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 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
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. “and, in the case of marine mammals, are totally into the whole water birth thing”


    Jst wrote on January 18th, 2013
  5. I’m so glad you posted this article! As a Registered Midwife in Canada, I encourage all of my clients/patients to co-sleep with their newborn infants. Midwives in Canada provide women with postpartum home-visits (so parents don’t have to pack up their new babies and come into a clinic) in the first few weeks of life. I can honestly say that I see a HUGE difference between the families that choose to co-sleep and those that do not. Infants are calmer, gain back their birthweight faster and have less feeding issues. Breastfeeding is more likely to succeed, parents are better rested, calmer and better adjusted to the changes of being a new parent. I always discuss safe sleep positions for baby, the importance of having two ‘sober’ parents in the bed and the difference between bed vs couch sleeping. Looking forward to part two!

    Meghanne wrote on January 18th, 2013
  6. When we co-slept I would often wake up just before my baby. I am convinced that my brain knew they were stirring, and would wake me up just before they did. Also, I have to plug the awesome, ‘nurse-while-you-sleep(both mom and baby)’ aspects. As the mother of three very long nursers, I am so thankful that we all didn’t have to be up for that.

    Sabine wrote on January 18th, 2013
  7. Sadly even though I love this idea, I’ll never feel safe doing it. My partner can’t even share a bed with me because I kick and punch in my sleep all night. Always have…my own parents tried co-sleeping with me as a child and got bruised ribs for their trouble. I’d say knowing how you sleep is a pretty important factor. I did know one couple who got a little hanging bassinet thing that sort of attached to the side of the bed and had a net between the parent side and the bassinet side…that could work!

    Jordan wrote on January 18th, 2013
  8. Let us think about this. A mother who is breast feeding (which is an undeniable benefit to both mother and child) and not sharing sleeping space with their child must a.) wake up to babies cries (a LATE sign of hunger in an infant) b.) get up, get the child up and breast feed in a chair c.) remain awake until the baby falls into deep sleep d.) attempt to lay the baby down without waking him/her e.) console the child when they do awaken when placed in the crib. A mother who is co-sleeping rolls over, latches the baby, and they both fall asleep.

    Also, let’s consider why they call SIDS “crib death.” Let’s revert back to our primordial ancestors. Imagine for a moment a mother giving birth in the jungle. If the mother, for some reason (say a tiger) abandons the newborn following birth, not only will the baby die, but she will die as well. The newborn will go hypoglycemic and starve. The mother will hemorrhage to death, due to the lack of oxytocin which stimulates the uterus to contract and stops blood flow.

    Third, let’s look at what they are now calling “kangaroo care,” or skin to skin contact. Amazingly, a newborn’s blood glucose INCREASES with skin-to-skin contact before a single drop of colostrum or milk (or sugar water from the nursery)is ingested. Respirations stabilize, heart rate stabilizes, and the infant’s temperature stabilizes due to skin-to-skin contact. Blood glucose drops when the newborn is removed from the mother, and the other vitals may fluctuate. We are finally implementing evidence-based practice in our birthing centers across the nation, and allowing the mother and infant to “room in” together.

    Let us be rational here. A newborn goes from being in a warm, comfy, close environment where mom’s heartbeat constantly soothes them, they have a automatic feeding tube nourishing them continuously, and they have never taken a single breath, much less established a breathing pattern. At birth all this ends. Would it be logical to immediately transition to a lone, cold, silent crib-cage, with no access to nourishment, and no external stimuli to breathe? It astounds me that traditional practice could justify this. It reminds me of the debate on whether the world was round or flat, or Koch’s Germ Theory that disease is not a punishment from God, it is in fact an observable and treatable microorganism causing the disease. Why is this still a debate?
    As I recall, 87% of the prison population was never breast fed (I may be slightly off on that statistic). Think about the psycho-social implications of quality and early attachment. You are your child’s first and most permanent loving relationship.

