The Co-Sleeping Campaign That Backfired Completely

CoSleeping Campaign Backfired

To co-sleep, or not to co-sleep…that’s a hot, debatable topic these days! Of course, we work with families all over the world, who sleep in a variety of arrangements, so we pass no judgment. We make it our priority to respect every parent’s personal philosophies and goals.

But we also make it a priority to emphasize the important of safe sleep practices. And let’s face it, when it comes to co-sleeping, there is quite a debate out there about whether or not it’s a safe way to sleep.

The Overlooked Facts About Co-Sleeping

There’s a lot we could say about safe co-sleeping, but we’ve already made those points in this article, Is Co-Sleeping Dangerous?

But here’s the thing – we have learned a lot about how and why parents co-sleep in the 3 years since the American Academy of Pediatrics issued its warnings about the dangers of bed-sharing in 2011. The AAP went to great lengths then to issue warnings about the dangers of co-sleeping…and some states (New York and Wisconsin, for example) have taken up the call by creating their own anti-co-sleeping campaigns. The goal was to staunch the rising tide of infant deaths related to bed-sharing, and some of the tactics used in this anti-co-sleeping campaign were downright disturbing (like this image of baby sleeping next to a meat cleaver).

But it’s looking more and more like these campaigns have not only failed to make a meaningful difference in co-sleeping rates — it’s looking more and more like they have backfiredand it’s easy to see why.

For one, most of these campaigns strongly emphasize the dangers of sharing a bed with your baby – but really, sharing a bed is far, far less dangerous than parents sharing a couch with their babies, or a recliner. As Dr. Melissa Bartick shared in a recent article with WBUR, in Boston,

“As states have adopted the AAP 2011 recommendations, the advice to never sleep with your baby has backfired in the worst possible way. Rather than preventing deaths, this advice is probably even increasing deaths. Included in 2009 study that the AAP even cited in its statement for other conclusions, parents of two SIDS babies who slept with their infant on a sofa did so because they had been advised against bringing their infants into bed but had not realized the dangers of sleeping on a sofa. In fact, deaths from SIDS in parental beds has halved in the UK from 1984-2004, but there has been a rise of deaths from cosleeping on sofas.”

And it’s becoming clearer and clearer that not all co-sleeping is equal. An attachment parent who is committed to co-sleeping, and who is incredibly intentional about her family’s sleeping arrangements, is not at all the same as an parent who simply collapses on the sofa with baby on her chest, out of sheer exhaustion. So to treat ALL co-sleeping as dangerous is really unfair; we know that intentional co-sleeping, done safely and carefully, is actually quite safe indeed.

And finally (and perhaps most importantly), here’s what is most revealing about how fall short these anti co-sleeping campaigns have fallen: the evidence suggests that in spite of the AAP’s best efforts, over 40% of mothers report that they frequently or always share a sleep space with their child (and it’s likely the co-sleeping stats are grossly underestimated). The scare tactics simply aren’t working.

So what does this suggest? To us, it suggests that what we don’t need is a fear-based campaign designed to terrify mothers into not co-sleeping…instead, what we need is a comprehensive system to educate mothers about how to co-sleep safely and with intention, if they do choose to occasionally or frequently (or even always) share a sleeping space with their babies.

In some ways, this is like similar to the sex education that many teenagers receive in school. (Okay, not totally similar, but stick with me here!) There is lots of evidence that abstinence-based sex ed, on its own, is not nearly as effective as programs that teach both the value of abstinence AND safe-sex practices. You simply can’t terrify or persuade teenagers into not having sex, and hope that works. It doesn’t.

Similarly, you can’t terrify moms into not co-sleeping – the evidence suggests that they will anyway. So what if, instead, we focused on educating moms about what safe co-sleeping practices look like?

The fact is, as Dr. James McKenna points out, co-sleeping has been around since the dawn of time. We will never eradicate it, and campaigns that are designed to dissuade parents from sharing a sleep space with their children are bound to fail – whereas campaigns designed to educate and inform can only succeed.

