Here’s research on just how safe co-sleeping is, plus benefits, drawbacks, and guidelines for safely cosleeping with baby + tips from other natural mamas.
Baby-wearing, breastfeeding, and cosleeping with baby are some of the main tenants of attachment parenting, but the latter is sometimes met with criticism and stern warnings.
Still, cosleeping is more prevalent than most people think. Parents often say that baby sleeps in his or her crib when, in reality, mom and baby sleep together at least part of the night. Ask your non-cosleeping friends. You’d be surprised how many actually do co-sleep without knowing (or admitting) it!
During their first three months of life, up to 70% of babies in Europe and America will have coslept with their parents one or more times.(5) (After that come the 4 month sleep regression and a lot of parents start co-sleeping at that time)
And why shouldn’t they?
Cosleeping with baby is the biological norm
Cosleeping with baby is culturally accepted in many non western societies today. And, of course, for most of human history, co-sleeping was the norm in all cultures.
And it makes sense: In hunter-gatherer societies, a newborn or baby sleeping away from mom is more prone to danger and has to cry to get mom’s attention, which could put the group at risk of predatory attack. On the other hand, a baby nestled close to mom can nurse without fully waking (and without fully waking mom either).
What exactly is co-sleeping?
Co-sleeping is the act of a newborn, baby, or child sleeping close to one or both parents. While some people consider co-sleeping to mean that baby is within arm’s reach, others qualify it as parents and baby sleeping in the same room. This could mean baby has their own bed (or crib) in the same room, a bed adjacent to the parent’s bed, or sleeping in the same bed as one or both parents.
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The benefits of cosleeping with baby
- Studies show that babies sleeping in the same room as parents have a lower risk of SIDS (1).
- Cosleeping can reduce nighttime separation anxiety.
- Co-sleeping can result in more sleep for baby and mom. Mom doesn’t have to wake fully, get out of bed, and go to another room for feedings or to comfort baby.
- Less stress and struggle at bedtime and through the night.
- Easier nighttime nursing, which helps maintain a good milk supply.
- Helps mom and baby sync their sleep patterns, which can make for easier feedings.
- Helps working moms get more time with baby.
- Can help a fussy child sleep at night.
Are there disadvantages to co-sleeping?
- Potentially less intimacy with partner (although, as cosleeping couples know, there are other places to have sex besides the bedroom).
- Less restful sleep. Some parents and some babies may sleep better alone.
- Many studies point to a connection between cosleeping and SIDS (2).
Is cosleeping with baby safe?
Although this research has been criticized, a 2014 study published in Pediatrics determined that nearly 74% of deaths in babies younger than 4 months occurred in a bed-sharing situation. The study looked at data from 8,207 infant deaths that occurred between 2004 and 2012. Among older infants (4 months to 1 year old), the rate was slightly lower at nearly 59 percent. (2)
Critics of this study point out that smoking, alcohol, and drug use were not taken into consideration, which can often be the culprit with baby fatalities. The lead researcher is hoping to conduct another large study that takes into account these issues. Although possibly flawed, the studies have raised awareness of the need to co-sleep safety.
These contraptions can add additional assurance to parents.
Guidelines to cosleeping with baby safely
- Breastfed babies seem to be the safest sleeping next to mom (versus near dad or another child).
- (Bottle-fed babies are safer in a separate sleeping space in the same room, since they sleep more deeply.) (4)
- Baby should be placed to sleep on his back, on a firm mattress with tight fitting sheets.
- Do not have loose pillows or blankets near the baby’s face.
- Leave no space between the mattress and the wall where baby could roll into and get stuck.
- Do not co-sleep or put baby to sleep on a couch!
- No stuffed animals or bumpers in the bed.
- Parents who smoke (and moms who smoked during pregnancy) should not bedshare.
- Parents who consume alcohol or drugs or are on medications that make them sleepy should not bedshare.
- Parents who sleep very deeply, are obese, sleepwalk, or are generally less aware of baby’s presence and location while sleeping should consider a sidecar arrangement.
- Babies under one year old should not sleep next to other children.
- Baby should not be swaddled so that they can alert a parent when they are too close.
- Baby should not be overdressed (overheating is a risk factor for SIDS).
Room sharing is recommended by AAP
While co-sleeping isn’t recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, room sharing is for the sake of baby’s health. (3)
In fact, the AAP just increased their recommendation for room sharing from the first 6 months of baby’s life to the first year of baby’s life due to the decreased risk of SIDS.
Room sharing is as simple as having baby’s bassinet or crib on the side of parent’s bed.
It isn’t all or nothing
I think a big stumbling block to co-sleeping is that some parents feel like they have to do it all the time including when baby is sleeping through the night. But just like moms will practice baby-led weaning and feed their babies purees, the same can be said for cosleeping with baby. For example, let’s say you had some drinks or were out late night with friends… that is not a good night to co-sleep. Or perhaps dad has strep throat or mom has the stomach flu. These might be instances when putting baby in her own sleeping space is better.
The point is you can be flexible with what works for your family.
Did Mama Natural co-sleep?
We used this co-sleeper side car with both kids when they were newborns. Later, our babies graduated to a crib in their own room.
There are two reasons why. The first is that I am a very deep sleeper. My family used to joke that nothing would wake me up. The second is that my husband Michael is a very light sleeper, and he struggles to stay asleep during the night. Given our sleep “baggage,” we found that cosleeping beyond that newborn stage didn’t work well for our family.
I do know many couples who LOVE co-sleeping and find that it has enriched their family life. Let’s hear from a few of them now…
Here’s what other natural mamas have to say about cosleeping with baby…
- My son is 9 months old and sleeps with me and my husband. It felt right for us from day one. He nurses on demand and it is such a wonderful experience. – Jessica H.
- I am a very particular sleeper so I cannot be comfortable with the baby in bed, even laying down to nurse I feared my breast would suffocate the baby constantly. Also, my husband is a heavy sleeper and as a fire fighter who has seen terrible things happen with co sleeping and babies sleeping on parents chests. – Traci F.
- I think it’s just normal and natural. It’s easier and also wonderful for that little being to know that mama is right there snuggling right up to you..what a comfort. – Nadia T.
- I cosleep with my kids until they make the decision to leave. Much like weaning. – Jennifer B.
- I have been co sleeping for almost 5 1/2 years (now with my 11 mo old) and I don’t love it. – Amelia R.
- As much as I was comfortable and even wanting to cosleep it just could not work for me and my daughter (5months old). Her and I are both terribly light sleepers. Every last fidget, kick, or whimper would keep me awake and her too. Once she started sleeping in her crib for naps and bedtime we both got more sleep. – Megan K.
- I do not co sleep. I can not sleep with my children in bed with me. Always have had a hard time sleeping. It’s just the way I am. – Sarah N.
- I love co-sleeping! It is natural! Why do we try so hard from birth to make our babies independent? They are not! They need our love and embrace. – Jessica B.
- We are bedsharing with our 2nd baby. He’s 16mos now. We bedshared with our daughter until she was 3. Then we would lay with her until she fell asleep. Now she has a bed in our room. – Megan Q.
- My daughter and I coslept her first three months, then I needed some space so I sidecarred the crib until six months. Then once she started moving she decided bedtime was playtime!! So she has been in a crib ever since. – Karina M.
How about you?
Did you practice co-sleeping? Please share your experience in the comments below!