Co-sleeping and the Family Bed

Should We Share Beds with Our Babies Despite the Risks?

Parenting Choices

Co-sleeping and the Family Bed

Should we share beds with our babies despite the risks?

-Jennifer Lubell

the family bedI 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.

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0 thoughts on “Co-sleeping and the Family Bed

  1. Your logic is incorrect, and you assume causation where there is none. You assume because of your choice of sleep methods that your son is a good sleeper when he was likely predisposed to it. They might be correlated, but this is a simple logical fallacy. My son coslept for 4 years, and he has always and still continues to be an amazing sleeper.

    Also, you neglect to mention that the health risks usually involve drugs, drink or obesity. And the SIDS claim has been up for debate (it’s been found room- and bed-sharing lowers the incidence of SIDS because parents are more aware of their child during sleep).

    Cosleeping is quite safe when done responsibly.

    However, another thing that stuck out to me was your husband’s reaction. How does the fact your husband ignored you and your needs mean something works for you? It sounds like he pretty much made the decision without any sound research and did not give you or your child a thought. I think that’s an extremely poor idea to perpetuate. People should research for themselves, not make decisions based on their husband’s selfish and ignorant statements.

  2. Wait, you’re missing something. How many near-misses of suffocation did non-family bed families have? Further, the studies are actually showing that there is a lowered risk of SIDS because the close proximity to a parent helps a child to regulate their breathing.
    For what it’s worth, I have four children, all of whom have shared my bed in the newborn days and have gone through the night, happily, in their own beds by 18 months. No crying it out, no tough love, just happy children and happy mummy. I think that your partner’s lack of flexibility and awareness of an infant’s needs is scary, but not half as scary as his total lack of respect for you.

  3. I can’t believe we’re still having this debate. Co-sleeping is not dangerous unless there are other factors involved — like alcoholism or drug-abuse — and if that’s the case then there are much bigger issues to be worrying about! My infant daughter slept in our bed after I realized how easy it was to nurse her in the night — we never experienced that sleep-deprivation I hear so many new parents complain about. There is NO way she was ever in danger.

  4. Also, what exactly are “near-miss incidents of…infants suffocating”? What does that mean? And there is no mention of other effects such as drinking, drug use, weight that may have influenced these incidents. Again, you are implying causation (cosleeping caused the “near-miss” suffocation incidents) when there is only correlation (cosleeping is related to the “near-miss” suffocation incidents).

    People are just worried about admitting they do it because of the widespread misconceptions of colseeping and being judged or threatened (depending on where you live). People have this false perception that cosleeping means a child never sleeps alone or has sleep issues. This “article” perpetuates faulty information yet again. However, I have never met a kid whose parents had to come to college with him, and it’s simply false that cosleeping causes sleep issues (while in some instances they may be correlated, there is certainly no causal relationship).

    It’s all about what works best for your family.

  5. Great article! I’m not at all surprised at the finding that near-miss suffocation episodes are common during bedsharing – in another recent study (Maternal bedsharing practices, experiences, and awareness of risks. Ateah CA et al, J Obstet Gynecol Neonatal Nurs. 2008 May-Jun;37(3):274-81), this one involving mostly white, upper-middle class women from Manitoba, nearly 1 in 7 mothers (13%) reported at least one incident involving someone rolling over fully or partially onto the baby while asleep. Most people (regardless of race or socioeconomic class) don’t put pillows of heavy covers in babies’ cribs, and the risk of a parent overlaying a baby in a crib is nil, so I doubt very much there are anywhere near as many cases of near-miss suffocation in the crib-sleeping babies.

    And while roomsharing with a baby in the first few months has been known to halve the risk of SIDS, there is evidence that bedsharing with your baby – even when parents are not under the influence of alcohol or drugs, are not obese, do not smoke (another not well-publicized but major risk factor) and are not ‘overly fatigued’ – is riskier than not in the first 2-3 months, and afterwards there is no significant difference unless a parent smokes or is otherwise compromised. There is no evidence whatsoever that cosleeping reduces SIDS, despite what Dr. Sears, James McKenna, and Mothering Magazine claim.

    The safest place for a small infant to sleep is not in her parents’ bed, but in a sidecarred crib or a bassinet in her parents’ bedroom.

    And I think the author’s husband’s instincts should count for something too, being the baby’s father and all…

  6. Fern, did we read the same article?!? That was horribly written, assumed causation where there was none and failed to adequately discuss the issue beyond the expected and very boring party line. We have all read this before. As a personal blog post, yes it’s fine. But as an article, it pretty much fails every basic test.

    Estherar, thanks for the link! However, these are anecdotal studies, which calles into question their accuracy and validity. I absolutely agree parenting decisions should be made with both parents. However, HE made the decision, it was not a family one and she was dismissed. How is that a partnership? And it directly effected the mother–the one obviously doing the night time parenting! HE ignored her very really issues with a dismissive, uninformed attitude. If could have factually presented his side, and they could have agreed on a course together. Instead, he said too bad, it’s my way. How do you not see this is really problematic? You said yourself said his voice should count (because repeated old party lines is hardly an instinct!), but it does not need to be the ONLY one does it?

    Also, how come there are so many more infant death incidences in a crib than cosleeping? How do you explain that? How does that make cosleeping less safe?

    Needcoffee, I can understand that for sure. But that does not mean others cannot you know? It’s all about what works for you. But you probably know a child who died in the crib as well (I personally know 4 and no cosleeping deaths, but that’s my anecdata). I don’t insist people do things the way I do. I think it should be a personal choice. However, it should be an informed choice made by BOTH parties–not one.

    And repeating the same old, tired information and calling it informational or journalism does a disservice to the profession and to us as parents. We deserve better. The “article” lacks timeliness, relevance, and it brings no new information to the table and perpetuates tired stereotypes. And it’s biased. Pretty much a writing fail.

  7. Ahh, I read the study. I was a survey with a 26% return rate! Hello, selection bias. In and of itself, it’s not very useful. And I cannot find much that agrees with it.

    And I found this:
    “ASSB [accidental suffocation and strangulation in bed] includes suffocation by (1) soft bedding, pillow, or waterbed mattress, (2) overlaying or rolling on top of or against infant while sleeping, or (3) wedging and entrapment of an infant between 2 objects such as a mattress and wall, bed frame, or furniture; and strangulation by asphyxiation, such as when an infant

  8. Total marriage downer! Keep your kids in their room unless they have a nightmare, you can always talk them down and gt them back to sleep in their own bed.

  9. This is a question I am currently asking myself as a soon-to-be mom. I hear you that having the newborn close by make feeding so much easier but I do really worry about issues with blankets, rolling over, etc. My husband sleeps so deeply that having a tiny baby in bed with us really worries me.

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