How To Co-Sleep Safely

With all this talk about how to co-sleep safely, you may be wondering, “How exactly DO I co-sleep safely, anyway?” Glad you asked! These resources are great ones, if you want to educate yourself about safe co-sleeping practices:

  • Safe Co-Sleeping Guidelines
  • KellyMom Guide To Safe Co-Sleeping
  • Co-Sleeping Frequently Asked Questions
  • In the end, what we want to leave you with is this: there is no “right” or “wrong” sleeping arrangement for you and your baby, provided your sleeping arrangements are safe. Safe bed-sharing, safe room-sharing, safe crib-sleeping…it can all work! And your baby can sleep well, and peacefully, in any sleeping arrangement. The Baby Sleep Site® team is 100% committed to respecting your parenting goals, and your family’s sleeping arrangements, and we will work with you to improve your child’s sleep no matter what those arrangements look like. We will never pressure you to change you sleeping set-up; instead, we will work within the parameters you give us, and will respect them every step of the way.

    Browse our list of consultation package options here.

    Once you make your choice and purchase, you will immediately receive an e-mail with your Helpdesk login information. You’ll be able to login and start your Family Sleep History form right away – it’s that simple!

    Want more information about how personalized help works? Check out our FAQ page here, and get answers. You can also take a tour of the Helpdesk.

    What are your thoughts on co-sleeping? Any co-sleeping stories or tips to share?

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“>Essential Keys to Newborn Sleep Essential Keys to Your Newborn’s Sleep is THE newborn sleep book that will help you to not only improve your newborn’s sleep using gentle, sleep-inducing routines – it will also answer your feeding and newborn care questions. You can even buy a bundle package that includes the e-book AND a Personalized Sleep Plan™ PLUS a follow-up email to use for further support!
    bss_ebook_3stepsystem_leftFor those persistent nighttime struggles, check out The 3 Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep. Using the same unique approach and practical tools for success, this e-book helps you and your baby sleep through the night.
    bss_ebook_masteringnaps_leftIf you’re looking for ways to get your baby or toddler into a healthy sleeping routine during the day, I encourage you to explore Mastering Naps and Schedules, a comprehensive guide to napping routines, nap transitions, and all the other important “how-tos” of good baby sleep. With over 45 sample sleep schedules and planning worksheets, Mastering Naps and Schedules is a hands-on tool ideal for any parenting style.
    bss_ebook_5steptoddler_smalFor those persistent toddler sleep struggles, check out The 5 Step System to Help Your Toddler Sleep. Using the same unique approach and practical tools for success, this e-book helps you and your toddler sleep through the night and enjoy a better daytime schedule.

    Nature or Nurture- Which is More Important to Help Your Baby Sleep?

    baby sleep twins case study“Mom….,” comes an exasperated sigh from my daughter, “the boys are awake again!” As a mother of fraternal twin boys (and a singleton daughter), I’ve heard this many times. Often though, I’d enter their bedroom, and find the same one of them up, crying, ready to get out of his crib, and the other asleep, just starting to rustle at the noise from the door.

    Sound familiar? What really does make up the difference in sleep patterns between children? Those of you with one child who has sleep challenges may wonder, will we face this again with baby number two (or three, or four)—or is there something different that we can do next time? Can we change the sleep patterns of our current baby? And, every family with more than one child probably recognizes the similarities and differences in their children’s sleep.

    Rather than feeling twinges the green-eyed monster jealousy for your neighbor, because her baby sleeps through the night AND her baby naps well, let’s look at some new research on what factors do influence sleep. No wonder she has time to do her nails. :)

    An Italian study on twin sleep, just published this month in Pediatrics concludes that sleep disturbances in early childhood are shaped by BOTH environmental AND genetic factors. We knew that though, right? Remember the whole nature vs. nurture debate? This study found that nurture, or the environment that a child is raised with, affects sleep more than nature, or the genetic makeup of the child. Twin studies are invaluable to learn about topics like this, because they look at babies or children who share the same environment and genes (in the case of identical twins—fraternal twins only share about 50% of the same genetic makeup).

    The results of this study show, that while there are some things about our babies’ sleep that we can’t change based on their genes, the good news is that there is even MORE that we can change. This can help both us and them receive better rest, based on our sleep behaviors with them.

