The Accidental Co-Sleeper: 5 Key Facts

accidental co-sleeping

Let’s face it: accidental co-sleeping is real! You know the kind of co-sleeping I’m talking about, right? The kind of co-sleeping that you never really planned on, but that just kind of happens on its own? The kind of co-sleeping where you put your child to sleep in her own bed, only to find her in YOUR bed a few hours later?

Yep. That kind of accidental co-sleeping.

Sure, plenty of parents co-sleep intentionally, out of a desire to practice attachment parenting principles. But based on our work with parents, our team is willing to bet that there are just as many accidental co-sleepers out there as there are intentional co-sleepers.

And that’s who we’re talking to in today’s post: we’re talking to you, accidental co-sleepers! Keep reading for tips and facts about accidental co-sleeping.

The Accidental Co-Sleeper: 5 Key Facts

1. Accidental co-sleeping does not equal failure.

It’s easy to feel like you’ve failed at your goals if you “give in” and let your child sleep with you when you really intended to have your child sleep in his own room. However, we’d urge you not to be too hard on yourself.

If you need to co-sleep for a season (even though you never intended to do so) because, it makes nursing easier, or to get through a tough illness, that’s okay. Many families find themselves in this position.

That said, it’s good to be aware that when you co-sleep “accidentally” (especially if you do it for weeks at a time), you are mostly likely creating a new sleep habit that you will have to undo at some point down the road if you decide you want to sleep solo again.

2. Accidental co-sleeping can turn into intentional co-sleeping (or it can turn into a need to STOP co-sleeping!)

Some families that start out as accidental co-sleepers actually find that they love co-sleeping! These families often become intentional co-sleepers who build their lives around sharing a sleeping area with their kiddos. But just as many accidental co-sleeping really don’t like co-sleeping. Their kids, however, usually feel differently, and so accidental co-sleepers who fall into this category tend to end up with a co-sleeping problem on their hands that requires sleep coaching and transitioning to separate sleeping areas.

3. Safety is crucial for accidental co-sleepers who share a bed.

Now remember, co-sleeping can mean either sharing a room or sharing a sleeping space (like a bed). Keep in mind that if you are an accidental co-sleeper who shares a bed with your little one, you will need to be extra-diligent about co-sleeping safety. Many intentional co-sleepers are well-aware of co-sleeping safety standards well before they begin co-sleeping and are more likely to take proper safety precautions, like moving the mattress to the floor, removing all loose bedding and pillows, and abstaining from alcohol. Accidental co-sleepers, on the other hand, are far less likely to take these precautions since co-sleeping tends to happen on-the-fly, in a tired middle-of-the-night moment. For this reason, it is so important that if you know yourself to be an accidental co-sleeper, you take proper safety precautions NOW, since you will no doubt be sharing your bed with a child again soon.

4. Accidental room-sharing is an alternative to accidental bed-sharing.

Now, if that last bullet point about safety has you concerned, don’t worry: you can have the convenience of co-sleeping without the risks! Instead of hosting your child in your bed, host him in your room, near your bed. You can put your baby in a bassinet or portable crib next to your bed; you can put your toddler on a small mattress or sleeping bag near your bed. This offers you the convenience of having your child nearby for nursing or soothing, but it also ensures that you don’t have to worry about following any safety standards that could feel burdensome.

5. Accidental co-sleeping doesn’t have to happen in YOUR room….it can happen in your baby’s nursery.

This point takes lots of parents by surprise, but here it is: co-sleeping works just as well in your child’s room as it does in your own! In fact, we think it’s a great in-between option for parents who don’t really want their children sleeping in their beds, but who do find that co-sleeping helps everyone sleep better.

Here’s how this works: you put a mattress on your child’s floor, right by your child’s bed. You can share this with your kiddo, but it usually works just as well (and is safer) if your child stays in her own bed. You can both sleep comfortably, in this scenario, and you have the power to come and go as you need to.

If you are able to sneak off to your own bed in the middle of the night, great! If you manage a few nights of independent sleeping in different rooms for a night or two, awesome! When you sleep in your child’s room, you end up with more flexibility and freedom. Additionally, if you do hope to avoid creating long-term co-sleeping habits, this is a great option, as it prevents your child from associating your bedroom with sleep and instead helps him to associate his own bedroom with sleep. This makes it much easier to transition away permanently from co-sleeping: you simply decrease your time in your child’s room until you are only in there during the bedtime routine.

