Co-sleeping and the Family Bed
Should we share beds with our babies despite the risks?
I was so tempted to co-sleep with my son – every night.
We had just brought baby Alex home from the hospital, and nighttime, as it is for all parents with a newborn, was a nightmare. Not only did this kid want to nurse every 15 minutes on the hour, he would not go to sleep unless he was cuddled against me, in our bed.
Sleep-deprived to the point where my eyesight was blurry even in daylight, I made a tearful plea to my husband Josh: please let the baby sleep with us, so I can go to sleep!
Josh refused. “If we let him do this, he’ll be in our bed until he’s 5 years old. It sets a bad precedent,” he said, not caring that the word “precedent” sounds like “wahwahwah” to an exhausted mom who just gave birth a few days ago.
With red eyes and engorged breasts, I grumpily went along with it. And I have to say that my husband’s tough love paid off. Alex is nearing 3, and he sleeps alone at night in the dark with the door closed. Once his head hits the crib mattress (yeah, yeah, yeah, the toddler bed is next on the milestones agenda) he’s out.
This may have worked in our family. However, not all parents choose this route on sleeping arrangements. In fact, a recent study found that infant bed sharing, or parents sharing sleeping space with their infants, is still widely practiced despite the health concerns involved.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has cautioned against the risks of bed sharing, citing growing research that shows infants who bed share are at increased risks of accidental suffocation and sudden infant death syndrome or SIDS.
But according to a University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine study published in a recent edition of the Academic Pediatrics journal, many parents believe the perceived benefits of bed sharing outweigh the warnings.
The study interviewed 28 caregivers in four focus groups, all of whom shared their beds with infants aged 1-6 months.
Proponents of bed sharing said the practice allowed all parties within the household to sleep better at night. Others cited convenience and family traditions as a reason, while others believed that bed sharing protected their babies, rather than posing a health risk.
In every focus group discussion, however, parents reported near-miss incidents of their infants suffocating. Some parents said they would recommend against bed sharing to others, despite the fact that they bed share themselves.
For those who do insist on bed sharing, the study’s chief researcher Jennifer Chianese, M.D., recommended they get counseling on how to avoid SIDS risk factors such as using a firm mattress, dispensing with extra pillows and covers and putting babies to sleep on their backs.
Do I believe in co-sleeping? Would I tell another parent not to create a family bed? I think it’s a touchy subject, one that ranks up there with spanking and nutrition as “taboo topics” among moms. I just know that in the long run, separate bedrooms worked in my son’s favor. Although … I suspect that someday, when Alex wakes up in the middle of the night from a bad dream, I’m going to end up sleeping in his bed.
Jennifer Lubell is a healthcare reporter in Washington, D.C., and mom to 2-year-old Alex.