    So, don’t look at it with the glass half empty–thinking that your rocking, walking, or bouncing and holding until baby is asleep has prevented your baby’s chance at good sleep. In fact, you did what was right for her at the time! Maybe she was sick or teething, and you did what was necessary. The glass half full attitude, says, “Yes…I did what was right at the time, and now there are things I can change to help my baby sleep better.” It may be time to help coach your child toward better sleep.

    What factors did the study look at? It looked at factors that concern parents just like you ever day, such as:

    Co-sleeping 98% Environmental Causes
    Night waking episodes 63% Environmental Causes
    Night sleep duration 64% Environmental Causes
    Nap duration 61% Environmental Causes

    For each of these items, it means the things our baby does (especially co-sleeping, which isn’t necessarily bad, and many parents do by choice) are greatly influenced by our actions, and how we respond to our baby. There is no right or wrong when you do what’s best for your family. But, there are methods that can be implemented to help your family rest.

    As for me, at this point my twins are 18 months old, and I am quite convinced that their slight differences in night sleep and nap duration are genetic changes between the two. They sleep great at night, and 95% of the time nap well also. So, the fact that one boy wakes a few minutes than the other? I think that’s an example of the genetic differences between them. They are fraternal twins, so genetically more like regular siblings than an identical genetic makeup. I do keep them on exactly the same schedule, and learned by trial and error to do that when they were younger babies also. They have almost always slept in the same room, except when we were working with the one twin who sleeps a little less. Everything else was done consistently, so they have essentially the same sleeping patterns, not just because they are twin brothers—but because I coached them with the exact same sleep behaviors.

    The next time you hear a night time cry coming down the hall, question if this waking is natural for a needed feeding session or if it’s truly time to get up. If not, it may be something you could help change through the use of different behaviors and changing sleep associations.

    For those persistent nighttime struggles, check out The 3-Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep. Using the same unique approach and practical tools for success, this e-book helps you and your baby sleep through the night. For those looking for a more customized solution for your unique situation with support along the way, please consider one-on-one baby and toddler sleep consultations, where you will receive a Personalized Sleep Plan™ you can feel good about!

    This week’s post is by our new assistant sleep consultant, Heather Matthies. Heather will work with us to create personalized sleep solutions for tired families and provide support during the process. Heather is a registered nurse and holds both a Bachelor’s and Master’s of Science in Nursing. She has many years of professional experience and is a kind, warm person. She’s also the mother of three, including twins, and knows just what it’s like to juggle the many demands of parenthood! Please give Heather a warm welcome to The Baby Sleep Site.

    5 Reasons Why Your Baby is Night Waking and Won’t Sleep

    5 Reasons Your Baby Is Waking At Night

    A baby night waking is one of the most common issues that bring tired parents to The Baby Sleep Site. But, why exactly do babies wake at night? Why won’t your baby sleep? This article will discuss the 5 primary reasons for baby night waking.


    1. Sleep Prop

    The official name is “sleep association” but these are more widely known as “sleep props” or “crutches.” This is something your baby “needs” (using that term loosely) in order to sleep. For most babies, in my experience, this will be a pacifier, bottle, or breastfeeding (so a nipple of some sort because sucking is so soothing to them). For many others this might be movement such as rocking, bouncing, walking, the car, etc. Still fewer, some babies will wake for much less. It might be a hand on their back, just a little reassurance, picking them up for a minute, a snuggle with mom. For high-needs babies, they may need more than one (e.g. bouncing with a pacifier). This varies based on your baby’s temperament.

    The bigger the sleep prop, the easier to change, for most babies. Some babies’ sucking reflex is much stronger, though, that can be difficult to change depending on your baby’s age. Sometimes you need to avert their sucking to something besides a pacifier that is harder to find at night, for example. By far, I believe the “small” reasons for waking are much harder to change. Who wants to deny your baby a one-minute hug if he seems to need it, even though it’s exhausting to be woken up EVERY night at 4 a.m.? It becomes an issue of attempting to teach them that there is a right and wrong time for certain things such as 2 p.m. IS an appropriate time to play peek-a-boo, but 2 a.m.? Not so much. It is probably your fault your baby won’t sleep and that’s okay!

    2. Developmental Milestones

    When your baby is learning how to roll, crawl, pull up, cruise, walk, talk, etc. this can disrupt their night sleep (and your baby’s naps, too!). This might not be too surprising to you, since you know all too well when you have a lot on your mind, you might have trouble sleeping, too. This is particularly true during the 8, 9, or 10 month old sleep regression.

