Fear and Loving in Co-Sleeping: Part 1

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.


Laurie E-Bozek
Laur Boz4 years ago

my whole comment did not post. I was going to say that my points are this. Co sleeping is natural and works best for many families. People should not criticize what they don't understand and they don't know the whole story. Different kids have different parenting needs and parenting is HARD and we need to parent the way our children need. Two rested parents are more important to lovemaking than having a bed to make love in in my opinion. And last if the only place you think you can have sex is in your bed, then you really need to get more creative and explore the rest of the house!

Laurie E-Bozek
Laur Boz4 years ago

First, I think parents need to let go of preconceived notions about parenting. There really aren't any "rules" that apply to all kids... children will tell you what they need if you listen. And parents need to parent the way their children need. For example, my son, even as a newborn, did not appreciate having his sleeping space crowded. He slept best in a co-sleeper attached to our bed. It worked great for us. My next child, my daughter, was very high needs. She needed a lot of physical contact, even when sleeping, so up went the bed against the wall, off came heavy covers, and she slept with me in the bed until she was almost three years old. Even co-sleeping didn't help her sleep more than a few hours at a time, but it was much better than it would have been trying to force her to sleep in a way she was not physically or emotionally ready for. I am very happy to say at 7 years of age she is a very happy confident child who now sleeps very very well. As far as the people who say the marital bed is important... well, how about using a bit of creativity? There are a LOT of other places to make love other than the bed, right? Personally, the fact my husband supported my parenting choices, trusted my parenting instincts, and was willing to sleep in the spare bedroom for that time was a lot more sexy to me than anything he could have done sexually anyway! : ) And his sleeping in the guest room meant he could have a good nights sleep, too, since I was a stay at h

Ericka Laster
Ericka Laster8 years ago

well personally, im the oldest of 6 children whom have ALL slept in the bed with our mom, and i think ive turned out just fine. ive 2 daughters of my own. one who wouldve been 2 years ol this coming october 3rd and one who 7 months today. my 1st daughter, kyra, had trisomy 18. it had not been detected before her birth and it was a blessing to have at least 4 days with her. upon getting married 6 months aftter her birth/death, getting pregnant again was terrifying. i had just turned 20 that feb. a month after being wed i got a positive result on a test in my mother in laws bathroom. kodi is now 7 months, as ive already stated, and she sleeps with me and my hubby. part of the reason so is bc that was how i was raised. a mother keeps her young near her at all times. maybe my family is overly protective. another part of my reason for keeping her in our bed is bc im scared of her being away from me while im unconcious. the bassinet at the end of our bed was still too far. i fear of something going wrong and losing her if i let her out of my site and protection. my hubby used to argue with me about how she needed to be in a seperate room. to me, that considerration was just as horrible as if he had asked me to give her up for adoption (not that he EVER would). but its proven a mother is aware of her child when sleeping together. i dont believe this topic has a right or wrong answer. a mother knows her child and herself best. no one can answer that for another mother.

Jessica C.
Jessica C.8 years ago

I have two children, one aged 14 the other is 8 months. my 14 year old slept in my bed till he was one and then he got his own room and bed, he still came in for a cuddle first thing in the morning untill he was nearly eleven and is a confident relaxed boy who is not afraid to tell me personal things or ask questions which could be deemed awkward, he also slept very soundly since he was 2 days old and so did i. My duaghter who is 8 months old is an altogether different creature. she has always been put in her moses basket for the first part of the night and inevitably ended up in the bed with us by 1 am. she is now in her own room and rather than bring her into the marital bed I have put a single bed in her room so that I can sleep with her without disturbing my husband when she is having a bad night. at 8 months she still has to have four feeds during the night and is an extremely bad tempered child. my husband has even said it was better when she came in with us as at least i got some sleep but I feel so much pressure to get her to fit a sleep pattern that seperates her from us that I am really struggling to keep it together and as for marital time, Hah , not even getting to think about that let alone use the bed for it.
Part of this difficulty is that I am still breastfeeding but trying to keep a husband and a baby happy at night are very difficult.

Sarah S.
Sarah S.8 years ago

I find it hard to believe that sleeping arrangements are the sole cause of the lack of independence of those boys. I'd venture a guess that the way they were parented during the day had a lot to do with it as well. Why blame it all on how they spent their mostly-unconscious time?
As for my family, my husband and I shared a bed with our son until he was 3.5 and we moved into a new house where he could have his own room. He's 4.5 now and happily goes to sleep in his own room (with the usual glass of water, one more hug, have to pee things that most kids do). Now his younger sister sleeps with us and will do so until she is ready to transition into her own room. We all get more sleep this way, it works for us.
If a parent (or parents) prefer to sleep alone and have their child down the hall, that's their prerogative of course and I'd never suggest they were harming their children, and I appreciate when that same courtesy is extended to me.
As for the "marital bed" and "personal time" - there are many other rooms in the house. wink wink, nudge nudge, etc. We somehow managed to get a second child, didn't we? Rest assured, our marriage is fine.

