Addressing the Benefits, Concerns, and Basics of Co-Sleeping

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CosleepingWhen you first heard the term “co-sleeping,” you may have assumed it meant a lot of sleepless nights of sharing your bed with a wiggly infant who, though adorable, makes sleeping together painful. Maybe you wondered if co-sleeping is even safe. The good news is that, when done properly, co-sleeping can be safer than solitary sleeping and, in fact, offers one great benefit after another.


What Co-Sleeping Looks Like

Depending on your familiarity with co-sleeping, there’s a good chance you’re picturing your sweet little baby squeezed between you and your husband in bed. Thankfully, that picture isn’t totally accurate. It’s actually recommended that, if baby co-sleeps in the same bed as the parents, the baby sleep only near the mother on the far side of the bed since mamas (especially breast feeding mamas) possess an inherent protective awareness, even during sleep.

Co-sleeping, however, doesn’t have to mean the infant sleeps in the same bed as his or her parents. Some parents prefer a bassinet within arm’s reach of the mother’s side of the bed. Another option is a
“side-car” co-sleeper that attaches or butts up to the bed frame. Still other moms prefer an actual co-sleeper that sits on the bed next to them. Regardless of how you co-sleep, know that this attachment parenting skill brings with it many short-term and long-term benefits.

Why Co-Sleeping Makes Sense

Unfortunately, there are still many myths surrounding co-sleeping. Some parents think their baby will become too dependent; the opposite is actually true. Co-sleeping promotes independence in that your children will have to rely on fewer transitional objects like thumb sucking or security blankets because they don’t experience separation anxiety.

The benefits don’t stop there. Co-sleeping typically means both parents and baby sleep better. It’s true! Your infant won’t have to be fully awake to cry in order to get a response; neither will you in order to tend to your child. This increases breastfeeding since mom and baby are physically near one another already and mom is able to immediately respond to baby.

Also, co-sleeping allows family togetherness in a way that it otherwise may not. Long-term, co-sleeping has been shown to produce better-adjusted children who are happier, feel more secure, and throw fewer tantrums. Boys who co-slept as infants may have higher self-esteem as adults, while girls who co-slept feel less discomfort about physical affection as grown women.

How to Safely Co-Sleep

It sounds good, doesn’t it? But you’re probably still wondering if it’s really safe. Not only is it safe (if done correctly), co-sleeping actually results in few incidences of SIDS. Because your baby is near you, you have the advantage of noticing any changes in breathing, temperature, or movement than if your child was in another room. In fact, cultures that practice safe co-sleeping—such as Asians—have the lowest SIDS rates.

Here are the guidelines to follow in order to create a safe sleep environment for your child:

  1. Be sure there are no crevices between the mattress and guardrail or headboard that your baby could sink into.
  2. Don’t fall asleep with the baby on a soft surface like a waterbed or cushiony mattress. Be sure the mattress is firm and free of loose blankets or sheets.
  3. If you smoke, are intoxicated, or on sleep-altering medications DO NOT CO-SLEEP with your baby.
  4. Infants under a year should not sleep with other young siblings—allow them to sleep only with a parent or other adult who has awareness and can take responsibility for the infant being there.
  5. As with solitary sleeping, always place your baby on his or back when co-sleeping.

Remember that co-sleeping varies by family, so ultimately, create a sleep environment that works best for your family and your lifestyle. Also, know that if you decide not to transition your baby to his or her own room, most children will still gradually stop co-sleeping on their own. As children mature physically, emotionally, and cognitively around the age of two or three, they often desire their own sleeping space.  So, don’t worry that you’ll be sharing your bed forever; instead, consider this a beneficial way to increase attachment and explore the positive impact it could have on your family.