Your turn: are you an accidental co-sleeper, or have you done accidental co-sleeping before? Any tips or suggestions? Any co-sleeping questions? Scroll down to share stories, to ask questions, and to hear from parents just like you!

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17 thoughts on “The Accidental Co-Sleeper: 5 Key Facts”

  1. My daughter is almost 3. I’m a single parent. She goes to sleep in her own bed relatively easy every night. We read a few books and I put her in her bed and then I sit in the doorway and wait for her to go to sleep, then go about my business. An hour or so later I get ready and go to sleep in my own bed. She always wakes up in the night and calls out for me, I take her to the potty and then bring her back to my bed. Usually this is 2-4 hours after she goes to sleep. At first it was so I could go back to sleep as I wake up for work at 530am, and now its purely habit. I don’t mind really, we both sleep well. There has been the odd night where she’s slept in her bed for 4-6 hours before coming to mine, but she ALWAYS wakes up in my bed in the morning. I worry she’s going to be 12 and still wanting to sleep with me, ultimately I’d really like her to have an awesome sleep in her own bed all night and wake up in it. I’ve tried offering her a present if she sleeps in her bed all night, but I don’t think she really understands, because it is such a habit now. Also because I get up for work early, Grandma comes over and crawls back in bed with her and the goal is for her to then wake around 730am, but lately she’s been waking before Grandma arrives because she’s alone in my bed. It’s a challenge.

  2. My son will be 4 in a couple weeks and we have become accidental cosleepers for almost a year now. We tried many different philosophies over the course of a few months, stuck with each one for a couple weeks and then I decided there was too much anxiety associated with bedtime and gave up. He goes to sleep in his own bed with me sitting on the floor by the door and then somewhere between 3-5am he comes into our bed. I used to walk him back to his room and he’d go back to sleep without a problem but he would eventually end up back in our room. Then we started not waking up when he came in… I don’t want him sleeping with us but I can’t imagine he’ll still be doing this in highschool…

    • Hi @Crystal, thanks for visiting the Baby Sleep Site. It can be so tough to break a habit like that. If you decide you want help with it, let us know. Our sleep consultants would be happy to help you transition your son back to his bed so you can all get an uninterrupted night’s sleep. Here is the link to look at the options to work one on one with a consultant:
      I hope this helps!

  3. We’ll be going on vacation in a few months and I’m very certain that our new 2 yr old will not want to sleep alone. How can we get her to sleep away from home, not with us AND return to sleeping in her own bed once we’re back at home?

    She’s always slept in her own bed and still does. Being away from home is different-she won’t do the pack N play anymore and slept with us the last two times we were away. Thankfully she returned to her bed without a fuss. She takes all naps in her crib as well. That’s probably our fault because she won’t sleep unless she’s in her bed. We need help with that too… Or will she it grow it?

    • Hi @Terri, thanks for visiting the Baby Sleep Site! I can relate to having very conditioned sleepers that only want to sleep in their specific space. It’s awesome when you’re home, but difficult when you have to leave that routine for whatever reason. What I try to do is bring as many things that are the same that I can – same bedding, lovey, white noise, etc. Maybe you could even try putting her pack n play in her room for a few days/weeks to get her use to sleeping it that rather than her crib. As she gets older she will begin to understand more and will be able to see that this is “special” so she can transition a little easier. Trust me I was convinced my son at the age of 2 would never be flexible – ever – but he’s really smoothed out for the most part now that he’s almost 4 and can sleep in other places easily if we have his special blanket.
      Here is a link for some sleep tips that will hopefully help:
      Have a wonderful vacation and good luck with everything!

