I have a friend who asked me to post my experiences and opinions on co sleeping. We have co slept with ALL of our children. Granted, with our first pregnancy, we did what most first time parents do and set up the crib (which I sewed all the blankets, bumpers, pillows, and valances) and bedroom for our baby to sleep in after delivery. But our plan was, most definitely, thwarted and the LOVE we felt for our newest arrival.
I distinctly remember looking down at this brand new tiny being and realizing there was NO WAY IN HELL he was ever going to leave my site. Whether it was during the day or night. I was TOTALLY and COMPLETELY in LOVE in every possible way. I was not about to disconnect myself, in any way, from this vulnerable life whom I intuitively knew, needed my presence ALL THE TIME. Especially during the night!
Once we made the conscious decision that, YES….we were one of those freaky parents who let their kids sleep in their bed, we enjoyed absolutely EVERY minute of it. In fact, we would NEVER want it any other way again. Even my husband adores sleeping with our little ones. My sister recently told me of how they when moved their daughter out of their bed and into a play pen, still in their room next to their bed, and her sweet husband was choked up about seeing their daughter leave their bed. So Loving!
So let me tell you how co sleeping has worked in our home. Now when we started co sleeping, it was 16 years ago. People have become MUCH more understanding of co sleeping and its benefits. It was really hard for my Mom to understand since her and my father had made an agreement that NO kids were to enter the bedroom which meant that the concept of co sleeping was VERY new to my husband and I.
I had done enough research to actually purchase a guard rail to place on my side of the bed. The first few nights after Dean’s birth, we placed Dean between Chris and I. When I first started reading about co sleeping, the fear of rolling over on your baby was combated with the argument that you learn to not roll off the bed. Its instinctual. Not rolling over on your baby is also INSTINCTUAL! Very instinctual for women but I’ve learned to believe not so instinctual for men.
After a few nights of placing Dean between Chris and I, one night I awoke abruptly only to sit up and see Chris in the beginning processes of rolling over onto Dean. I hurried and pushed him back to how he was laying and gathered up Dean. I moved Dean over to the other side of me, between me and the guard rail, and never again did one of our babies spend the whole night between Chris and I in bed. It was a WONDERFUL learning experience for me.
I think co sleeping had so many WONDERFUL advantages that any disadvantage just doesn’t measure up. But, I do think there is a SAFER way to co sleep and that is with the use of a guard rail or even Arms Reach Co Sleeper which I had heard LOTS of good things about though I’ve never tried myself.
When we started having children, we slept in a full bed. Yes, it was quite tight for the 3 of us but I would NEVER take back the time spent in bed with my dear, sweet husband and my newest tiny addition. I have so many memories of cuddling, bonding and connecting with each baby while Chris and I laid in AWE of our most RADIANT creation.
When using a guard rail, I believe purchasing a rail that folds and bends is the easiest to use. If you notice on the picture below, the rail fits behind the bed frame and sits snug against the bed. Also, the hinges on the bottom corners of the rail, you’ll see that you can actually lift and fold the rail back to make it easier to pick baby up. This is similar, if not exact, to the types of rails we used with all 5 of our kids. You can purchase more high tech ones like the Safety 1st Secure Lock Bed rail.
I see night time parenting being JUST as important as daytime parenting. We want to live in this nice prepackaged world where our babies come fully equipped to sleep all night every night. I see this as a beautiful ideal but truthfully not reality. Unfortunately, babies/newborns sleep patterns tend to be the opposite of ours. They like to be nice and sleepy ALL day long and then wide eyed and bushy tailed when your ABSOLUTELY exhausted.
This is where co sleeping fits right in AMAZINGLY! I was always surprised at the women who thought I was just CRAZY because I slept with my babies. I gotta be honest here, I think women who are willing to fully wake themselves up, put on a robe or excess clothing, proceed to walk into a WHOLE other room and the sit down FULLY awake to breast feed your newborn for the half an hour and hour that it takes is CRAZY, but that’s just my opinion! But Seriously….Who wants to do that? Mind you, I think you are courageous, strong women but doing that is not my idea of making sure my baby and I get the BEST nights sleep possible. That’s my GOAL in our home.
