The Truth About Co-Sleeping

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Truth CoSleeping

The sleeping practices of the early months of your baby’s life often shape the way he sleeps for the first few years. When welcoming a baby, parents often do not think about how sleeping arrangements will impact their daily lives.

Benefits of co-sleeping

It is well known that contact with parents boosts the development of babies early on, and this extends to sleeping. A happy baby is more likely to fall asleep than an agitated or lonely baby. The major benefits of co-sleeping are that everyone generally gets more sleep, breastfeeding is easier for night feedings, and childhood anxiety is reduced. Drawbacks of co-sleeping for the parents include less privacy, sharing of space, and less comfort due to reduced sleep.

Risk of SIDS

In addition to the benefits, sleeping in the same bed as your infant also comes with its own risks, the most important of which is the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). SIDS is an unexplained death, usually during sleep, of a seemingly healthy baby less than a year old. While largely unexplained, some combinations of sleep environmental factors can make an infant more vulnerable to SIDS, such as sleeping on the stomach or side, sleeping on a soft surface such as a couch or a parent, bed-sharing, and overheating. While the risk of SIDS is lower when babies sleep in the same room as their parents, the risk increases if they sleep in the same bed with pets, siblings, or their parents. New parents should be aware of the do’s and don’ts of baby sleep safety.

Many parents believe that rolling over onto their infants won’t happen to them because they are light sleepers. While this may be true when one is well rested, the early days of parenthood can exhaust even the most hardy of people, and good quality sleep is most likely achieved by not worrying about the safety of your children. Experts say that the majority of sleep-related fatalities in babies are caused by sharing a bed. However, the reality is that bedsharing is a norm in families all across the world, often with more than 1 child sharing the bed with parents.

Expert recommendations

The American Academy of Pediatrics recognizes that proximity to parents is important for the well-being of newborns, and recommends that infants should share their parents’ bedroom for at least the first six months and, optimally, for the first year of life. However, official recommendations still maintain that direct co-sleeping and bedsharing is dangerous for infants, and might increase the risk of SIDS.

The good news is that there is a middle ground between cutting off nightly contact with your child and having them in your bed. The compromise, being adopted by many parents, is to place your baby in an adjoining bed or bassinet next to the parents’ bed, as opposed to in the bed. This practice is supposed to decrease the likelihood of SIDS by a whopping 50%.

In the early days after birth, it may be tempting to co-sleep with your baby and breastfeed at the same time while dozing off. While this practice is easy and feels natural, it is associated with increased risk of suffocation or accidental injury. After feeding, the AAP encourages parents to move the baby to his or her separate sleeping space in the parents’ bedroom.

Variations of co-sleeping arrangements

There are many different ways that parents and children can co-sleep and make it work for them while minimizing the risks of SIDS. These include sharing a bed, putting 2 beds side-by-side, sleeping in the same room, and temporal co-sleeping in which the child is welcomed into the parents’ bed as needed. Here are some strategies that might improve the sleeping experience of your family.

Get a bigger bed: Putting up barriers in the same bed may work to carve out a space for your baby that is uniquely his without being right next to each other. Mattress manufacturers have come out with custom mattresses for people who need a bigger sleeping space, such as the California King sized bed. Or if you don’t want to splurge on a custom made model, putting 2 mattresses side-by-side will also do the trick.

Temporal co-sleeping: Many think of co-sleeping as an absolute arrangement set in stone, but many families practice temporal co-sleeping, which means sharing a bed some of the time. This could mean putting babies to bed in their own bed, and during the night, bringing them to sleep in the parents’ bed when they wake. This type of arrangement may be a good way to transition kids to sleeping in their beds full time when the time comes. This arrangement is also a good middle ground between full-time co-sleeping and separate sleeping, in which babies learn to sleep on their own, with the knowledge that if they need comforting, they will eventually get to sleep with their parents. The added security of knowing they are not entirely alone can be a great aid to sound sleep. In contrast to full-time co-sleeping, in which parents need to sleep at roughly the same time as their kids, temporal co-sleeping means that parents can potentially have more time at night to go about their own business and have more privacy.

Set clear expectations: For co-sleeping to work, clear boundaries must be set about when it’s appropriate to bed-share and when it is not. Parents should be mindful of regressions, and changes in behavior as the babies grow up. Expectations need to be adjusted constantly, so that everyone is on the same page.

The truth about co-sleeping

The truth about cosleeping is that it is a special arrangement between the parents and child, or children, and there is no one definition about how it can be done. The most important goal is to make sure your baby is safe, secure, and content.

Jenny Cai
Jenny Cai has a Master's degree in Experimental Medicine. She currently works as a medical writer and editor, and has a background in developmental neurobiology. She likes blogging about current science topics and health issues, especially childhood development. When she's not writing, she likes practicing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, long distance hiking, and playing with her 2-year old daughter.

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