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Should You Let Your Child Sleep With You?

Co-sleeping is native to many cultures but it's a tradition that modern medicine is questioning. With the yearning for parent–child bonding and physical closeness to the young infant, co-sleeping has its fair share of takers. If this is something you do want to do, taking some precautions can make it safer for the child.

Many countries and cultures in Asia, Central America, South America, Africa, and even southern Europe consider co-sleeping as perfectly natural. Some movements in the West like the Natural Child Project are also working to bring co-sleeping to more families worldwide.

However, the fear of suffocation and other risks of co-sleeping have some parents giving it a wide berth. Clearly, co-sleeping and crib or independent sleeping both have their share of followers, but which side are the experts on?

Advantages Of Co-Sleeping

  • Some experts believe that co-sleeping helps children, especially babies, sleep better and more deeply.
  • For working parents, it is a chance to be close to their child after a day-long separation.
  • Co-sleeping may also help fix a child’s sleep-related problems in the short run by temporarily suppressing the sleeping trouble.
  • It also helps a nursing mom to align her sleep with the child’s and makes way for easier breastfeeding and more sleep.

As one study found, co-sleeping could well help breastfed babies and their mothers to sleep more, but it didn’t hold true for bottle-fed babies and their moms. In the study, mothers who breastfed slept more while co-sleeping with their babies, but the amount of sleep bottle-feeding mothers got was not influenced by where their baby was sleeping.1

Research has also found that co-sleeping cannot actually solve the underlying problems causing sleep disturbances, thereby limiting its benefits.2

Risks Of Co-Sleeping

According to an interview with a Pediatric doctor at the Yale University School of Medicine on National Public Radio, what has experts worried is the possibility of accidental strangulation or suffocation.3 Once asleep, you, the parent, are no longer fully aware of how you move through the night. Some of the expected hazards are as follows:

  • Overlying by a parent
  • Entrapment as the child is wedged between the mattress/pillow or other objects on the bed
  • The child’s head getting stuck in railings since the bed is not usually designed keeping child safety in mind
  • Suffocation with water beds
  • The child getting tangled in bed linen… the horrific scenarios are seemingly endless.4

Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) was a major cause of fatalities. But lately, while SIDS-related deaths have reduced, deaths due to other causes like accidental suffocation have risen.

Both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence in the UK have safe sleep environment guidelines that specifically mention bed-sharing is risky and increases the chances of SIDS.5

A study spanning data from 24 states between 2004 and 2012 (derived from the National Center for the Review and Prevention of Child Deaths Case Reporting System) confirms that bedsharing or co-sleeping is the most significant risk factor for sleep-related deaths among younger infants.6 The risk is even more if the co-sleeping adult is a smoker or has had alcohol, drugs, or medication that dulls awareness.7

So Sometimes Or Never?

Does this mean you should completely do away with the possible bonding of being near your child when they sleep? As the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame explains, there is a way to sleep near your child, safely. Here are some tips to follow that should offer a safe compromise between co-sleeping and independent sleeping.8

  1. Ensure the baby is on his/her back.
  2. Let the baby sleep on a separate surface alongside the parents but not in the same bed. A co-sleeper attachment to your bed may be a good idea.
  3. Never place a child near a sleeping adult who is unaware that the baby is in the same bed as them. If necessary, vocalize the fact that you both know the baby is in your bed, to remind yourselves to be careful and that you are both responsible for the safety of the child. This will keep both parents alert.
  4. Never co-sleep intoxicated or after taking a sedative, or even an antihistamine. It could cause you to sleep more deeply than you can imagine.
  5. Don’t let kids co-sleep with their siblings when they are under a year old.
  6. Keep the sleeping area free of pillows and soft toys, and tie up long hair into a bun so it doesn’t accidentally strangle the baby.

References   [ + ]

1. Quillin, Stephanie IM, and L. Lee Glenn. “Interaction between feeding method and co‐sleeping on maternal‐newborn sleep.” Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, & Neonatal Nursing 33, no. 5 (2004): 580-588.
2. Medoff, David, and Charles E. Schaefer. “Children sharing the parental bed: a review of the advantages and disadvantages of cosleeping.” Psychology: A Journal of Human Behavior (1993).
3. Is Co-Sleeping With Infants Dangerous? NPR.
4. Nakamura, Suad, Marilyn Wind, and Mary Ann Danello. “Review of hazards associated with children placed in adult beds.” Archives of pediatrics & adolescent medicine 153, no. 10 (1999): 1019-1023.
5. SIDS and Other Sleep-Related Infant Deaths: Expansion of Recommendations for a Safe Infant Sleeping Environment, AAP.
6. Colvin, Jeffrey D., Vicki Collie-Akers, Christy Schunn, and Rachel Y. Moon. “Sleep environment risks for younger and older infants.” Pediatrics 134, no. 2 (2014): e406-e412.
7. Co-sleeping safety, National Childbirth Trust.
8. Safe Cosleeping Guidelines, Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory, University of Notre Dame.

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.