    I applaud the individuals bringing this to our attention, interestingly enough, our particular Birthing Center was once heavily funded by Similac. Coincidence? I think not.

    Alysia Tessling wrote on January 18th, 2013
  9. We went the halfway point between room-sharing and bed-sharing. We used a “co-sleeper” crib-type thing. It hooks onto the parent bed so it is just slightly at the level below the bed (so the baby can’t roll onto the bed). I am able to lay next to the baby and have an arm on him/her. When s/he wakes up wanting to nurse, I can scoot the baby into the bed and nurse that way. If I fall asleep during the nursing session, the baby will often just stay in bed with us. Sometimes I scoot him back into the co-sleeper. I sleep MUCH better without a baby in the bed with me. And quality sleep is super important to me; sleep disruptions lend to my tendency to postpartum depression.

    Misty wrote on January 18th, 2013
  10. This is a more up-to-date study that disagrees with the conclusions about sleep patterns and SIDS.

    The vaccination vs. bathing mild stressor thing may be related. Perhaps co-sleeping in the same room but not the same bed is preferential, as the oxytocin release is not necessarily “togetherness promoting” though I’d argue that skin-skin oxytocin release is more likely to affect that pathway. Here’s a more logical take on it:

    Whitefox999 wrote on January 18th, 2013
  11. We coslept with both of our kids. They were adopted from Korea and day was night for them. Our oldest was four months old and our youngest was ten months old when they came home to us(years apart). We found it invaluable for bonding, comfort and turning the clock around. About the age of three, they wanted their own beds and we happily complied. I think it’s made us a closer, happier family. No crushed or abnormal babies or toddlers!

    EmmaK wrote on January 18th, 2013
  12. I co-sleep with my 2 dogs every night. They have their own beds on the floor & one will sleep there most times, but the other has to be by my side every night. The 3 of us start every morning with a grand cuddle. I never have a crabby day anymore. I sleep better than I have in years.
    oh, & if I got to do it over again I would have had my children in the bed (more)

    Peggy wrote on January 18th, 2013
  13. I woke up one night with my cat bracing all four paws(and a bit of claw)against my back,no way was I going to roll over him.LOL.

    Peter C. wrote on January 18th, 2013
  14. I tend to be of the opinion that the potential benefits are not work the potential risks, here — I know the official recommendations are that babies aren’t supposed to have any sort of pillows, bumpers, etc. in their cribs with them, so the blankets and pillows and loose clothing are more of a concern for me than someone rolling over on the baby. Why isn’t it enough to have the kid in a bassinet right next to the bed, rather than in the bed itself? They are still very close, maybe even close enough that you can reach them just by sitting up.

    But the point of my comment is to throw this out there: I’m wondering why someone hasn’t come up with some sort of in-between alternative. Like, a little baby basket that goes between the adults. Then the kid is there with you, but perhaps more protected from potential smothering hazards. Is this a totally stupid idea? Anyone?

    Molly wrote on January 18th, 2013
    • One more thought: early mattresses were usually made of breathable things like corn husks, grass, feathers, cotton scraps, etc. right? One is much less likely to suffocate if their face is smooshed into a mattress of corn husks than a mattress or pillow made of some sort of poly-fiberfill.

      Molly wrote on January 18th, 2013
    • It’s not stupid, but the issue is always the nursing. When you put up a barrier between the adults and the infant, it makes nursing much harder.

      Amy wrote on January 18th, 2013
    • Not a stupid idea – we had one (called a “co-sleeper”) for my son, and it eased my fears at first. Until i got comfortable having him next to me and realized the damn contraption just got in my way.

      But, yes, it is one of the tools out there for parents who need an in-between solution.

