Co-sleeping? Risk or Benefit?

After reading Nighttime Parenting
by William Sears I've been motivated to write about co-sleeping. Unfortunately, this practice is often discouraged and frowned upon. This post is not intended to persuade people who are sold on cribs to give them up, but there are certain advantages to co-sleeping that are worth noting. It is common in our society to buy a fancy crib, decorate it with bedding and expect our babies to sleep soundly within its bars. This notion that babies are meant to sleep alone is not shared by most of the world. In an article called Historical Origins of Psychological Objections to Cosleeping, Sarah Tennant writes that:

"Anthropologists link the objections to an increasing sense of individualism in Western society. Whereas the parent-child relationship was once seen as foundational to a family, the spouse-spouse relationship is now prioritised. Along with the fairly modern concept of privacy, and American-stressed values of independence and self-reliance, the model of sleep began to shift to allow parents their own sleeping space. Children were encouraged to "self-soothe" and follow adult (monophasic) sleep patterns, despite infants being wired for polyphasic sleep."

Is it safe?

Let me be clear that I did not plan on co-sleeping from the beginning, I had a big solid wood crib that my father in law bought us and looked forward to using it when we came home from the hospital. However, if Jude woke in the night (which newborns do every 1-3 hours) it would take me a minute to get to him, nurse him upright for 20-45 minutes until he fell back asleep, and then place him back in his crib only to go tiptoe back to the bed and wait for the cycle to repeat. Not to mention, It was un-nerving leaving my new baby alone to sleep. I found myself often checking on him putting my ear up to his chest to make sure he was breathing. It surely didn't feel as comforting and safe as when he slept in my arms. Surely, there had to be a better way of sleep? As soon as we started co-sleeping, it was as if a weight had been lifted. I became a lighter sleeper, yes. I was more in tune with Jude's sleeping patterns and would find myself able to wake if I noticed he wasn't sleeping in the right position (adjacent next to me). It also allowed me to nurse him laying down so I was able to sleep.

I have heard people say "I'm afraid of rolling over on the baby."

If you can show me a woman that has rolled over on her baby I'll show you a woman that is either under the influence, sleeping on a couch (a VERY un-safe form of co-sleeping) or highly obese. Outside of these instances mothers (and even dads) are usually highly aware of their infant's presence.

But don't take my word for it, lets look at some evidence based information...

(From "Cosleeping and Biological Imperatives:" by James McKenna, Ph.D)

"In Japan where co-sleeping and breastfeeding (in the absence of maternal smoking) is the cultural norm, rates of the sudden infant death syndrome are the lowest in the world. For breastfeeding mothers, bedsharing makes breastfeeding much easier to manage and practically doubles the amount of breastfeeding sessions while permitting both mothers and infants to spend more time asleep. The increased exposure to mother's antibodies which comes with more frequent nighttime breastfeeding can potentially, per any given infant, reduce infant illness. And because co-sleeping in the form of bedsharing makes breastfeeding easier for mothers, it encourages them to breastfeed for a greater number of months, according to Dr. Helen Ball's studies at the University of Durham, therein potentially reducing the mothers chances of breast cancer. Indeed, the benefits of cosleeping helps explain why simply telling parents never to sleep with baby is like suggesting that nobody should eat fats and sugars since excessive fats and sugars lead to obesity and/or death from heart disease, diabetes or cancer. Obviously, there's a whole lot more to the story."

"As regards bedsharing, an expanded version of its function and effects on the infant's biology helps us to understand not only why the bedsharing debate refuses to go away, but why the overwhelming majority of parents in the United States (over 50% according to the most recent national survey) now sleep in bed for part or all of the night with their babies."

"That the highest rates of bedsharing worldwide occur alongside the lowest rates of infant mortality, including Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) rates, is a point worth returning to. It is an important beginning point for understanding the complexities involved in explaining why outcomes related to bedsharing (recall, one of many types of cosleeping) vary between being protective for some populations and dangerous for others. It suggests that whether or not babies should bedshare and what the outcome will be may depend on who is involved, under what condition it occurs, how it is practiced, and the quality of the relationship brought to the bed to share. This is not the answer some medical authorities are looking for, but it certainly resonates with parents, and it is substantiated by scores of studies."

More on sleeping arrangements (From Dr. Jen4kids.com)

"The choice of where our children sleep affects (and there is research to show all of this): breastfeeding duration, feeding frequency, infant sleep position, arousal patterns, temperature, carbon dioxide levels, crying, heart rate, parental emotional expectations.

Babies who have more skin to skin contact with their parents show better oxygen delivery, less frequent crying, higher temperatures, better weight gain, better digestion and less physiologic markers of infant stress. (It's why kids who are held more have less colic.) So, based on that, it makes sense that more contact with mom and dad makes for a more physiologically sound child."



  1. I cannot rave enough about how much I love co-sleeping! I certainly didn't plan on it either. I bought a beautiful bassinet, among many other things, and the bassinet was my proudest purchase. I showed it off to EVERYONE. We were in the hospital for the first 2 weeks after Kairi was born because she had jaundice so when we finally got home we were even more worn out than had we just come straight home after the birth. After 3 nights of nervous, choppy sleep, my husband brought her into our bed and I knew what it was to be well rested again. Here we are, 9 months later, and she still sleeps right next to me in bed. I love it.

    I can't believe how much more in tune I've become with her either! I really do believe that co-sleeping has helped me gain better insight to her needs and patterns.

    Have you seen this? http://neuroanthropology.net/2008/12/21/cosleeping-and-biological-imperatives-why-human-babies-do-not-and-should-not-sleep-alone/ I read that while I was pregnant and while, like I said, I hadn't planned on co-sleeping, it really did open my eyes to how beneficial the experience could be.

  2. Erin,

    Thanks for reading the blog! I have seen that article and love it! Thanks for your story! Co-sleeping has brought a lot of joy (and sleep) to our family as well!



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