The co-sleeping, bed-sharing family

Aug 31, 2012 at 2:00 p.m. ET

Sharing your bed with your child is known as bed sharing or co-sleeping — the baby or toddler sleeps on the same surface as his parent or parents. Bed sharing is often frowned upon by western society and is sometimes recommended against by professionals and individuals, particularly in light of SIDS awareness. Done properly, co-sleeping is actually quite safe and extremely beneficial for the baby and the rest of the family. Read on to find out more!

A co-sleeping family

Parents have been sharing their sleep space with their infants and children for thousands of years. The idea of a crib and a separate bedroom is a relatively new one — moms several hundred years ago would have found the idea quite odd and unnatural. The modern push toward early independence has changed the mainstream mindset so parents today feel they need to separate themselves from their newborns from the beginning.

Bed-sharing benefits

Just one facet of attachment parenting, bed sharing is beneficial in many different ways. One of the top reasons moms give is easier access to breastfeeding. Dani, mom of 3-year-old Laura, says, "When I was in the hospital, the nurses showed me how to side nurse — and after that I was hooked." Often a mother is able to sense her baby waking and position her to nurse before she becomes upset and cries. Both Mom and Baby then drift off to sleep with minimal disturbance.

Also, moms who co-sleep generally get more sleep than those who choose a crib paired with a separate bedroom. Brittney, mom of 1-year-old Bella, agrees. "When she was a newborn I never had the terrible lack of sleep that a lot of parents go through," she said. "Once we got in the groove of things our whole family was able to get a full night's sleep every night."

Elizabeth, mama of girls Evelyn and Aubrey, had a similar experience. "It's so much easier to wake up at the first signs of fussing, rather than the full-on crying they'd be doing if I had to hear them over a monitor and then get up and tend to them," she said.

Tonya, mother of 13-year-old Sebastian, got negative feedback on their sleeping arrangement but went with her instincts. "I was never worried about all the things people told me, like he would be a 'sissy' or he would never graduate to his own room," she said. "I even had a woman tell me it was abuse! Most of my parenting philosophy on things like that was that he'll do it when he's ready with my help. So far, so good!"

Safety tips for co-sleeping

While some worry co-sleeping will put a baby in danger, it is not the case as long as you practice safe co-sleeping. Here are some safe sleeping tips that you will want to keep in mind if you decide to sleep with your child.

  • Never bed share if impaired. This includes alcohol and drugs, both illegal and legal, such as narcotic painkillers or sleep aids.
  • Provide a firm surface. Your bed should not be super soft or have a fluffy pillow top.
  • Your bed should be firmly against a wall — no gaps.
  • Baby should be placed between Mom and the wall — not next to Dad or older siblings.
  • Keep blankets, comforters and pillows away from Baby — or even out of the bed.
  • Avoid placing Baby to sleep in your water bed or with you on a sofa.

Jen, whose mother co-slept with her when she was a baby, loves the bond she has with her family. "I'm really close to my parents, especially my mom," she said. "I know so many people who don't have the bond that I do with my mom and I feel bad for them for that because I wouldn't trade it for the world. My mom is the most important person in my life."

Tell us

While co-sleeping isn't for everyone, it is a valuable option. What choice will you make?

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