  4. Our DS is turning 1year old in 5 days?. He is a persistent, highly energetic, amazingly inconsistent (w sleep) spirit who clearly ignores & tries to override his sleepiness to keep playing/doing/being w everyone. We have done multiple versions of co-sleeping approx 95% of his life. For the last 6months I’ve been w him for all naps & nighttime sleep; am able to sneak out on random occasions. We hired y’all close to his 6month bday, I think. The very thorough plan helped w multiple aspects, but did NOT result in no, little, or even less crying than CIO(which we don’t want to do). He is persistently persistent.
    We have alot of frustrations & gripes:(, but currently I am most curious — why does he still wake up every 45min to 2.5 hours? I only nurse him after 4am, & he knows that (he’ll go back to sleep w other soothing methods –most of the time). Even if he’s put himself to sleep (w us in the room, it’s screaming crying mayhem otherwise), he wakes 3 – 10x/night, literally no rhyme or reason why the difference. Literally. The biggest response we got from y’all was “he’s overtired”; but that doesn’t always hold water! We had him on reflux meds & that helped the screaming/crying, but the wakings have persisted. Thoughts?

    • @Kathryn Hi there! I’m sorry to hear that you’re still having so much trouble with your son’s sleep! Since you’ve worked with us before, I went ahead and emailed you privately with some information that I hope will help. Please do let us know if we can be of any further help. Hang in there!

  5. I have co-slept with all three of my children, at least to a certain extent. My last child was very easy to sleep train at a young age, though I did sleep occasionally with him when I was too tired to get him back in his crib or when he was sick. My daughter is almost 6 months and she is determined to keep eating every two hours, so I’m not sure when I will be able to get her to sleep in her own crib. In fact, she will not let me put her down anymore while she naps, she wakes up every single time. Motherhood teaches so much patience!

    As far as safety, I am very careful with covers/pillows/bedding etc. I know we can never be too careful with our precious gifts from God! I don’t think I ever really fall into a deep sleep while co-sleeping because of that reason.

  6. I, and a lot of other families who I know of, co-sleep with covers, and none of our children have died. I simply get under the sheet/comforter and put the baby in the crook of my arm on top of the sheet. It really is up to you, but don’t think that you have to wear ten layers of clothing for the next year in order to co-sleep. Very impractical and uncomfortable, especially when you have to nurse in the middle of the night. If you do research into SIDS deaths, you will see that the babies died because their caregivers fell asleep with the conscious intention of co-sleeping/were intoxicated and, again, had no intention of co-sleeping, not because mommy dared to get under the sheets with baby on top of it.

    I’m an accidental co-sleeper who became a permanent co-sleeper, because I realised that my newborn kept waking up every hour in her bassinet, because she craved human contact.

    • @Mimi Hi Mimi! I’m so glad to hear that co-sleeping worked well for your family. We want all families to get the best sleep they can and definitely, different options will work for different people. But, since unfortunate accidents can happen, we just want to make sure that all parents have access to the best information to make evidence-based decisions for their families 🙂 The link Katherine provided has some great information for families who are considering co-sleeping, and we encourage parents to check in with their child’s pediatrician, too, since some health conditions can make co-sleeping less safe. Thank you so much for your comment!

  7. Thank you for replying. Katherine what do you recommend I use instead of a duvet to keep warm? Currently still swaddling baby in a light blanket.

    • @ Elizabeth the recommendations for safe sleeping are that no bedcovers are used when co-sleeping. Unfortunately, this would include any blankets or covers for you, as well. 🙁 You may want to try heavy clothing to keep warm. I know many of the precautions to safe co-sleeping are challenging for some families, but are so important! You may want to check out this article on safe co-sleeping:

      I hope this link is helpful and good luck!

  8. I’m not an expert, but we have co-slept with all of our three children. You want to avoid heavy or fluffy blankets and comforters or duvets, which could cover baby. We use the sheet, plus a couple of light blankets. I always have the baby in the crook of my arm, and do not cover baby with our blankets. Also, be careful not to over dress baby for sleep, as they usually stay quite warm just from being held close.

  9. Can I ask what bedding should safely be used when sharing with a baby under 1? You say above not to use loose things…? Can you give a clear example please?

    • @ Elizabeth, we recommend not having any loose blankets, sheets, pillows, or stuffed animals for babies this age, due to safety concerns. You also want to try to prevent overheating for this reason, as well; babies who are too hot are at higher risk of SIDS. If you are worried that your baby is cold, you can consider using a sleep sack. These wearable blankets provide warmth, but they don’t carry the same risks as loose, heavy blankets. Hope this helps! 🙂

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