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Is Co-Sleeping Dangerous?

Is Co-Sleeping Dangerous?

Here in the U.S. new parents are warned off of co-sleeping – sharing a family bed with our newborn babies – but is it as dangerous as we’re led to believe?

Being a new parent is rough. Newborns tend to sleep around two hours at a stretch, and that means so do you. I had no idea what exhaustion actually was until I became a mom. Of course, I love my baby boy, and we have lots of magical moments too, but I can’t pretend that those one a.m. wake-ups were fun. Or the one at three. Or at five.

My son not only had trouble staying asleep, but once he was up, it was tough to get him back down. I tried feeding him, rocking him, singing to him, swaddling – it still took 30-45 minutes to get him back down after one of his wake-ups. And then he’d sleep for an hour or two and it would start again. You can imagine how exhausting that is, even if you’ve never gone through it yourself, right?

Then, one night, I was feeding him in the bed and decided to just hold him and lie down. Just for a minute. We both fell asleep. For four hours. I had read the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) warnings that co-sleeping increases the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). But we had just slept! For four hours!

From then on any time Darrol Henry had trouble going back down after a wake-up, I brought him into the bed with me. I took safety precautions that I read about on pro-co-sleeping forums, and he safely coslept with us part time for his first three or four months.

My co-sleeping story is not a unique one. Another new mom I know recently told me a similar one, and there’s even research showing that families that cosleep actually get more sleep.

Mom and Baby Cosleeping

This mom is breaking two safe cosleeping rules. Can you spot them?

Co-sleeping Safety

My son is now eight months old, and he’s been sleeping happily in his crib since around four months. What got me thinking about co-sleeping recently was an excellent article from Sarah Kerrigan at WBUR on the topic. The gist of the article was this: Parents are practicing co-sleeping, so maybe instead of telling us that we’re going to kill our babies, we should talk about how to do it safely.

Kerrigan equates the AAP stance on co-sleeping to abstinence education in schools. It’s not working, and maybe it’s time to change the conversation. I couldn’t agree more.

There is some excellent research on co-sleeping that paints a different picture from the AAP’s verions. Dr. Sears addressed many concerns about co-sleeping, including some examples of when the practice may not be safe. This article from The Baby Bond also shares some great research on how to have a safe family bed and the benefits of co-sleeping.

Sharing a bed with a newborn can be very safe, as long as you take some precautions. Here are some tips for safer co-sleeping:

  • Your mattress should be nice and firm – no waterbeds.
  • Blankets are a hazard, just like they are in a crib. If you’re co-sleeping during cold weather like I was with my son, bundle up at bedtime. I slept in sweats and thick socks.
  • You also want to get rid of any pillows, because they are a smothering hazard. I know, it doesn’t sound super comfy, but it’s a lot better than sleeping for an hour or two at a time!
  • Do not cosleep if you’ve been drinking or taking any drugs that induce sleep (over the counter, prescription, or otherwise).
  • Do not smoke in the family bed. This might sound obvious, but you’d be surprised.
  • Co-sleeping on a sofa is not safe.
  • Keep siblings out of the bed with very young infants.
  • Put yourself between your child and the edge of the bed.
Baby Crib

How do you transition away from cosleeping?

Other Co-sleeping Concerns

When I first started co-sleeping with Darrol Henry, most people didn’t default to “you’re going to kill your baby.” Instead, they told me that I’d never get him out of the bed. My husband and I took that to heart, because we did not want a family bed long-term. Darrol slept mostly with us until three months, and then we started weaning him of, only bringing him into the bed if we were at the end of our rope. By four months, he was happily sleeping in his crib.

I have heard stories from moms and dads who have co-sleeping kids that don’t want to leave the family bed. I did a little bit of research and found this Circle of Moms forum with some helpful advice. It sounds like weaning your child off of the family bed is the best way to go. Maybe start by transitioning to room-sharing, where your child has a bed in your room. You can gradually move that bed further from your own until he’s in his own room.

Dr. Heather Wittenberg wrote about transitioning from co-sleeping to separate beds in a column at Parents.com. She brings up some great points about child development and timing your transition.

Just like any other parenting practice, how and where your child sleeps is very personal. You have to do what feels right for your baby and for your family as a whole. If that means sharing a bed, I think it’s much better to go into that decision educated about how to do it safely rather than full of guilt.