      Karen C. wrote on January 19th, 2013
  15. Love this post! I have bed shared with all 4 of my children, and it was one of the best parenting decisions I’ve made. It made breastfeeding a dream(literally as I didn’t fully wake up to feed). And those sweet sleepy snuggles are the best. I even bed shared with my wee 5lb preemie, and never almost smothered any of my children. I liken it to fallinng out of bed. I subconsiously know where the edge is, but it doesn’t keep me from getting good quality sleep.

    Jenny wrote on January 18th, 2013
  16. My ex has been co-sleeping with our daughter from day one. She’s now 8 and I think it’s gone too far. I don’t want her only feeling comfortable having someone co-sleep with her. Am I worried about nothing here? (She sleeps on her own when with me every other weekend)

    Mike wrote on January 18th, 2013
    • My older son is 8.5 and he’s been coming over to our bed during the night for years. He’s not otherwise clingy or whiny or anything – we just figure he hates being alone. It doesn’t matter if it’s going to the bathroom, brushing teeth, shower, etc. – he just doesn’t like to be alone. My younger son has just now been transitioned to his own bed (he’s 3) and it’s going very well. I’m thinking he’ll be sleeping throug the night every night shortly – for now it’s about 50/50.
      I honestly wouldn’t worry about your daughter. Since she’s sleeping on her own when with you shows it’s not a problem. She may just be used to it with your ex.

      Magda wrote on January 18th, 2013
  17. I distinctly remember walking into my mother’s room the day she arrived from the hospital after giving birth to my sister. She was asleep with my sister in her bed, and her arm RIGHT OVER MY SISTER’S FACE. It’s a good thing I happened to walk in and notice that, or else my sister might not have been around today. That memory alone is enough to deter me from co-sleeping if I ever have children.

    Kate wrote on January 18th, 2013
    • I wonder though if she was drugged during labor, because that wouldn’t wear off right away.

      Sarah wrote on January 18th, 2013
  18. Thanks for sharing this Mark! I feel the most primal while I co-sleep with my little one :) it’s so natural and normal.

    Kate wrote on January 18th, 2013
  19. My three children slept in the crook of my arm all night for at least a year each. They had my breast in their mouths most of the night. I didn’t sleep very well those years, but I’m sure that I would have slept far worse if I had had had to get up and get them out a crib each time to nurse. I absolutely loved co-sleeping, and not once did I feel that there was any risk of suffocation. Mothers are very in tune with their babies’ little movements. My kids moved to their own beds with no fuss at all. I was still nursing them at this point. Any time I felt like my milk supply was getting low, I would bring them back to bed with me and let them nurse all night. It never failed to bring my supply back up. I have noticed that most people who are against co-sleeping have not tried it for themselves.

    Sabrina wrote on January 18th, 2013
  20. I coslept with both of my children when they were infants, and still snuggle them in bed now that they are older and I am a single mom. I don’t do so good with sleeping the nights they are at their Dad’s house.

    Jennifer wrote on January 18th, 2013
  21. My husband & I co-slept with our daughter for over a year. We didn’t start immediately but began to as it was easier for me to nurse her through the night. We stopped when she was about 14 months. It worked really well for us. Our mattress was on the floor with no boxspring or anything so if she rolled out (which she did a couple times), it wasn’t a big deal.

    Anyhoo, it worked for us & we were happy to do it. No two families are the same so what works for us may not work for everyone.

    Sam wrote on January 18th, 2013
  22. Great Mark, my coonhound read this and is only more determined to shove his way between us and under the sheets. WORST CHAPERONE EVER.