    One key here is to keep your expectations in check, because even when it doesn’t seem like your baby is learning something new doesn’t mean he isn’t. There is a lot to learn and you will be amazed just how much they change in a short amount of time. When your baby can learn how to go back to sleep on his own, this night waking can be a lot less disruptive for everyone. It doesn’t mean it will necessarily be perfect, but you hearing him wake once a night is a lot different than five times! Even better when he can go back to sleep on his own without a tear or your input whatsoever. Just because a baby wakes at night doesn’t mean he needs to “need” something.

    3. Teething

    Gah! Teething. It feels like babies teethe for what feels like a constant two years! Many people will throw in that they can teethe for a long time before a tooth even pops through, too. This makes you feel powerless, because you have to constantly wonder if teeth are trying to pop through or not. Is he in pain? Is this why my baby is waking all night? Then there is the “other” side who say teething does not disrupt sleep at all. Yeah…right. Because all babies are the same, right? I can tell you there are plenty of babies who are great sleepers, but wake for a week (or so) due to teething and then go back to sleeping well, so I know teething does affect some babies.

    Having a “teething plan” is of utmost importance. I tried to be sensitive to my sons during teething, but also had to keep sleep at the top of priorities for everyone’s sakes. My second son had a much rougher time with teething than his older brother (who inspired this site) who had more sleep problems, ironically! Finding a healthy balance of helping them through teething without creating a bunch of sleep props is the key to getting through the two years (or more) of teething. I think part of what got me through was what toddlers can teach you about sleep training.


    This one might seem obvious, but there are some people who are surprised when a 5 month old breastfed baby is still waking at night for a feeding or two, especially if their doctor has told them their baby should not need to eat at night. Keep in mind that to go all night without eating means going 12-13 hours without a feeding, since babies need a lot of sleep. Make sure you read about night feedings and when to night wean.

    5. Being Human

    This one seems to surprise people. A lot of new parents seem to be confused as to why their baby does not sleep the same every day. This is just a friendly reminder that our babies are not robots. I, too, wondered why my baby woke up at a different time every day or a different time at night for his feeding or took a different length nap every day. Not only did I wonder, but it drove me crazy!! I look back and wondered why I expected him to be the same every day. Perhaps it was the books I was reading. I honestly don’t know. There are some babies who you can set a clock by and then there are those like my son who’s different every. single. day. Without fail! Most of it is his temperament and the fact that not all babies are regular. I look at myself and realize that I am not 100% consistent every day, either. Sometimes I’m starving when I wake up and other days I’m not. Some days I’m starving for lunch by 11 a.m. and other days I wait until 1 p.m. to eat. Why did I expect my baby to be the same every day when I’m not? I’ll never figure that one out, but I can share my wisdom with you that our babies will have good days and bad days just like we do.

    There are many reasons a baby is waking at night (or any person for that matter) and the number of reasons increases with toddler sleep. Too cold, too warm, sick, and so on. The above reasons are just the five that seem to come up most frequently in sleep consultations. You may want to read about the ideal temperature for your baby to sleep and, of course, when your baby is miserable due to illness, make sure you comfort and tend to them so they can get better. As with any temporary sleep disruption, though, try to limit things that can become long-term habits.

    How To Help Your Baby Wake Less Often (And Possibly Sleep Through The Night!)

    Short or non-existent baby naps can be so frustrating – but you don’t have to suffer through them! You can teach your baby a new way to nap – and we can help. We have helped thousands of families around the world with their babies’ nap trouble, and we can help you, too! Take a look at our consultation packages, and see which one looks like a good fit for you.

    Click here to see all our personalized consultation packages.

    Once you purchase, you will immediately receive access to the Helpdesk, and you can set up your account, fill out your Family Sleep History form, submit it to a consultant, and get started on the journey to better sleep!

    Want more information about how personalized help works? Check out our FAQ page here, and get answers. You can also take a tour of the Helpdesk.

    bss_ebook_freeguide_leftWant FREE sleep help that you can put to use right away? Download a copy of our free guide, 5 Ways To Help Your Child Sleep Through The Night! The guide is available to download instantly, which means you can start using the techniques in it as early as tonight. So download now, and learn why your baby is waking at night – and what you can do about it.
    Click here to learn more about how to get your free guide.