Warrior S.
Betsy H8 years ago

Hello Jean,
Your thoughts that co-sleeping with ones babies/children will somehow rear unsuccessful, needy adults is not based on any research so therefore is baseless. With this logic, all people and cultures throughout the world who co-sleep are rearing a bunch of dead beat kids. This kind of myopic thinking leads to a most unfortunate outcome. Ignorance. Lots of factors play in the way children behave as adults. Co-sleeping by in large (with the history of the many cultures throughout the world as a base to this claim) breeds children who are very confident lead fruitful independent lives. In other words co-sleeping along with mindful parenting during the waking hours will rear wonderful, happy and secure children. If one chooses to co-sleep they should not fear that they are somehow crippling their child. In this day and age the last thing people need is fear based uneducated opinions about something so dear and personal.

Jean Burgess
Jean Burgess8 years ago

My daughter slept with me msybe 3 times in her life. I believe that children need to have their own bed and sleep there--for their growth and self-confidence and because parents need their space and privacy. As one commenter said, it IS the marital bed. Many hubbies would object, I think.
My current roomie always let her kids come crawl in with her. She put the 2 oldest to bed in their bed but they inevitably ended up in her bed before morning. The youngest she just let come to bed when she did. All boys and they continued this until they reached their teen years---the youngest into his teen years. The oldest is 33, his 1st wife and him moved half way across the US-but he kept finding excuses for coming home cuz he missed mom. The 2nd won't move more than half an hour's deive from mom,wants her to live with em, help with the kids--and can't support his family. The youngest keeps moving back home, can't keep a job, begs his disabled mom for money, food, can he live with her--with his 3 kids (can she feed them too?)
My daughter is 3 years older tham her youngest (26) and has 3 kids. She has her own place, she has us over at least once a week and sometimes more for supper (lasagna, cookout!); and often stops by and drops off food to us, just because... She also gets her hubby to help us with tilling the garden or fixing the car and we fix em supper in payment--no cash wanted.
So, I figure my way was better and led to more independence and maturity. Hers are still babies!!!!

Susan M.
Susan Miller9 years ago

Hi Sheila...

As my children grew - after spending time in our bed as babies... we never really had any more hassle with them than any other parent. (We all know the 'I want a glass of water, a cuddle, had a bad dream, thought I heard a noise etc etc ' that children can come up with! ) Our first child, our daughter... was an insomniac until around age 20. I should have known - she never ever stopped wiggling and moving once she started inside me!!! Never for 2 minutes! And she was the one who only slept 20 mins in 24hours... and screamed the rest of the time with colic. Hence the sleeping in our bed. Our son, slept a little better - not much, and he too shared our bed from time to time... not every night, but certainly a good amount of time.. but he wasn't a problem sleeping in his own bed once he got past around 4. My daughter is quite confident and strong, and has two babies of her own now - and yes.. from time to time, they share her bed. HOWEVER, my dad left when my sister was just 3 - and mum shared a room with her until she was almost an adult! She... has shared with her three children - and can NEVER keep them out of her bed/room and the youngest two are 11 and 15! The just come in in the middle of the night regardless! (The oldest has finally stopped... age 20!) I couldn't have stood this... and would have put a lock on my door long ago!! lol! Adults deserve their privacy too!

Sheila P.
Sheila P9 years ago

This has been an issue that has affected our family for some time and it was interesting reading all of the different comments. As babies, my girls slept in the room with us in the bassinet, snuggled with us often and was held many nights. I always felt that them having their independence and "mastering" sleeping on their own was so very important. This probably though was colored by the fact that my stepson continued sleeping with his Mother until he was 12 years old. She finally was forced to let him go as he is now in adolescence. He now has lots of issues with self confidence and has an incredibly difficult time sleeping by himself. His Grandfather has to sleep on the floor in his room to get him to sleep in his own bed. I see that co-sleeping has worked for many of you - how or even did any of these concerns play into the decision making on co-sleeping? And, have you found any sleeping problems with your teens? If so, how did you handle them? Thanks so much - -

Susan M.
Susan Miller9 years ago

Way back near the beginning of these comments... I posted. I didn't believe before having children.. that having them in bed with you was a good idea. After getting NO sleep... for a number of months... I gave in. We needed sleep! It sort of worked. We got more sleep than before. I didn't do it ... to 'get close' to my children. I did it... as a necessity. However - they would always have been in our bedroom, but in their own cot until at least 6 months old - maybe even older.

I agreed too - that the marital bed... should really be just that! After all - how on earth do you have 'personal time' with babies and children around? The answer was... we hardly ever did! Either we were too tired... or the baby was there! Fortunately, my husband is a very understanding and kind man and we were ok. I know this alone could have broken up many a couple. It is very difficult, not to be loved... make love for so long. It is a bonding between mates after all. It is NOT the be all and end all of married life - but it is VERY important for both partners. I am interested in all the others who have posted - what effect did this 'family bed' have on your marriage - or your personal life???