Co-sleeping has caused a fair amount of controversy in the media over the years because it has been linked to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) in infants, but there are so many variations to co-sleeping that I think it deserves a closer look. Let’s look at the co-sleeping pros and cons as well as look at how to do things more safely.
After looking at the research, co-sleeping can reduce the likelihood of SIDS provided that the baby is not bed-sharing with the parents. Overall, both parents and infants were able to sleep better and breastfeeding mothers had an easier time feeding at night.
While there are risks with any behavior, we have had great success with both co-sleeping and bed-sharing with our infant son during his first year. As always, proper precautions should always be taken to ensure that your child is safe in your own eyes!
What is co-sleeping?
Co-sleeping with your baby really just means that you are sleeping close enough so that you can both tell that the other person is nearby not necessarily right next to each other. Basically, you can see, hear, and touch your baby easily and vice versa. Here are some common setups for a baby that is co-sleeping:
- Crib located in parents room near to parents’ bed
- Bassinet sitting separately next to parents’ bed
- Bassinet or sidecar attached to the bed so that the baby can move back and forth easily
- Specialized baby pillow or bed located on top of the parents’ bed
- Baby is sleeping directly in the parents’ bed next to a parent
There are so many variations to co-sleeping that it makes it a little difficult to sort out the pros and cons of co-sleeping without looking at the individual types.
Note: The American Associated of Pediatrics makes a distinction between co-sleeping/bed sharing and room sharing. In their definition, co-sleeping will always involve the child in the parents’ bed.
How many people co-sleep with their babies?
It’s tough to find definitive data on how many parents are co-sleeping with their babies because there are so many different variations to look through directly. It looks like there really aren’t many studies on co-sleeping in general, and most of the data tends to come from studies on bed-sharing – when the baby is actually sleeping in the bed next to the parents.
- According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a 2015 survey of mothers found that 61.4 percent of them reported bed sharing with their baby at some point.
- Another study conducted by the Children’s Mercy Hospital and Clinics of Kansas City, MO found that 45 percent of parents reported that they bed shared at least once in the past two weeks.
- At least recently, parents that bed shared exclusively more than doubled from 1993 to 2010 – from 6.5 percent to 13.5 percent, according to Psychology Today.
Co-sleeping Pros and Cons
Obviously, many people are choosing to co-sleep with their babies, and there are a lot of co-sleeping pros and cons. A lot of the advantages center around the relationship a mother has with her baby and the perceived safety and extra convenience that comes with having the baby nearby. Most of the negatives stem from the increased risks associated with bed sharing and SIDS – a real danger.
Co-sleeping with your baby really just flat out makes things easier in most situations. Just think about all of the worries that come when your baby is sleeping in another room. Even with a monitor, how many times do you catch yourself walking in there to see if they are breathing and getting no sleep in the process? Here are just a few reasons why you might want to co-sleep, especially with the baby within arm’s reach:
- It can help prevent SIDS – This is obviously part of the controversy, but studies have shown that a baby sleeping on a separate, safe surface in the same room as his parents can lower his chance of SIDS by up to 50 percent. This is a strong argument for at least putting the crib or bassinet near the bed in the parents’ bedroom.
- It makes you feel better – When your baby is born, there is a real sense of attachment that comes with it. Having your baby close to you satisfies that physical and emotional need.
- Everyone can get more sleep – The extra feelings of safety and security that come with co-sleeping can help everyone relax a bit more and get more sleep overall. Instead of having to wait for the baby to cry out at night in distress because of hunger or something else, quiet murmurings can wake the mother up earlier and more gently.
- Breastfeeding is easier – Mothers that choose to breastfeed (Awesome!) can find that breastmilk doesn’t seem to fill their baby’s belly up overnight as formula would. Frequent feedings throughout the night can be disruptive if the baby is out of reach. As a bonus, a lot of nighttime feedings can help increase your milk supply!
- It just feels more natural – There weren’t a lot of cribs and bassinets available to our ancient ancestors. During those times, mothers probably slept right next to their children on the ground or on whatever bedding they had crafted. Keeping the baby close ensured that he could eat at night, wouldn’t wander off, and wasn’t vulnerable to predators. I think that human mothers have probably evolved over the years to value this type of arrangement.
