Co-sleeping means different things to different people. Generally, co-sleeping means that a child shares a sleeping space with a parent. Co-sleeping can mean a baby sleeping in the same bed as his parents; however, it can also mean a baby in a separate sleep space such as a bassinet or co-sleeper next to the parents’ bed. Co-sleeping tends to be synonymous with bed-sharing to many, but bed-sharing and room-sharing are two different things.
Should You Co-sleep?
Whether you co-sleep is an individual choice that depends on a variety of factors. First, the AAP does recommend that parents share a room with their babies for the first 6 months to a year but does NOT recommend sharing a sleep surface. Unfortunately, for some babies, sharing a room but not a sleep surface is unacceptable, hence why we have so many accidental co-sleepers (i.e. bed-sharing). 😉 If sleep in a crib came easily to babies, The Baby Sleep Site® wouldn’t be where we are today! The bottom line, many moms bed-share out of choice while others do so simply out of necessity.
Room-sharing is generally safe; bed-sharing, however, is inherently riskier. The most obvious danger related to bed-sharing is suffocation of the baby. An adult (or an older child) can roll on top of a baby, or the baby can be smothered by adult limbs, large pillows and heavy blankets that most adults use in bed. Some less obvious dangers include a baby falling from the bed to the floor, or a baby becoming wedged between the mattress and the headboard, footboard or wall. The mattress itself can also be a threat; if it’s overly soft, a baby can sink too low and suffocate.
So, to answer your question of whether you should co-sleep, that’s 100% a personal choice. Our only advice is if you decide to co-sleep, be sure to put in place the necessary safety measures to keep your little one safe (and you sane!).
Can Co-Sleeping Be Safe?
Again, room-sharing arrangements are generally considered very safe. In fact, room-sharing has been shown to produce lower rates of SIDS than a solitary sleeping arrangement (which places baby in a room by herself.) And while bed-sharing is statistically less safe, advocates of bed-sharing point out that research studies fail to account for a variety of factors and ultimately make bed-sharing seem more dangerous than it actually is.
For example, researchers refer to bed-sharing as a baby and an adult sharing an “adult bed.” But an adult bed doesn’t necessarily mean an actual bed — in these studies, it can also mean a couch, or a recliner, or a waterbed (all surfaces that bed-sharing advocates would never recommend using). Research studies also fail to account for safety factors like smoking, or drug and alcohol abuse (parents who smoke or use drugs or alcohol should never bed-share.) Even factors like obesity, which advocates say should be considered (since obese parents are advised not to bed-share), aren’t considered in research studies.
Supporters of bed-sharing claim that when these factors are considered, research shows that safe bed-sharing practices make putting a baby to sleep in an adult bed just as harmless as putting a baby to sleep in a crib. It has been said that when researchers controlled for these kinds of safety factors, rates of infant death related to safe bed-sharing proved to be very low.
Supporters also point to the fact that co-sleeping in all its forms (including bed-sharing) has been the norm for human infants since the dawn of time, while putting babies in cribs, in their own rooms, alone, is a practice that’s less than 200 years old. Bed-sharing advocates also emphasize that while co-sleeping is no longer standard practice in most Western cultures, it remains the norm in many, many countries around the world. These advocates are quick to point out that if it works for families around the globe, it can work for families in the West.
An important note, though, about comparing bed-sharing in Western countries to bed-sharing around the world: the comparison isn’t always a fair one. Western-style beds (with their soft, elevated mattresses as shown below, and their abundance of pillows and blankets) make bed-sharing more dangerous than do other types of beds found around the world. What’s more, health-habits vary worldwide, making the bed-sharing comparison a tricky one. Western mothers are more likely to smoke than are Japanese mothers, for example; this may partly explain why Japan has an extremely low rate of deaths related to bed-sharing. Therefore, it’s best to take cultural differences like this into account when looking at bed-sharing from an international perspective.
Keep in mind that there are risks associated with any sleeping arrangement, but parents can take steps to make their baby’s sleep environment as safe as possible. Parents who educate themselves and practice safe co-sleeping shouldn’t be made to feel guilty about their decision. And, of course, neither should parents who choose not to co-sleep; after all, it won’t work for everyone! And, if it’s not working for you, we help babies and toddlers transition to their own crib or bed every single day.
What is co-sleeping to you?