Is co-sleeping with your children a good idea?
- Infants sleeping on their own and away from their parents is a relatively modern Western practice, with co-sleeping being the norm before the late 1700s.
- A University of Durham study revealed that moms who co-sleep with their babies breastfeed longer than those who do not.
- A Psychology Today MomConnection poll showed that 13% of moms allow their 8-12 year-olds to sleep with them every night.
- For about 20% of babies, sleep training (i.e., sleeping away from their parents) is not successful for a variety of reasons.
While parents might think co-sleeping offers a solution to fussy nights and promotes bonding, the risks far outweigh the benefits. Co-sleeping is not only dangerous and carries the risk of possible death, but it also affects sleep quality and creates problems with independence as a child grows.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) strongly discourages parents from sharing a bed with their children due to concerns about SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome), as well as suffocation and strangulation dangers. Analysis shows that as bed-sharing has become more prevalent in recent years, there have been rising numbers of deaths attributed to co-sleeping.
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) states that sleep-related deaths are mostly preventable with a safe sleep environment. This means that a baby or child should sleep in a separate bed--even if it’s in the same room as mom and dad--and that items such as pillows and blankets in an adult bed could be dangerous and fatal.
In addition to harboring a risk of death, studies demonstrate that children who co-sleep with their parents end up having problems sleeping as they get older. They experience shorter sleep duration, frequent wakings, and trouble falling back asleep, which is sure to create daytime issues with behavior, development, growth, and learning. Additionally, bed-sharing is blamed for making children dependent on their parents to fall asleep, a habit that’s nearly impossible to break as time goes by.
No amount of temporary relief is worth the long-term risks associated with co-sleeping.
For thousands of years, mammal mothers have exhibited the instinctive behavior of keeping their young near for the first stage of life. They nurse them, they nurture them, and they sleep with them. No one intervenes with this maternal act of co-sleeping in nature; however, the debate rages on when discussing humans.
The American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t encourage bed-sharing, but advises parents and newborns to share a room “for at least the first six months.” Especially when new mothers are nursing, close proximity increases breastfeeding, reduces sleep loss, and improves feelings of security.
Any safety concerns around co-sleeping are easily eliminated. According to research, the risk of SIDS is absent or very weak when obvious hazards (intoxication, sofas, smoking) are not present. Other safety tips like placing a baby on its back to sleep and avoiding pillows/bedding that could cover a baby’s face, etc., mitigate any risk. To suggest someone is incapable of practicing these precautions is offensive. Further, when adult beds are mislabeled as hazardous, it’s obviously based on biased information sponsored by organizations invested in promoting crib sales.
With “sleep training,” an “independence building” approach in which one lets a baby “cry it out,” possible unwanted emotional impacts far outweigh the developmental effects of co-sleeping (which are, conversely, overwhelmingly positive). Ignoring a crying infant can increase anxiety and insecurity because it’s not a behavior to correct, but literally a cry for help. Research consistently shows that co-sleeping “...appears to promote confidence, self-esteem, and intimacy.”