    Bjossa wrote on January 18th, 2013
  23. We have co-slept with all three of our babies. It was totally safe (I curled around the baby and was naturally super-attuned to their movements and positions), helped with breastfeeding, and it saved my sanity (with our first I tried the “get out of bed every hour to feed the baby” method, and it nearly killed me – never again). Co-sleeping rules! :)

    Diana wrote on January 18th, 2013
  24. Thank you for this insightful post. I’d like to add that I think there is a significant difference in the awareness of a mother/caregiver when the chid is in the same bed versus when the child is being held by the mother/caregiver. I have a 3 year old who still sleeps in my bed and he generally sleeps in the same position he has since the 1st night of his life- on top of me (also known as kangaroo care). When he was nursing (0-1.5 yrs) I slept with a sports bra on and he wore a diaper, there was always skin to skin contact and I was extremely in tune with his breathing patterns and various other needs such as diaper changes (hard to ignore when you feel your stomach become suddenly warm :/ ). There is something elemental that goes on with a mother’s hormones when her baby is near. I remember during his birth (water birth/no meds) going in and out of varying degrees of consciousness between contractions… being dreamily aware and then fading quickly back into sleep. My midwife said that your body produces a concoction of hormones that allows you to return to rest quickly between the contractions to conserve the mother’s energy stores and I think it must be something similar that occurs in cosleeping, albeit on a smaller scale. When I nursed I would rouse just enough to adjust my bra and the baby’s position, I’d drowse back to sleep (yes even with a baby latched on) only to wake five.. ten..twenty? minutes later when I sensed he had fallen back asleep (usually while still latched on), and I’d promptly readjust the sports bra and return to my own blissful sleep. I never understood my coworkers’ and friends’ complaints about sleepless nights. I can’t imagine stumbling into another room, assessing the baby, then trudging all the way to the kitchen to make up a bottle.. our bodies are smarter than our customs, I guess.. doesn’t say much about the direction of our society.

    Cassandra V wrote on January 18th, 2013
  25. This is the most absolute crap I have ever read.

    Stick to food Mark.

    This article is absolute rubbish mate.

    zeph wrote on January 19th, 2013
  26. My one daughter co-slept with both of her boys, now 9 and 4. ….they still sleep with her and her husband, especially the 4 year old. Plus their German shepherd also joins them. They have a California king sized bed.

    Lynna wrote on January 19th, 2013
  27. My daughter is 15 months, my wife went through the mill in the first days/weeks to have her breast feed. She slept in a cot in our room until she Was was about 9 months and now goes to sleep in her own bed/room and sleeps for about 3-4 hours before getting in with mum. I sleep in the spare room with a double to myself. We tried controlled crying to get her to go to bed without issue which worked. However we have now reached a point were continuing to breast feed and co sleep is the norm. Our little girl is extremely confident, happy and we all get a reasonable sleep. It hasn’t been easy and many friends of my wife who controlled cried their child or went straight up Ferber no doubt had more sleep to begin with. But now it’s teething time is here they all feel the end is nigh with only 5-6 hrs a night. In hindsight I wouldn’t change a thing. While I would never judge other people’s choices, co-sleeping and breast feeding is the most natural method of parenting for us. Period.

    Robert wrote on January 19th, 2013
  28. Our family co-sleeps, and I can’t imagine having it any other way. I have a 1 year old and 4 year old. Much of the 1st year for each of them was spent with me watching them sleep (or so it felt like). The biggest safety issue with the younger one was protecting her from her older sister rolling over on her (we kept them apart). As a mother, I never could sleep if the baby was out of my immediate protection (like if she fell asleep on my husband’s side of the bed.) We have a king size futon mattress on the floor with a toddler mattress next to it. My 4 year old is just starting to sleep in “her bed” some of the time.

    I am 35, and I slept with my parents off and on until I was about 6. This was pretty rare in my generation. I feel it made me closer to my parents. I vividly remember trying to match my breathing rate to my father’s while he slept. I think even very young infants do this naturally, and Dr. Sears (the baby one) thinks this may protect against sids. I’ve noticed when my sleeping baby paused her breathing, and I took a deep breath, she would do the same. I think every family should do what works for them, but this works for my family. And my husband is behind it 100%. We also have a separate futon in another room, where we can be intimate if the kids both get to sleep.