Not only does co sleeping afford you the opportunity to bond 24/7 with the new life in your family, it gifts you the ability to stay close to baby. I know, as mothers and women, we are constantly concerned for the well being of our families, co sleeping…for us…meant I felt safer knowing I was watching and staying as close to my baby as possible.
There has been so EXCITING new research into the world of SIDS and co sleeping. I do agree that co sleeping could prevent SIDS just because of the mere approximation you have to your baby. Your ability to watch sleep patterns and keep close to your baby. I do believe though that its the touching, cuddling and closeness that actually keeps babies nervous system and body functions going, as Moms body helps to keep babies body regulated.
For those who are wondering how long our babies sleep in our beds and when we finally move them out…the answer is….when THEY are ready. We haven’t had a child yet who wants to stay in our bed longer than 3 years. And their usually already half moved into their siblings rooms BEFORE their 3rd birthday. But we just don’t make a big deal out of it.
In our home, what happens is the older kids WANT to sleep with their younger brother and sister. I have decided that sleeping together creates a tight knit bond between you and those you touch, lay by and take comfort with during the night. I have seen it with me and my children and my children with each other.
Once our children start talking about wanting to be a ‘BIG’ kid and sleep with an older sibling, we start gently making space for them to do so. With Dean, our oldest, we tried moving him out at only a year old. After he lunged his whole body off the top of his crib and actually caused himself physical pain not to be separated from us, we knew he wasn’t ready. Instead, we went ahead and moved his crib mattress onto our floor. We moved our own bed mattress onto the floor and we created a NICE, LARGE family bed. We ALL LOVED it!
Our first 2 boys stay in that bed until they were ready to stay in their own room next to ours. That happened when Golden, our youngest at the time who was about 2, decided it was time and they were big boys and they wanted their own room with their own bed. It was a MOMENTOUS moment in our home. I will NEVER forget it. I cried. But was HAPPY that they were growing up.
We’ve found moving our younger children into the rooms of our older children, when they felt ready, was the easiest and best format for us. Our kids are EXCITED about being one of the big kids and the older kids have been waiting for their littlest sibling to share a bedroom with. Its seems to have worked our perfectly each and every time we’ve left the decision making up to them INSTEAD of us. THEY know when they feel safe enough in their world to leave the “bedroom nest.”
I will let the articles I’ve posted below speak for the rest of the WONDERFULNESS of co sleeping. It is something that I would NEVER change or do it differently. My sleep and the sleep and safety of my baby were of utmost importance to me. These were really the only reasons I started co sleeping. It wasn’t until I tried it for myself that I saw ALL the other AWESOME benefits!
I do believe that because of co sleeping and night time parenting, me, my husband and our children have a deeper, more enriched connection that we might not have without sharing a bed. I see co sleeping as an avenue to truly understanding your baby, yourself and life as a new parent. Nighttime parenting affords opportunities for quiet growth for all parties involved and in my world,…..connection, comfort, trust, peace and LOVE rank highest on the list.
In Peace, Rachel ___________________________________________________________
Popular media has tried to discourage parents from sharing sleep with their babies, calling this worldwide practice unsafe. Medical science, however, doesn’t back this conclusion. In fact, research shows that co-sleeping is actually safer than sleeping alone. Here is what science says about sleeping with your baby:
Sleep more peacefully Research shows that co-sleeping infants virtually never startle during sleep and rarely cry during the night, compared to solo sleepers who startle repeatedly throughout the night and spend 4 times the number of minutes crying 1. Startling and crying releases adrenaline, which increases heart rate and blood pressure, interferes with restful sleep and leads to long term sleep anxiety.