Like I said before, there have been numerous studies showing a relationship between bed-sharing and SIDS. The reality is that babies will always be in some danger of suffocating or otherwise hurting themselves while they are sleeping because they don’t have the muscle control or reflexes to wake themselves up and move when they are in a compromised position. If they are in the bed, parents could also roll onto the baby and crush or suffocate them unknowingly.
As parents, we have to be aware of all of the potential threats to the safety of our baby and be smart about removing them from the equation. Just because they aren’t bed-sharing doesn’t mean your child is completely safe from SIDS either – many of them occur elsewhere.
Here are a few notable facts about SIDS:
- The CDC recorded 39.4 cases of SIDS per 100,000 live births in 2015. With 4 million births that year, that means 1,176 deaths.
- Most cases of SIDS involved babies getting trapped under bedding or pillows, falling into gaps between the bed, sleeping on the side or stomach, or sleeping on sofas or other non-flat surfaces.
- Drugs and alcohol can dramatically increase the risk of SIDS because the parents may be less aware of their baby and less likely to wake up if there is a problem.
Apart from SIDS risk, there are a few other potential co-sleeping negatives that you should think about such as:
- Harder to transition the baby to a crib – It’s not always the case, but co-sleeping with a baby can make it harder for them to move to a separate crib or bed later on because they get used to sleeping in your big bed. It seems as though the longer you wait to make this transition, the worse it gets.
- It could disrupt your baby’s sleep – Some studies show co-sleeping babies tend to wake up more often, and these extra disruptions were still seen at 18 months.
The current recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics
In 2016, the AAP updated their official recommendations around co-sleeping pros and cons. This advice is meant to maximize the benefit and minimize the risks for you and your baby:
- Place babies on their backs to sleep. They should be on a flat, firm surface like a crib or bassinet with a tightly fitted sheet.
- There shouldn’t be any soft bedding, crib bumpers, blankets, toys, or pillows inside the sleeping area.
- They should be in the same room, but not the same bed, as the parents until they are at least one year old.
- Avoid any exposure to smoking.
- Parents should avoid the use of alcohol and drugs.
- Parents or caregivers that feel sleepy while holding a baby should immediately move the baby to a safe sleeping area.
Our situation and personal views on the co-sleeping pros and cons
Clearly, there are a lot of potential co-sleeping pros and cons that we have to consider as parents before deciding to room share, co-sleep, or bed share. You will need to weigh those risks and benefits to see what makes the most sense for your situation.
As for us, we have bed shared with our third baby almost exclusively since he was born. For my wife, it has made the most sense because she is breastfeeding him and it has made things much easier for her to manage as far as that goes. In the beginning, they struggled a little with the breastfeeding process and milk supply. She was trying to feed him as often as possible to make sure he stayed full, and she was producing what he needed.
We were definitely scared in the beginning to let him sleep in the same bed because we had always heard about the dangers of SIDS and didn’t want to put him at risk. We tried using a bassinet next to the bed, but he didn’t take to it well at all, and we ended up just using it for naps.
Here was our game plan for safe co-sleeping:
- Having a big, king-size bed to make sure that we all had plenty of room
- No dog or other kids in the bed with us at the same time
- Blankets and pillows kept to a minimum.
- Probably the biggest game changer was the Snuza Hero that my wife picked up. It’s a breathing monitor that sounds an alarm if the baby stops breathing for 15 seconds and it really gave us both a lot of peace of mind at night.
Overall, my wife always felt better connected to the baby sleeping next to him, and she found herself highly attuned to his movements and location from the beginning. They tend to sleep close to one another, but not touching unless he is actually breastfeeding, so there is definitely some separation as well.
What is everyone else’s opinion on the pros and cons of co-sleeping? What’s your setup? Did we leave anything out of our take on it? Let us know in the comments below!
What about sleep sacks? I just tackled this topic in a recent blog post all about whether or not your baby needs a sleep sack. They can be highly effective and safe if used correctly!