When it comes to sleeping alongside your baby, everyone has an opinion (as I hope the comments section below will soon illustrate). Many people, health organizations, and caseworkers will advise you, as a parent, never to share a bed with your infant or young child. They will ply you with all sorts of studies and statistics emphasizing the unwitting peril, and SIDS risk (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) you place your child in each time doze off alongside them.
Other concerned individuals will tell you how sleeping in the same bed (or even room) with your child will precipitate and solidify bad sleeping habits and reinforce a lack of personal independence in your child. Then, there are those seasoned parents that look you in the eye and tell you that, when the proper precautions are taken, a parent (or even two) could safely and comfortably sleep along side a child, not only without incident, but also with the benefit of a greater sense of emotional and physical connection with that child.
Now, I will not venture to say who is definitively correct in this debate, as it is a highly emotionally charged issue with high stakes, to say the least. But in the last month, two compelling pieces of published material have enlivened the conversation. The first being a study conducted between 1984 to 2004 published in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, revealing that there has been a marked increase in the rate of infant strangulation and suffocation in the United States over the past 20 years, and this rise is directly linked to the rise in parent/child bed sharing. This alarming data was followed by an excellent duo of articles in the progressive magazine Mothering, debunking much of the fright and furor over co-sleeping and bedsharing, and revealing the upside and the many developmental benefits of sharing your sleep space with your child.
Before I continue, as many disagreements there are about co-sleeping and bedsharing (co-sleeping is defined as sleeping in the same room or close proximity to a child, and bedsharing is sleeping in an adult bed with one’s child), I think all concerned parties would agree that there are a few absolute guidelines to follow if you are even entertaining the idea of sharing a sleep space with a child:
1. Eliminate any spaces or gaps between the bed frame and the wall, as these spaces are easy traps for babies to get wedged in and trapped.
2. Avoid any bedsharing if an adult is intoxicated or sedated.
3. Always lay the baby on his or her back on a firm mattress and avoid using puffy duvets or heavy blankets that could accidentally cover and possibly smother the baby.
4. Never leave a baby alone on an adult bed
5. Adults (if there are two in bed with the child) should sleep with a sense of awareness and responsiveness regarding the child’s welfare.
These are all the basic rules that I feel obliged to pass along as a parent who proudly and safely co-slept with his infant child for the better part of a year. This was an informed choice that my wife and I had made because we believed (and still do) in the connection forged by close parental (not just maternal) contact. There were times in which we found the practice of co-sleeping/bedsharing to be challenging, sometimes sleep depriving, but ultimately rewarding for everyone.
As with everything involving parenting choices, I wouldn’t recommend this practice for everyone, as some people feel it is far too much of a compromise of their personal space, while others may feel a bit too anxious about the potential dangers in sharing a sleep space with your child.
I am curious how you, the reader, consider the practice of co-sleeping and bedsharing? Is it more risk than it is worth? Have you had first-hand experiences that were either positive or negative? Is this an issue better left to the discretion of parents?
I would love to hear from you (as I am sure fellow Care2 readers would as well) and get a lively dialog going on this issue. I will follow up with a requisite part two to this post, outlining the different beliefs and convictions for each side of the debate.
Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, N.Y. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.