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What is Co-Sleeping?

Some people claim that co-sleeping increases SIDS.
Co-sleeping may make breastfeeding more convenient.
Co-sleeping is thought to promote closeness and bonding.
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  • Written By: O. Wallace
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 18 October 2014
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Many parents outfit entire nurseries and cribs with the best of intentions, believing that their newborn will sleep his infancy away in perfectly coordinated bliss — in his own bed. The reality often turns out to be that junior ends up in bed with mom and dad, and for some, it’s just the way they like it. Many parents plan to have a “family bed” as some call it, or practice co-sleeping with their children as a personal preference.

Though the term co-sleeping may be new, parents have been sharing a bed with their children since the beginning of time, and surely, it remains a normal practice in many places throughout the world. Our obsession with the co-sleeping debate is easily explained by our cultural fixation with independence and personal self-fulfillment, coupled with a desire to raise well adjusted children. Busy schedules, big houses, and nay-saying experts interfere with what many consider a time-honored, time-tested, “normal” way of life. Our culture has come to accept that, in general, a baby belongs in a crib or bassinet, not only for her best interest, but also for the parents’.

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Advocates of co-sleeping believe that the benefits are significant. The most obvious is the bonding that results from co-sleeping. Taking a baby into your bed makes breastfeeding more convenient, because the mother does not have to leave the bed to feed the baby, allowing her to remain in a state of semi-sleep. Co-sleeping also synchronizes the mother’s and baby’s sleep cycles. Proponents claim that babies fall asleep more readily, and both mother and baby get more total sleep overall.

Two major advocates are supporters of “attachment parenting” and respected pediatrician Dr. William Sears, author of numerous parenting books. Supporters cite studies claiming that children who are products of co-sleeping homes have higher self esteem, are more positive as children and have higher rates of a general sense of satisfaction with life. Studies have shown that mothers and babies fall into a face to face sleeping position, which can stimulate the baby, helping to regulate the baby’s immature nervous system. They believe that this helps prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), because the carbon dioxide a mother breathes out in exhaled air can be a respiratory stimulant to the baby.

Two powerful organizations, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), have issued statements discouraging co-sleeping. They believe that adult beds are no place for infants due to two major dangers: strangulation and suffocation. They cite a report that from January 1999 to December 2001, more than 100 children under two died while sleeping in adult beds, although co-sleeping does not account for cause of death.

For those against co-sleeping, the risks are many. Waterbeds, soft mattresses and blankets can potentially suffocate an infant, as well as the possibility of becoming wedged between a mattress and a wall or headboard. Adults or other children in the bed could possibly roll over and suffocate the infant. Finally, strangulation is a risk from slipping through a footboard or headboard. Although many opponents claim that co-sleeping increases SIDS, there have been no conclusive studies to show an increased risk.

Many opponents believe that, emotionally, co-sleeping is detrimental to the child. They believe that a child who becomes accustomed to sleeping with a parent will become clingy and needy and will not transition well to a regular bed. Another logical conclusion is that a child who falls asleep by his parent’s side will have a hard time falling asleep on his own later on.

If a parent makes the decision to bring his or her child into bed for co-sleeping, there are many safety precautions to take. Most importantly, make sure that both parents are in agreement in order to avoid issues down the road. Neither parent should be intoxicated or under the influence of drugs, whether prescription or otherwise.

Smoking has been linked to an increased risk of SIDS, so under no circumstances should your child be exposed to second hand smoke. Bedding should be firm and lightweight, and pillows should be kept away from the baby. A king-sized bed is preferable, as it gives the occupants room to breathe.

When co-sleeping, it is smart to keep other children out of the bed, because they will not be conscious of the baby as mothers and fathers tend to be, even while asleep. Keep the bed warm, but not hot. Check out your headboard and footboard to see if there are any potential areas of danger, and never have an infant sleep in a waterbed. For some, co-sleeping may be an easy, natural choice — just use your best judgment to see what works for you and your family.

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anon326782
Post 13

How come there is no mention of co-sleeping walls? Those are soft "walls" you put around the baby to prevent many of the dangers.

anon297697
Post 12

Children die in bed with their parents! Hello! There is nothing natural about that. Infants are safest alone in their own bed/bassinet, positioned on their backs. We can't protect our little ones from so many things but a sleep situation death is 100 percent preventable!

anon252243
Post 11

When co-sleeping, it is smart to keep other children out of the bed, because they will not be as conscious of the baby as mothers and fathers tend to be, even while asleep.

anon162457
Post 9

I wonder how many moms who want co-sleeping ask their husbands about this? Any man who says he approves of this is a whipped, neutered, spineless jellyfish. I can't imagine the joy of little feet kicking me when I want to sleep.

I'm sure that a three top five year halt on making love to my wife so that the kid can sleep in our bed and be "natural" is just the way to go too.

