Many parents wonder if the family bed is a good choice for themselves and their babies. While it offers some convenience, especially during the breastfeeding stage, there are also some safety concerns that all parents should consider. Ultimately sharing a bed with your tot is a personal decision, but knowing the pros, cons and safety guidelines should be part of your decision-making process.
Some parents find the family bed to be comforting and results in more sleep for both baby and parents. Co-sleeping is more convenient for nighttime breastfeeding; Moms and babies need not move much for feedings. Less movement and disturbances makes it easier for both to get back to sleep quickly. Additionally, if mom is sleeping next to baby, their sleep patterns will sync, which may increase sleeping time for both as well. Studies show babies sleep more soundly next to their parents, who can soothe them back to sleep if they wake in the night. Additionally, parents find cuddling during co-sleeping to be a bonding experience and offers their baby emotional security and stability. During this fleeting stage of infancy, co-sleeping can keep the family close and strengthen the family unit.
On the flip side, co-sleeping may cause problems for parents and babies immediately and in the future. The American Academy for Pediatrics reports more instances of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) occur when babies are sleeping in adult beds alongside their parents. In an adult bed, the risk of suffocation from bedcovers, pillows and parents is increased. Therefore, the AAP recommends against co-sleeping for the safety of babies. Instead, the AAP recommends a dedicated safe sleeping environment for babies.
In addition to an increased of SIDS cited by the AAP, parents tend to sleep less in the family bed because they are woken by the noises and movements of their babies. In some cases babies also sleep less because parents are over-attentive and cause more wakefulness from soothing and calming babies who may have otherwise gone back to sleep quickly on their own. Some experts believe co-sleeping discourages independence in the sleeping environment. Babies don’t learn to put themselves to sleep or fall back asleep, which carries over into toddlerhood and beyond. Parents also have less privacy when babies sleep in their beds.
Many people find the best compromise to the co-sleeping conundrum is to allow their babies, especially newborns, to sleep in their own cribs or bassinets in the parents bedroom. Parents can be close enough to comfort baby and breastfeed easily, while still maintaining a safe environment in baby’s own sleeping space. For infants that means no pillows, blankets, toys, bumpers or even overhead mobiles in or around a crib. Nothing should be within arms reach for baby to pull down into the crib either. If the comfy cozy time is what parents are seeking from co-sleeping, they can have a pre-bedtime routine of snuggling with their baby to ensure a solid bond and lots of love is shared between them. Also, breastfeeding throughout the day offers that same comforting intimacy between moms and babies.
If you do choose to co-sleep with your baby, take the necessary precautions to keep her safe: Never leave the baby unattended in an adult bed. Make sure there are no spaces that your baby could fall through, such as next to a wall or between the mattress and headboard or footboard. Keep extra blankets, pillows and sheets away from your baby to avoid suffocation. Do not wear clothing or jewelry or bring anything into the bed with long strings that could be a strangling hazard. Keep older children and pets away from the bed while your baby is sleeping. Never smoke in bed with your baby and make other sleeping arrangements for your baby if you’ve been drinking or are under the influence of any type of drug that will make you less aware of your baby’s presence.
Co-sleeping should be a joint decision between parents. Both parents should read and understand the benefits and risks and make a decision that fits their family. If both parents agree, whether it’s co-sleeping or independent sleeping or something in-between, the entire family is likely to sleep more peacefully. And a rested family is a happy family.