Stable physiology Studies show that infants who sleep near to parents have more stable temperatures 2, regular heart rhythms, and fewer long pauses in breathing compared to babies who sleep alone 3. This means baby sleeps physiologically safer.
Decreases risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Worldwide research shows that the SIDS rate is lowest (and even unheard of) in countries where co-sleeping is the norm, rather than the exception 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. Babies who sleep either in or next to their parents’ bed have a fourfold decrease in the chance of SIDS 10. Co-sleeping babies actually spend more time sleeping on their back or side 1 which decreases the risk of SIDS. Further research shows that the carbon dioxide exhaled by a parent actually works to stimulate baby’s breathing 11.
Long term emotional health Co-sleeping babies grow up with a higher self-esteem, less anxiety, become independent sooner, are better behaved in school 12, and are more comfortable with affection 13. They also have less psychiatric problems 14.
Safer than crib sleeping The Consumer Product Safety Commission published data that described infant fatalities in adult beds. These same data, however, showed more than 3 times as many crib related infant fatalities compared to adult bed accidents 15. Another recent large study concluded that bed sharing did NOT increase the risk of SIDS, unless the mom was a smoker or abused alcohol 16.
McKenna, J., et al, “Experimental studies of infant-parent co-sleeping: Mutual physiological and behavioral influences and their relevance to SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).” Early Human Development 38 (1994)187-201.
C. Richard et al., “Sleeping Position, Orientation, and Proximity in Bedsharing Infants and Mothers,” Sleep 19 (1996): 667-684.
Touch in Early Development, T. Field, ed. (Mahway, New Jersey: Lawrence Earlbaum and Assoc., 1995).
“SIDS Global Task Force Child Care Study” E.A.S. Nelson et al., Early Human Development 62 (2001): 43-55
A. H. Sankaran et al., “Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and Infant Care Practices in Saskatchewan, Canada,” Program and Abstracts, Sixth SIDS International Conference, Auckland, New Zealand, February 8-11, 2000.
D. P. Davies, “Cot Death In Hong Kong: A Rare Problem?” The Lancet 2 (1985): 1346-1348.
N. P. Lee et al., “Sudden Infant Death Syndrome in Hong Kong: Confirmation of Low Incidence,” British Medical Journal 298 (1999): 72.
S. Fukai and F. Hiroshi, “1999 Annual Report, Japan SIDS Family Association,” Sixth SIDS International Conference, Auckland, New Zealand, 2000.
E. A. S. Nelson et al., “International Child Care Practice Study: Infant Sleeping Environment,” Early Human Development 62 (2001): 43-55.
P. S. Blair, P. J. Fleming, D. Bensley, et al., “Where Should Babies Sleep – Along or With Parents? Factors Influencing the Risk Of SIDS in the CESDI Study,” British Medical Journal 319 (1999): 1457-1462.
SIDS book, page 227, #162
P. Heron, “Non-Reactive Cosleeping and Child Behavior: Getting a Good Night’s Sleep All Night, Every Night,” Master’s thesis, Department of Psychology, University of Bristol, 1994.
M. Crawford, “Parenting Practices in the Basque Country: Implications of Infant and Childhood Sleeping Location for Personality Development” Ethos 22, no 1 (1994): 42-82.
J. F. Forbes et al., “The Cosleeping Habits of Military Children,” Military Medicine 157 (1992): 196-200.
D. A. Drago and A. L. Dannenberg, “Infant Mechanical Suffocation Deaths in the United States, 1980-1997,” Pediatrics 103, no. 5 (1999): e59.
R. G. Carpenter et al., “Sudden Unexplained Infant Death in 20 Regions in Europe: Case Control Study,” Lancet 2004; 363: 185-191.