    Kathy wrote on January 19th, 2013
  29. Great article. We co-sleep, even past infancy. Ifjt now, it’s my husband, baby and I in a king size; the 2 year old’s twin is right next to ours (makes 1 giant bed!) and the 4 year old sleeps in his own twin a few feet away. EVERYONE gets more an better sleep this way.
    Your article is well wirtten-I think more people would co-sleep if it wasn’t so vilified (and if people don’t assume couch/chair sleeping is the same as bed sharing)
    Thanks for some positivity on this natural, instinctual behavior.

    Autumn wrote on January 19th, 2013
  30. As the only breast feeding bed sharing parent I know in my social circle (and yes I’m from the UK) I have loved reading this article and corresponding comments. My son is now 13 months old and is constantly commented on by strangers and family alike about how happy, smiley and affectionate he is, yet no credit is given to our life choice (‘choice’ instead of style as I am a full-time working professional who choose bed sharing after we’d bought all of the western parenting crap – moses basket, cot, baby monitor with cot sensor, glo egg room thermometer, etc – what a waste). Instead, I have received nothing but criticism, ‘friendly’ advice and stories of infant mortality from family, friends and health care professionals and so feel compelled to say, after living the first nine months of his life in fear, don’t knock it till you try it. I’m sure it’s the only reason why I’ve managed to survive going back to work full-time and stay with his father unlike the majority of family, friends who are all separating. Parenting isn’t easy, especially first time. We need to remember this and give credit where it’s due no matter the parenting style.

    Bbear21 UK wrote on January 19th, 2013
  31. I’m a police officer and I have been to many infant deaths due to co-sleeping. Its always a terrible scene to see a dead infant because they were smothered in their sleep. I have seen it in couches and beds. I personally have co-slept with our children as toddlers but we don’t allow our infants in the bed because of this. Not judging if you do, but its just not worth the risk to me.

    Mike wrote on January 19th, 2013
  32. I co-slept with all 4 of my children for 2 years each. The best thing we ever did, I never suffered from lack of sleep that other parents complain about, when they woke up I stuffed a breast in their mouth and dozed off, they drank until they were full and fell off the breast. Once they were over 6 weeks old I found that this worked so much better than picking them up, changing nappies and burping which seemed to wake everybody up. The kids slept between me and my husband and we never once rolled on top of them or got them tangled in blankets etc. Sleeping this way eliminates the need to ever do any controlled crying, my kids had no trouble going to sleep during the day on their own either. All of our kids were moved easily into their own room once they turned 2. I whole-heartedly recommend co-sleeping.

    Betty wrote on January 19th, 2013
  33. I sort of cosleep – I have a 22 month old and ever since he was around 7 months old he would wake up once, between 12am-2am and i would put him in my bed (he sleeps next to our bed) and then we’d spend the rest of the night together. He’s never had difficulties falling asleep but he always woke up that one time. He now sleeps in a toddler bed in our room and the same still happens – falls asleep happily in his bed but come that time he wants in.
    The only reason I haven’t “really” co-slept is I don’t understand how people go to bed as early as their kid. That (when they go to bed) is my time to myself, clean the kitchen, hang out with the hubby, etc. I just couldn’t go to bed at 8pm or whatever. But I do love sleeping with him and treasuring those times so I’m in no rush to push him out. I would love to know how people make “real” co-sleeping work, bed time wise. Thanks!

    ticagirl wrote on January 19th, 2013
  34. Co-sleeping = best thing ever. We did it with all 3 of our kids. All healthy, no problems, no baby pancakes in the morning. Great bonding experience, great for mothers who breastfeed ( you don’t even have to get out of bed). No dependency issues or separation issues, even though we used to carry them around everywhere in slings and carriers. I am a Dad by the way.