I would love to hear from other co-sleeping moms and dads out there! Do you get more sleep in the family bed? What made you decide to try co-sleeping, despite what the AAP has to say about it?

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Becky Striepe

Becky Striepe is a freelance writer and vegan crafter living in Atlanta, Georgia. Her life’s mission is to make green crafting and vegan food accessible to everyone! Like this article? You can follow Becky on Twitter or find her on Facebook!

99 comments

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10:43AM PST on Dec 4, 2013

Perhaps more evidence that one answer rarely will be the right answer for all children and/or parents--individual needs should guide away from believing a one size fits all mentality is perfection

6:09PM PST on Dec 1, 2013

I co slept with my first until he was 5 months old, and my 8 week old also sleeps in our bed for at least half the night... he is fairly frequently in his baby swing for the first half of the night

8:45PM PST on Nov 24, 2013

Elizabeth L. GO find something worthwhile to do… and GET OUT of our site! Looser!

10:01AM PST on Nov 24, 2013

My husband and I opted for the co-sleeping approach with our older daughter for practical reasons. I always "spooned" up to my husband when sleeping, even while I was hugely pregnant, and she had apparently learned to associate being "squished" like that with comfort and security. When we tried putting her in her bassinet as a newborn, she would NOT go to sleep, so we started co-sleeping, which worked GREAT. In fact, she HAD to have both of us in bed-on nights when my husband was working an overnight shift as a security guard, she would NOT stop crying all night! When she was a month old, she was able to transition to the bassinet, and when she started sleeping through the night at three months old, she went into her own crib in her own room.

Our younger daughter was cut from a different cloth; she didn't mind the bassinet as a newborn, but she HAD to fall asleep on my chest first! Needless to say, between that and a 4 1/2-year-old who had hit the "terrible twos" two years late, forget sleeping! She didn't start sleeping through the night until she was 18 months old, and that was due to a heart valve problem that required surgery at 18 months. Since it was taking all her energy just to grow, she still needed to nurse at night. After the surgery, she started sleeping through the night.

It all depends on the individual kid and what works for them. If co-sleeping helps them sleep better, why fight it?

6:48PM PST on Nov 23, 2013

I co-slept with my two sons when they were infants. They were two years and two months apart, so one was sleeping in his own bed by the time his brother came along. They slept longer for it and cried less, but if I tried to make them sleep in their own bed, it seemed like they cried forever.

10:55AM PST on Nov 23, 2013

I slept with both of my children. There was never a problem transitioning away from this. My son, especially, slept better and longer with me than without. It was a win-win.

Why is it that we insist on our children being alone and then as adults we spend so much of our lives trying to find someone to be close to?

5:12PM PST on Nov 21, 2013

Interesting....TYFS

2:45PM PST on Nov 21, 2013

ty

11:52AM PST on Nov 21, 2013

And BTW, people have smoked various herbs since the beginning of human history, long berore Kools, so smoking could still have been a factor, even in ancient times. Not saying it was, but I can't say that it wasn't, either. Not to mention fire smoke and other inhalants that were very common in more "primitive" cultures.

--- Steve

11:50AM PST on Nov 21, 2013

To Jaqueline: I said that the SIDS victims weren't cosleeping, and almost always cigarettes were involved. Of course, there were instances where none of these risk factors occurred, and I'm sure if I'd continued doing these long enough, I'd have found a cosleeping infant that died of SIDS without alcohol abuse or cigarette smoking or uneven sleeping surfaces being involved. I have no idea what the statistics are for SIDS historically, but it does appear that cigarette smoking increases the odds. I am sure there are cases where it is a complete mystery why it happens, and those cases are very sad for all involved, as are all the cases where little children die. What I was commenting on is what factors appear to increase the risks, based on my direct experience and some degree of research, and my point was that cosleeping is NOT one of those risk factors. I am not saying that babies don't die from SIDS without any of the risk factors I mentioned being present.

Here is an article by Dr. Sears that summarizes the research:

http://www.parenting.com/article/ask-dr-sears-co-sleeping-a-sids-danger

I don't know where the research about non-parental caregivers or siblings comes from, but the rest appears to be well grounded in scientific data.

Cosleeping does not cause SIDS, and most likely decreases the risk.

---- Steve

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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