Solitary infant sleeping is a principally western practice which is quite young in terms of human history. The practice of training children to sleep alone through the night is approximately two centuries old. Prior to the late 1700s cosleeping was the norm in all societies (Davies, 1995). Today in many cultures the practice of cosleeping continues, with babies seen as natural extensions of their mothers for the first one or two years of life, spending both waking and sleeping hours by her side. Cosleeping is taken for granted in such cultures as best for both babies and mothers, and the western pattern of placing small infants alone in rooms of their own is seen as aberrant (Thevenin, 1987). Comprehensive studies of western nonreactive cosleeping, defined as family cosleeping from birth as a custom, rather than as the result of childhood sleep disturbances, are not yet available. However medical and anthropological evidence suggests the western movement to solitary infant sleeping in the past two centuries may have consequences in the areas of attachment security and physical safety. Attachment and sleeping environment Early work by John Bowlby noted that the mother and baby pair who were continuously together would have a secure attachment relationship (Bowlby, 1953 cited in Davies, 1995). It is believed that the emotional security of the baby benefits from skin-to-skin contact during the night (Davies, 1995). In a study of early childhood cosleeping by Hayes, Roberts, and Stowe (1996) it was found that infants and children who were solitary sleepers had a much stronger attachment to a security object and were more likely to be disturbed by that object’s absence than cosleepers. In a 1992 study of soft object and pacifier attachments in children (Lehman, Denham, Moser, & Reeves) 40% of children with dual soft object and pacifier attachments, and 80% of children with attachments to pacifiers alone were rated as having an insecure attachment relationship with their mothers by 19 months. Attachment benefits of cosleeping are not limited to mother and child; fathers also report enjoying additional time to bond with the baby as a direct result of sharing a sleeping area (Davies, 1995; Seabrook, 1999; Thevenin, 1987). Fathers who share the family bed are likely to experience less disturbed sleep, because babies do not have to awake fully and cry to get their needs met.
Anthropological evidence Anthropological evidence of cosleeping societies is abundant. In reviews of literature on cosleeping societies Thevenin (1987) and Lozoff and Brittenham (1979) noted classic studies which included nearly 200 cultures, all of which practiced mother-infant cosleeping even if in some cultures the sleeping location of the father was separate. Examples of cultures included in the studies were the Japanese, the Korean, the Phillipino, the Eskimo Indian, the !Kung San of Africa, and the natives of Okinowa (Lozoff & Brittenham, 1979; Thevenin, 1987). The description of the Okinowan Indian culture included observations both of parent-child cosleeping until the age of six and unrestricted breastfeeding, as well as of characteristics of adult behavior that are very consistent with secure attachment histories (Thevenin, 1987). Cosleeping is the cultural norm for approximately 90% of the world’s population (Young, 1998).
An interesting contrast to the abundant anthropological evidence of cosleeping is the Israeli kibbutz practice of communal nurseries. In Israeli traditional kibbutz communities, infants are raised sleeping in communal nurseries starting at age six weeks. In a study of the influence on such a sleeping arrangement on infant-mother attachment Sagi, van Ijzendoorn, Aviezer, Donnell, and Mayseless (1994) found the rate of secure attachment was diminished significantly by infants sleeping in kibbutz infant houses instead of in their parents’ homes. In their study of 48 healthy infants, all infants spent nine hours a day, six days a week in small groups with a professional caregiver. All infants also went home for four hours during dinner time, from approximately 4 to 8 P.M. The infants in the kibbutzim with home-based sleeping would then spend the overnight hours in the care of their parents while the communal sleeping kibbutzim babies were returned to the infant houses to be put to sleep and watched overnight by two women who were monitoring several children’s houses from a central location and were responsible for upwards of 50 children between the ages of 6 weeks and 12 years. These “watchwomen” were kibbutz community members who served in this capacity for one week every six months on a rotating