes. For us, it’s just sleep, who cares where you do it? My husband and I have never had trouble finding the privacy for sex, anymore than any other parent. There was the couch, the futon in the guest room, the floor, the wherever. It’s actually harder now she’s older and more likely to hear/walk in on us :P

    Aimee wrote on January 17th, 2013
  31. I am a huge fan of co-sleeping and can’t understand how anyone can claim that it’s not normal and healthy. (Then again Western medicine claimed the same about breastfeeding, so why am I surprised?)

    My husband and I co-slept with my son for almost a year. When that stopped working (too many bodies wiggling around in the bed) he slept on a mattress in our room for another year. We all slept well throughout, no one got rolled on and I was able to breastfeed at night with minimal interruption.

    After the first month my daughter seemed less interested in co-sleeping – being right next to me kept her up at night – so I moved her into a bassinet next to the bed. From the beginning she slept more and breastfed less at night then her brother so that worked out fine for both of us.

    When she stopped being able to sleep through Mom & Dad getting ready for bed (and was no longer breastfeeding at night), we moved her into my son’s room so she would still have the comfort of another human breathing nearby as she slept.

    I feel sorry for babies banished to cold solo cribs days or even weeks after they’re born. Not only is it unnatural – it’s downright cruel.

    Danielle Meitiv wrote on January 17th, 2013
  32. I cosleep and it’s great. We have a king sized bed with the crib sidecarred. She rolls over to nurse, then rolls back into the crib. I’m very in tune with her. Wake ups are frequent but short.

    Sandra wrote on January 17th, 2013
  33. A great case of sample size is N = 1.

    I believe in co-sleeping. Good science, works for many cultures, etc. And yet… my son never slept. And had we co-slept I wouldn’t have either. Nor my wife.

    So tell you what, if the family can do it and thrive, good on you. But don’t stress folks, families also just thrive finding their own way in the world. Our kids are almost grown and gone now and they still snuggle and hug and crash with us at times and we didn’t co-sleep. Chill, it will work out.

    And isn’t that the biggest lesson of all PB anyway?

    Paul wrote on January 17th, 2013
  34. A great case of sample size is N = 1.

    I believe in co-sleeping. Good science, works for many cultures, etc. And yet… my son never slept. And had we co-slept I wouldn’t have either. Nor my wife.

    So tell you what, if the family can do it and thrive, good on you. But don’t stress folks, families also just thrive finding their own way in the world. Our kids are almost grown and gone now and they still snuggle and hug and crash with us at times and we didn’t co-sleep. Chill, it will work out.

    And isn’t that the biggest lesson of all PB anyway??

    Paul wrote on January 17th, 2013
  35. I always heard that co-sleeping was dangerous because of the risk of rolling on the baby and suffocating it. Very interesting article as always, thank you!

    sb wrote on January 17th, 2013
  36. Hi Mark. Can you tell us your opinion about adults (partners) sleeping together ? Is this a primal behaviour ? Is sleeping on your own more restfull ?

    Andre wrote on January 17th, 2013
  37. Can’t say anything about co-sleeping with kids, but I slept with my cat for several years with no issues. Sometimes she would sleep on top of me. I’ve also dog-sat for a family with 3 labs, all of whom were allowed on the bed.
    Moreover, to my knowledge I never roll or change position in my sleep. The blanket is always as neat when I wake as when I lose consciousness, and I have never fallen off a bed or sofa or moved off a sleeping pad.

    Bill C wrote on January 17th, 2013
  38. I have been bedsharing with my five month old son since he was born. Everything Mark says is true. It seems like there is a part of my brain that always knows where he is. We are in constant contact , and I don’t adjust my position without considering him. It all started by accident. In the hospital I would fall asleep while breastfeeding and wake up to find my baby next to me. I would freak out a little, but the nurses assured me that most of the world sleeps with their babies and it’s ok. My baby made it very obvious what he preferred. He would cry if I left him alone in the bassinet. I think it’s a perfectly reasonable request for him to want to be next to me. It feels right.

    Carolyn wrote on January 18th, 2013
  39. I have 3 children. My first fed every hour and a half during the night for the first 3 months – I was a wreck. He was in a cot in our bedroom so I had to get up and fully wake up to breast feed him. (I remember sitting up in a chair with by head lolling around, just wishing that he would finish so I could go back to bed). That whole first 6 months passed in a depressive blur…

    By the time my third came around I was just more relaxed and more likely to say screw you to my midwives opinions.