I slept in my own bed, drank formula, and grew to be 6'1", handsome, well adjusted, well traveled, and college educated. Besides, I know of 11 year olds who still sleep in their parents' room. Not normal people - and yes, there is such a thing as "normal" and if your tween is sleeping in your room, then you are not it.

anon161801
Post 8

Most people don't think of their children "sexually" so I find it strange that anyone would jump to such a disgusting conclusion. I chose to co-sleep at first because I was scared of SIDS and the idea of sleeping soundly while my baby was struggling terrified me. I found it to be a bonding experience.

My husband and I put two queen beds together when we had our second son 18 months later. I have to disagree about the children being clingy. Also, I have no idea if it has anything to do with co-sleeping, but my first born was potty trained in three weeks from start to finish and never had an accident and my youngest, who is now three, was potty trained in three days (not an exaggeration). They both have done things on their own schedule and seem to be ahead of the norm for children their age.

My oldest is in pre-k and his teacher said he is very advanced and very independent (not clingy). So I guess my point is some set ups work for some families and not for others. If it works for you, great, if not find another way.

To the lady who was complaining about her nephew, you seem to have some issues yourself. His behavior is obviously not a direct cause of co-sleeping but perhaps it is a cause of his upbringing in general. Please do not think you are the authority on co-sleeping because you know one person who did it.

anon140310
Post 7

Ok, I have another view of this co-sleeping, from the angle of the aunt of a grown nephew who coslept until he was almost ready to head to college.

His mother was a single mom and he also has a sister five years younger, who was in the bed too. In my opinion, this is just disgusting.

This nephew came to stay with us for about six months while he transferred his work up here. (ok, let's be truthful here. he couldn't hold a job down where he lived so he moved here to the city). He is 27 now.

Anyhow, this boy is a mess. He is spoiled, and believes that there should not be rules for him in my house. He couldn't sleep well at night and I heard him in his room talking on the phone till all hours, and mostly it's to his mother!

He's moved to his own place now. It's a room in someone else's house, but at least it's not in mine. Recently his mother came for a visit. She stayed in a hotel near him and this boy actually stayed at the hotel with her.

When I visited her at the hotel I saw there was only one queen size bed in there. So I guess they are still co sleeping and the guy is 27!

Now the guy is picking up girls off the internet and anywhere he can find them because he can't sleep alone.

So, there you have it. The effects of co sleeping into the teens. Sicko!

anon88484
Post 6

I wonder how it works, when in so many cultures, as in my own family, there were ten children. Ten in the bed and the little one said, 'Roll over, roll over," and they all rolled over and one fell out.

That's some kind of bed. And with bed wetters etc., a very uncomfortable experience.

anon57162
Post 5

I think it's just plain wrong to have your children sleeping with you at that age. Maybe when they are under like six and they just get in when they are sick or in the morning to watch cartoons, but other then that there is no need for it.

And at age 12 it's just insane; it just plain looks bad. Seriously, how does your child have a friend over night when you still sleep with your mom? Kids belong in their own beds!

And older children and teens definitely, no excuses!

vjlevine
Post 4

My opinion as a psychologist is that co-sleeping can work as part of a parenting plan. But, when it becomes a habit because the children insist on it and everyone is losing sleep, parents need to take a leadership role and teach their children how to sleep independently. Falling asleep in your own bed is an important life skill.

BarbaraP
Post 3

You make claim that it was nonsexual and I have to believe you; however, for safety's sake I think they should have been told that they would have to sleep on your bedroom floor or return to their bedrooms. It sounds as if you have raised some wonderful sons!

pnsilver1
Post 1

I understand what co-sleeping is, but my question is: is there a cut off age at which a parent should remove a child or young adult (12 to 13 years old) from the bed? I went through a divorce and my children took it very hard and chose to sleep in my bed until they were 13 years old when I said, "That's it", this bed isn't big enough for us any more. There was absolutely nothing sexual about this arrangement. They chose to sleep in my bed because I had an "air bed" that was much more comfortable than their hard mattresses. I didn't care until it began getting to crowded and thought 13 was plenty long enough for then to be in my bed, and sent them off to their own beds (hard mattress or not.) Could I have gotten them softer mattresses before age 13? Probably, if I really squeezed the budget, but not air mattresses. Funds were tight after the divorce, and since no one seemed to mind sharing the bed, it became a non-issue to us.

Now my older brother (who just found out about our sleeping arrangement of a few years ago) is laying a huge guilt trip on me claiming I acted the same way as Michael Jackson. I see no comparison. Do you? Was our sleeping arrangement unconventional, absolutely. Did it affect the boys, not a bit, both excellent in school (one at U.C. Berkeley and the other starting high school), and both socially well adjusted.

Is there a "right" or "wrong" answer to this situation? I don't see where I've done anything wrong here, unconventional, yes, but not wrong. What do you think? Curious in California

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