basis and were thus never consistently familiar to the infants. Background data with regards to quality of day care experiences, mothers’ biographical characteristics, mothers’ job satisfaction levels, and infants characteristics were considered essentially the same in both groups. The sole difference tested was the kibbutz sleeping arrangements. Within the kibbutz home-based infants, 80% were classified as having secure attachment relationships with their mothers, while among the communally-sleeping infants, only 48% demonstrated secure attachment relationship with their mothers. Although this has no direct relationship to cosleeping per se, it is likely that the primary reason the home-based babies had a higher rate of security was because of the consistency of their caregiver, who was by definition more able to respond to them quickly than the watchwomen. Physical safety
In May 1999, the Consumer Product Safety Commission [CPSC] released a warning against cosleeping or putting babies to sleep on adult beds that was based on a study of death reports of children under the age of two who had died from 1980 to 1997. Among the 2,178 deaths by unintentional strangulation in the Commission’s study were 180 young children who had died from being overlain on a sofa or bed. In another analysis of CPSC data it was found that of 515 deaths in an adult bed, 121 of these were the result of overlying and 394 children died as a result of entrapment in the structure of the bed (Heinig, 2000). The CPSC statistics resulted in a media frenzy discouraging cosleeping which, instead of educating the public on how to share sleep safely, chose to alarm parents. Neither media announcement mentioned the 2,700 infants that died in the final year of that study of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome [SIDS], formerly called “crib death”; the vast majority of those infants died alone in their cribs (Seabrook, 1999). Meanwhile, it is interesting to note that the CPSC media announcements did not release data regarding risk factors other than sleeping location, such as whether the overlying adult was under the influence of alcohol or drugs or whether the sleeping surface was appropriate; 79 of the 515 deaths occurred on waterbeds (Seabrook, 1999). Parents must observe safety guidelines for cosleeping, just as they would for picking out a crib.
Safety while cosleeping is of utmost importance. Parents should take very seriously the importance of providing their babies with a safe sleeping environment. There are many guidelines, most of which are common sense (Sears, 1995b; Thevenin, 1987). To start with, the bed must be arranged in such a way as to eliminate the possibility of the child falling out. This can be done using a mesh guardrail, a special cosleeper crib (with three sides), or by pushing the bed flush against the wall, making sure there are no crevices which could entrap the baby. Next, in the early months, parents must be sure to place the baby next to the mother rather than between the parents as fathers are not usually as aware of their infants as the mothers are at first. Cosleepers should use a large bed or a sidecar arrangement, with a three-sided crib clamped flush to the mother’s side of the bed and the mattresses set to the same level. They should avoid using heavy comforters or pillows near the infant. Babies should not be overdressed as the warmth of the mother will be shared with the child. Infants who cosleep are usually breastfed throughout the night; this is to be encouraged. Waterbeds, sofas, and other soft surfaces should not be the location for cosleeping (Heinig, 2000; Sears, 1995b; Thevenin, 1987). Most importantly, parents should not cosleep if they are seriously sleep-deprived or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Parents who are smokers should not cosleep as secondary smoke greatly increases the risk of death from SIDS (McKenna et al., 1993; Sears, 1995b).
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Research on cosleeping and SIDS has resulted in remarkable new body of knowledge which many view as affirming the decision of parents to opt for the family bed. Virtually all SIDS-related infant sleep research prior to the 1980s was conducted on isolated infants in sleep laboratories. In contrast to these studies, James McKenna, a medical anthropologist, has conducted several research studies of mother-infant cosleeping. McKenna postulated that infant sleep physiology evolved in the context of cosleeping and that infant sleep cannot be fully understood without studying the infant in its normative cosleeping environment (McKenna et al., 1993).
