Experts Weigh In on Co-Sleeping—and What They Say Might Surprise You
Nasiba Adilova is co-founder of the parenting lifestyle destination and e-commerce shop The Tot. The Tot aims to provide moms with unbiased advice when navigating motherhood’s challenges, as well as give moms a place to shop entirely toxin-free merchandise. Here, Adilova gives MyDomaine readers expert insights on one of the most debated topics in parenting: co-sleeping.
The debate about co-sleeping is a long-standing one, with each side accusing the other of potential long-term damage to babies’ development. Still, the decision of whether or not to co-sleep, aka bed-share, is a very personal one and completely up to the parenting unit.
Even though 80% of breastfeeding mothers choose to co-sleep, it’s still considered socially taboo to admit that you share a bed with toddlers or older children. The opponents of co-sleeping claim that the biggest risks include SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome), over-dependent children, and an interference with the parents’ sexual relationship. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics officially warned that bed-sharing was associated with an increase in SIDS and recommended against the practice.
There are, however, many doctors who are proponents of co-sleeping. The world’s leading authority on parent-infant co-sleeping, anthropologist and professor James McKenna, argues that SIDS rates are in fact lower in countries where co-sleeping is the norm, a claim backed by the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health.
In an article for Paediatric Respiratory Reviews, McKenna argues that co-sleeping with a breastfeeding infant promotes bonding, regulates parents’ and babies’ sleep patterns, helps parents become more responsive to their babies’ cues, and gives both parents and babies much-needed rest.
Studies by The Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology and the Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing have found that a co-sleeping environment also assists mothers with breastfeeding on demand, an important step in maintaining the mother’s milk supply.
Co-sleeping is also one of the major pillars of pediatrician William Sears’s attachment-parenting theory, which encourages parents to (safely) co-sleep. Strong parent advocates of attachment parenting believe that families who use a crib won’t have as close a bond with their babies.
Additionally, research from Infant and Child Development shows that children who co-slept as babies exhibited higher self-reliance and a greater degree of social independence. On the flip side, pediatricians like Benjamin Spock and Robert Bucknam claim that bed-sharing could encourage selfishness, clinginess, and other negative behaviors in children.
Regardless of your own position in the debate, the key to any sleeping arrangement is understanding and eliminating potential risk factors. Step one is to educate yourself on safe sleeping arrangements.
If you choose to co-sleep or bed-share, James McKenna, PhD, suggests the following safety guidelines:
- Parents should not sleep with their babies if they are smokers or have ingested alcohol or drugs, including sleeping medications.
- Co-sleep only on beds, not on couches or recliners.
- Bedding should fit tight to the mattress.
- The mattress itself should fit tight to the bed’s headboard.
- There shouldn’t be any loose pillows or soft blankets near the baby’s face.
- There should not be any space between the bed and adjoining wall where the baby could roll and become trapped.
- The baby should not be placed on its stomach.
There are many ways to co-sleep. For some, it’s bed-sharing, while others just share a parent’s room. Some parents even sleep on a mattress in the baby’s room. It’s important to keep in mind that as babies grow and change, so do their sleeping patterns. The right choice is to respond in a way that feels natural to you and allows the family as much rest as possible.
Visit The Tot to read more practical parenting advice from the experts.