    A better night’s sleep could be just a few clicks away. So don’t wait – download now, and start your journey to better sleep tonight!

    Need Baby and Toddler Sleep Help? We Have the Resources You Need!

    bss_ebook_3stepsystem_leftFor those persistent nighttime struggles, check out The 3 Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep. Using the same unique approach and practical tools for success, this e-book helps you and your baby sleep through the night.

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    What are some of the reasons your baby is waking at night?

    Getting Your Baby to Sleep in the Crib

    When you were pregnant, you probably took great care in designing your baby’s nursery and carefully selected the best items for your baby registry. One of the most important things in the nursery is your baby’s crib. After all, she will sleep in her crib for 2 to 4 years, right?

    Unfortunately, for some of us, sleeping in the crib is just a nice dream. After you had your baby, you might have purposely decided to keep baby in your room in a co-sleeper bassinet and imagined transitioning her to her own room and crib around 6 months old when she was sleeping through the night. When she turned 6 months, you might have learned it’s not that easy to transition baby to sleep in her crib and I’m here to help!

    One thing I want to emphasize is that only some people can sleep anytime, anywhere. My husband happens to be that way (as I’m typing this, he just started snoozing on the couch next to me). Only some of our babies will sleep in a stroller (my boys are NOT among them!) and only a few will transition to sleep in a crib without a hitch. For three days my younger son slept in a Close and Secure Sleeper in our bed and then we put it into the crib and it was an easy transition. My older son (who inspired this site) was not so adaptable, which is why I did make a whole site about baby sleep. 😀

    When your baby is a newborn, she might not sleep in her crib because it’s far away from anyone who she seeks comfort from, mommy and daddy. And, it might seem too big compared to the womb, especially if she isn’t swaddled.

    Months later, now your baby won’t sleep in the crib because it’s the equivalent of you going to sleep in the guest room. It is only her bed because you said it’s her bed. Your nursery might be beautiful, but to her, she may as well be in a different house when she’s trying to sleep in “her room”. Some adults can’t sleep well in a hotel (even the nice ones) for the same reason: It’s not your bed.

    Once again, sleep associations come into play in how your baby knows how to fall asleep. Does she need to move to sleep (via rocking chair, bouncing ball, or bouncy seat)? Does she need to suck to sleep (via pacifier, nursing, or bottle)? And, is she in a comfortable place to sleep? Up until now she hasn’t slept in her crib, so why would that be a comfortable place today just because she turned 5 or 6 months old?

    How to Get Your Baby to Sleep in the Crib

    The #1 goal in helping your baby sleep in the crib is to make it feel like HER room and HER bed. Here are a few tips you might consider:

    • Consider putting YOUR bed in HIS room for a few days.
    • Make sure you spend non-sleep time in HIS room
    • Have him sleep on his own crib sheet for a few days, so it has his scent
    • YOU sleep on his crib sheet for a few days, so it has YOUR scent
    • Give it time. Don’t expect it to go perfectly the first day. It might take a few days to a couple of weeks, but the first few nights will most likely be the most difficult. Expect it to be rough and he might just surprise you, but do expect it to take work. Only some will have an easy transition.

    One thing you want to do is make sure your baby knows how to fall asleep on his own, FIRST. Otherwise, you are simply going back and forth from your room to his all night, instead of reaching over a foot or two (or if you are co-sleeping, maybe just a few inches). Even if your baby is sleeping great in your room, if she has trouble adjusting, make sure you are sensitive to the fact that this is a new place for her and don’t just let her cry it out. Some babies actually sleep BETTER, immediately, once they are in their own space, not smelling Mommy’s milk or hearing Daddy’s snoring all night long.

    If you need help in getting your baby to sleep, please consider our 3-Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep e-Book (plus bonus materials) or our baby sleep consultations, where I will work with you on a personalized sleep plan that you can feel good about for your unique baby and your unique situation. If you have a toddler and are looking to transition from co-sleeping to crib or co-sleeping to bed, please see our 5 Step System to Better Toddler Sleep.

    How Did You Get Your Baby to Sleep in the Crib?