    I had a queen size bed in another room because my partner would need his sleep to get up to the other kids (we had a 18 month old and a 3 year old by then). He would do the morning routine with my daughter who has always been an early bird while I slept in.

    My third baby slept with me in the queen size bed, and it was so liberating to be able to lie on my side and feed him, burp him while he lay on my chest, and then put him to sleep ON HIS TUMMY (he just would not sleep on his side or back). I was more relaxed that nothing could happen to him while sleeping on his tummy because I was right there – and never told my midwife cos she would have freaked out. It makes me chuckle as he is now 10 years old and sleeps on his tummy every night…

    I made sure he wore huggies nappies at night which didn’t need changing. Feeding while half asleep meant co-sleeping saved my sanity by getting enough sleep, and I felt so sad that I didn’t do the same for my older two.

    At around 3 or 4 months old he went into a cot in our room with no problems. Once they were able to climb out of the cot they went into their own beds – they used to jump into bed when they were sick or had nightmares, but they got walked into their own beds pretty much straight away as I couldn’t bear the toddler arms or legs in my face!

    erikaS wrote on January 18th, 2013
  40. I, too, believe that there is no fundamental right or wrong when it comes to parenting and child rearing. However, I am in the position where I can see the pros and cons of co-sleeping.

    I am the very proud mum to twin boys and for the first 3 months of their lives they slept in moses basket either side of the bed. Often, after the early morning feed, I would bring them into bed with me and we would sleep together for another couple of hours. As they began to outgrow their moses baskets, I transitioned them into their cots, in their own room, by placing the moses baskets into the cots for about a week and then after that, I laid them to sleep in the cots asleep after their evening feed. As my sons grew, they would often come into bed with me in the early mornings for a doze and a cuddle and they did the same when they were ill. My sons and I bonded extremely well and even, now, at 15 years, they are very close and loving to me. We have never experienced any trauma, they have never been tearful at bedtime or suffered from undue separation anxiety.

    However, my partner has 4 children from a previous relationship all of whom slept in the same bed as their parents until the age of 7-8 years. The second eldest daughter has told me of the anxiety she used to feel when invited for sleepovers, which invariably meant that she wouldn’t go or, if she did, most times one of her parents would have to go and collect her late in the evening as she would be extremely upset. She says that even at the age of 10 years, she would often feel anxious about being away from her mother even for short periods of time. Looking back she can see that she missed out on a lot of childhood events because of her anxiety. Because of her experience she says that she will not co-sleep with any children she should have.

    My partner and I are now experiencing this with the youngest daughter who is now 8 years old. When with her mother, she co-sleeps with her, in the same bed, all the time. At our home she has her own room and we encourage her to sleep in her own bed. Often she is very anxious about having to sleep on her own, she needs someone with her to be able to fall asleep, she constantly worries what she will do if she wakes in the night and there is no-one there,and begs her sisters to sleep with her. We have made the room as cosy as possible for her with nightlights and her favourite toys, my partner stays with her until she is asleep and she knows that we will be there for her should she need us during the night. Again, a consequence of her anxiety is that she consistently declines sleepovers, and gets overly anxious if we, or her mother, leave her with her sisters even for an hour or so.

    So, rather than create confident and independent children, my experience shows that co-sleeping past a certain age can, in fact, create the exact opposite.

    Lynne wrote on January 18th, 2013
    • “So, rather than create confident and independent children, my experience shows that co-sleeping past a certain age can, in fact, create the exact opposite.”

      It seems like there’s a possibility that the Mother/personalities involved creating the anxiety, not the act of co-sleeping itself. My son is very anxious about the amount he sleeps and has slept in his own bed for years (since he was 3). Repeatedly, I encourage him to stop worrying – suggest strategies, etc. It’s just in his personality. We parents are less influential then we might imagine on that front. :(

      Amy wrote on January 18th, 2013
    • I never co slept with my parents and I hated sleepovers. Nothing to do with cosleeping. Even as an adult staying at someone else’s house makes me anxious. Hotels, no problem, but I think it’s a social anxiety thing. I’m always worried I might not conform to their households rules.

      I do love sleeping with my husband and baby though. In fact I struggle to sleep without these days.

      Alex wrote on January 19th, 2013

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