    Dipper wrote on January 20th, 2013
  35. I was fortunate to read about the “sidecar” arrangement in one of Dr. Bill Sears’ baby books while I was pregnant with my first – we took one of the rails off the crib and put it up against my side of the bed, it was wonderful! I had my space but could breastfeed easily throughout the night. My husband was never disturbed and we didn’t worry that either of us would roll over on the baby. After 2 years of age (when I would begin the weaning process) we transitioned our son to the bedroom across the hall and it was not a problem. Repeated the same process with my daughter and it worked wonderfully then too! I would never have been able to manage breastfeeding on demand if I had had to get up and go to another room everytime I nursed. My mother dropped my brother after falling asleep in a rocking chair, luckily he was not hurt, but I never forgot that story!

    Suzanne wrote on January 20th, 2013
  36. Working in Emergency Medicine I’ve personally seen the deaths of ten infants as a direct result of suffocation from sleeping in the bed with the parent(s). It may not be a huge percentage but it’s still enough for me to know I’ll never do it.

    Mike wrote on January 20th, 2013
  37. When I was pregnant with my first child, my sister-in-law mentioned cosleeping and I was very firmly “No way, our baby will sleep in his/her own bed.” Then he was born, and I couldn’t even contemplate him sleeping an entire metre away in the hospital cot, and that was that – he never once slept in a cot. We bought a bigger bed, and when we had our second child 2 1/2 years later, we added a single bed pushed up against it and that was our big family bed. We also had a double bed in the children’s bedroom so if hubby needed a good sleep, he could bail there, or sometimes I’d sleep there with the youngest – actually, there was a lot of musical beds that went on. I got SO much more sleep than if they’d been in a different bed, because I didn’t have to get up (or even wake up properly) to feed them. The children gradually moved into their own beds at some stage, we hardly noticed it was so gradual and not a big deal.
    So it worked really beautifully for our family – like absolutely everything though, what works for one family won’t necessarily work for another.
    As for safety – it is really a non issue on a bed. (Drinking/drugs and young children you’re responsible for don’t go together anyway, so that was a non issue for us too.)

    Satch wrote on January 20th, 2013
  38. We have co-slept with our three kids and it was the best decision for all of us. With the first kid, we both tended to listen more to the people around and doubted what we were doing and did not co-sleep 100% as with the younger kids and I still regret it. My instincts were telling me to sleep together, but the social pressure was strong and it took some time to be strong enough to follow my feelings.
    Our younger kids never slept in a crib, we just put a bunch of mattresses on our floor, creating a huge bed where everyone could fit and was welcome, including our oldest that sometimes still needed a cuddle during the night. I breast fed all the kids, the younger ones tandem for over a year and cannot imagine during this without being all in one bed.
    When other parents of young kids complained about not getting enough sleep, I never really knew what they were talking about. Yes, there was the occasional wild teething or growth spurt night, but overall we all got a lot of sleep.
    Last month, our middle four year old child decided to move to her own bed and her little sister followed her. I have to say that I miss them (even though they come back for a part of the night here and there). I enjoyed sleeping with them and felt everyone was safe while being together. I guess that is some primal feeling in me. Now when they all sleep elsewhere, I keep waking up somewhat nervous.

    Aknela wrote on January 20th, 2013
  39. We have coslept with our 6 month old her entire life. She was a big baby and needed to nurse often but also she demanded to be held whenever awake when she was a newborn, crying whenever she was put down, often fussing as soon as she felt she was about to put down. This fear of being left alone subsided at about 3 months, and I believe cosleeping really helped her feel secure that mom would always be there if she needed. Now, she can sit and play and I can even leave her sight without her becoming unnerved.

    Elizabeth wrote on January 21st, 2013
  40. We room shared with our daughter for the first 2 months, but the noises she made and the noises we made were keeping us all awake. While it was easier to check on her instead of having to walk across the house, it’s SO much better now that she is in her own room.
    I don’t think I would ever bed share though. DOn’t care if others do it, but I don’t trust myself or my husband enough to do it safely. Plus, I like my space 😛

    LisaL wrote on January 21st, 2013

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