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The co-sleeping debate

Everywhere you turn, there is a parenting book telling you how you should parent…or how you shouldn’t. Pick an issue and it’s possible that last-year’s must-do has become this year’s no-no. Sleep positioners, anyone?! One topic that garners plenty of discussion is co-sleeping or the family bed. Whatever you call it, putting your baby or child(ren) in bed with you has both strong proponents and opponents.

baby and mom co-sleeping

It’s time to do what works best for you. One thing most experienced moms will tell you about parenting is that you can read, read and read some more, make a plan based on all of the current information available and then find that it does not work. The information should certainly be written and shared — that’s how we make intelligent decisions. But the pressure that moms can exert on each other, the quiet judgment they can pass, is where education crosses the line and becomes imposition. I’ve never let my inability to do what “everyone else is doing” or what everyone says is “best” drag me down, but it does not mean it’s easy to ignore.

many benefits…

Joshua Sparrow, M.D., Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and co-author of Touchpoints, explains that families across cultures have been co-sleeping for generations. In fact, he says some cultures would find the idea of putting your baby in a separate room, then observing the baby over a video monitor, just plain odd.

There are many benefits to co-sleeping, including physical closeness, ease of breastfeeding, less getting out of bed during the night, and security and comfort for baby. This is not a comprehensive list by any stretch of the imagination.

…and some drawbacks

However, co-sleeping isn’t always ideal. In some circumstances, it just isn’t safe. If one parent is on medication — prescription or over-the-counter — that makes him or her especially drowsy, it’s unwise to co-sleep. There are plenty of moms who aren’t able to sleep at all with baby in her bed, either because she is too anxious or because any time her baby so much as breathes more heavily than usual, mom wakes up. Being a new parent is exhausting as it is, and it’s important to sleep when you can.

Some children don’t do well with co-sleeping — my son was unable to co-sleep, despite our best and exhaustive efforts. Other parents want their bed to themselves, and what so many people say is true: once you’re a parent, you don’t have much to yourself anymore. It’s understandable that some moms and dads want to hang on to what they can.

but In the end…

…you have to do what works. “I personally feel like it’s the family’s decision,” says Dr. Sparrow, even though he can effortlessly list many reasons why co-sleeping is great. He notes that well-informed parents sort through the information available to them, consider their personal situations — including risk factors that could make co-sleeping less safe, such as a parent on medication, and circumstances that could make it beneficial, such as bonding opportunities when your baby was adopted — and then they make a choice.

The key is that your choice should be guilt-free. We all have to do what’s best for our families, and as moms, we need to support each other, not judge.


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