Disclaimer: The following is presented for informational purposes only and is not intended to be taken for medical advice. Always consult with your child’s pediatrician for your baby’s care, including safe sleep practices.
I’ll admit I was drawn to the idea of co-sleeping in my early days of motherhood. It sounded like the perfect cozy solution to soothing my colicky newborn who didn’t seem to sleep longer than 45 minutes at a time.
Ultimately however, my husband and I decided against co-sleeping. Not only did we failing to kick the dog out of our bed, we worried we might accidentally put our baby in danger by moving around in our sleep.
Since then I’ve learned more about co-sleeping and why experts recommend against the practice. Still, many desperate parents consider co-sleeping as a way to get much-needed rest for the whole family, so it’s a topic that we shouldn’t be afraid to discuss. Here is a breakdown of the controversy surrounding co-sleeping and why exactly health professionals don’t recommend it for families.
Cosleeping: What’s the Controversy About Anyways?
First of all, what exactly is co-sleeping? Cosleeping is exactly what it sounds like: when a parent or parent pair sleeps alongside their baby in an adult bed. There is no separate bedside bassinet or playpen that the baby sleeps in; instead the baby is right alongside the adults in the bed.
Co-sleeping is a hot topic among parents of infants. Experts warn against bringing your baby into bed with you, yet sleep deprivation can also wreak havoc on parents’ mental and even physical health, their ability to bond with their child, and interfere with their functions of daily life.
As a result, some parents resort to co-sleeping because they feel it’s the only way to get much-needed shut-eye. And for breastfeeding parents, co-sleeping can be especially appealing, because it can make nighttime feeds as easy as rolling over.
Some parents may also consider co-sleeping for cultural reasons. In many countries around the world, co-sleeping is the norm and parents are encouraged to sleep in close proximity to children for many years.
Co-sleeping is appealing to many different parents for many reasons and although health professional don’t recommend it, it remains fairly common. Since 1993, the amount of parents who say they co-sleep has grown from 6 percent to 24 percent in 2015.
Still, despite the reasons people are drawn to it, medical experts agree it isn’t worth the risk. Let’s talk about why.
“Some parents may resort to co-sleeping because they feel it’s the only way to get much-needed shut-eye."
What the Experts Say About Cosleeping
About 3,500 infants die each year in the U.S. from sleep-related deaths, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). These aren’t all due to co-sleeping, but sleeping with your baby does increase the risk of sleep-related infant death. One 2014 study of more than 8,000 infant deaths over eight years, found that 69% of the infants who died were in a bed with an adult at the time of death.
According to the AAP, sharing a sleep space with your baby is associated with an increased risk of:
- Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
- Accidental suffocation
- Accidental strangulation
There are few main dangers that experts caution can be harmful to a baby in a cosleeping situation:
Risk of suffocation
Newborns do not have the head and neck strength to turn away from a pillow or blanket that is covering their nose and mouth, which is why the AAP recommends babies be placed on their backs, on a firm surface and in their own sleep space, like crib or bassinet, without any loose blankets, toys or stuffed animals.
Risk of harm from an adult
Even with the most careful and cautious parents, there is still a chance an adult may roll on to a baby in their sleep, or the baby may become trapped between the mattress and the headboard. Put simply, small babies do not have the strength to move away from these dangers and protect themselves from suffocation.
Risk of harm from adult blankets or pillows
Some advice you might find about co-sleeping may claim the practice is safe as long as certain precautions are taken, like removing heavy blankets and pillows from the bed. Still, the AAP stresses against co-sleeping, especially for babies younger than four months old.
“In one study, 69% of the infants who died were in a bed with an adult at the time of death."
What You Can Do Instead of Cosleeping
There are undeniably benefits to cosleeping, but because the dangers override any potential convenience, there is still something you can do to keep your baby close without actually sharing a bed: room sharing.
While sleeping in the same bed as your baby is discouraged, sleeping in close proximity to your baby can actually lower the risk of SIDS. For this reason, the AAP recommends room sharing with your baby for at least the first six months, preferably a year.
This means having your baby sleep in the same room as you, but in their own sleep space. You can pick up a bedside bassinet or a playpen with a bassinet feature to keep your baby within arm’s reach. Room sharing offers many of the same benefits as co-sleeping without the risk. You can keep your baby close and facilitate breastfeeding without potentially rolling on them or having them become tangled in your sheets.
“While sleeping in the same bed as your baby is discouraged, sleeping in close proximity to your baby can actually lower the risk of SIDS."
How to Talk to Your Doctor about Cosleeping
Despite the warnings against it, many parents end up co-sleeping for a variety of reasons, including not being able to get their baby to sleep any other way. If you are considering co-sleeping or have been cosleeping and want to transition to room sharing, don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor about some safe sleep solutions.
Speak with your child’s care provider and be open about any difficulties you are experiencing in trying to get your baby to sleep in their own space. A doctor will be able to address your questions and offer suggestions that can help. They may also be able to rule out any medical reasons why your baby may have trouble sleeping and can offer tips for ways to encourage safe and independent sleep.
Co-sleeping may seem appealing, and some parents feel like it is their only choice for everyone to get sleep, but bringing your baby into bed with you can increase the risk of SIDS and accidental suffocation. Having the information you need to keep your baby safe is crucial to making an empowered decision as a parent.
“Having the information you need to keep your baby safe is crucial to making an empowered decision as a parent."
Frequently Asked Questions
Is co-sleeping really that dangerous?
Co-sleeping significantly increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, (SIDS), accidental suffocation and accidental strangulation. One 2014 study of more than 8,000 infant deaths over eight years, found 69% of the infants were bed-sharing at the time of death.
Are there any benefits of cosleeping?
Co-sleeping can help facilitate breastfeeding and enhance the bonding between parent and child. However, there are many other ways to encourage bonding that don’t come with the risks associated with co-sleeping, like skin-to-skin contact while feeding or when you and baby are both awake, babywearing and reading to your baby.
Is it against the law to cosleep?
In short no, there are no laws in the U.S. that prohibit co-sleeping, but some parents whose children have died as a result of co-sleeping have been charged with child endangerment.
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