Within Dr. McKenna’s research, cosleeping is defined as the child sleeping close enough to another to “access, respond to or exchange sensory stimuli such as sound, movement, touch, vision, gas, olfactory stimuli, CO2, and/or temperature” (McKenna et al., 1993, p. 264). McKenna believes that cosleeping also alters other risk factors of SIDS, such as dangerous bedding, environmental temperature, and infant sleeping position. Using established polysomnographic recording guidelines, McKenna recorded the sleep, breathing, and arousal patterns of mothers and their two to four month old infants cosleeping in a laboratory and also recorded the same information for infants and mothers sleeping alone in adjacent rooms for two nights and then sleeping together for a third night (McKenna et al., 1994). Preliminary findings of cosleeping research indicated that cosleeping mothers and infants had a significantly higher levels of partner-influenced arousal overlap and synchronous sleep patterns. Since there is a suspected relationship between arousal deficits in infants and some deaths from SIDS (McKenna et al., 1993; Sears, 1995b), McKenna’s hypothesis that the influence of cosleeping on the infant’s respiratory patterns, central nervous system, and cardiovascular systems may have a protective effect seems quite valid.
Intriguingly, in a 1994 study in the United Kingdom of physiological development, infant sleeping, and SIDS risk in Asian infants, Petersen and Wailoo found that although the Asian babies had several increased physiological risk factors for SIDS, the SIDS rate is much lower in this population. The authors note that perhaps this is due to the increased stimulation the infants receive as a result of Asian infant care practices. These practices include cosleeping, carrying, and other activities which involve the child more in household life (Petersen & Wailoo, 1994). SIDS rates in Asian countries, where cosleeping is often the norm, are significantly lower than those in western society (Thevenin, 1987).
Attitudes toward cosleeping Cosleeping from birth is recommended by La Leche League International, the world’s leading breastfeeding organization (LLLI, 1997), as well as by many professional lactation consultants (Heinig, 2000). The benefits of cosleeping to the nursing couple include increased access to nursing with less disturbance of sleep for both mother and infant. According to sleep lab studies, cosleeping mothers actually nurse their infants more frequently throughout the night, but upon awaking for the morning have little recollection of those interactions. Despite frequent arousals during the cosleeping studies, the mothers reported that they got more sleep cosleeping than they did sleeping apart from their babies (McKenna et al., 1994). An additional benefit of cosleeping and unrestricted night nursing is natural child spacing, as the return to fertility for a nursing woman whose child nurses exclusively and cosleeps, can often be delayed up to a year after the birth. Cosleeping is also reported to lead to a reduction in night fears and to the fulfillment of the maternal protective instinct (Medoff & Schaefer, 1993). Many cosleeping advocates also believe that cosleeping, as a component of natural, or attachment, parenting ultimately leads to more confident and independent children (Sears, 1995a; Thevenin, 1987).
Pediatric experts in decades past have described children sleeping in the “parental bed” as having serious negative consequences on both parents and children. Child care authors and experts such as Dr. Spock, Dr. Brazelton, and Dr. Ferber admonished parents who coslept that they would be creating negative habits or sleep disorders in their children, and fostering unhealthy childhood dependency, and that cosleeping would be harmful to the parents’ marriages (Ball, Hooker, & Kelly, 1999). A misunderstanding of the nonreactive custom of cosleeping from birth compared to the reactive use of cosleeping to solve problems with older children seem to be at the root of these anti-cosleeping positions. Studies of reactive cosleeping (Lozoff, Wolf, & Davis, 1984; Rath & Okum, 1995) have found correlations between cosleeping and childhood sleep disorders and family stress, however cultural differences in Black family cosleeping and that of whites and Hispanics were significant. In the 1984 study by Lozoff, Wolf, and Davis, a representative sample of 150 mothers of six-month-old to four-year-old children were interviewed. The rate of reported sleep problems for white cosleeping children was three times that of the solitary sleepers, but the opposite was true for Black cosleepers, who had a lower rate of sleep problems than Black solitary sleepers. Cosleeping was “routine and recent” in 70% of the Black families and 35% of the white families. The results of such studies have failed to show a causal relationship between cosleeping and sleep disorders (Medoff & Schaefer, 1993). Also, the fact that the cosleeping white and Hispanic children were older than the cosleeping Black children in the Lozoff, Wolf, Davis (1984) study, suggests that there is a cultural difference in the use of cosleeping; namely the Black families were more likely to engage in nonreactive cosleeping than the white and Hispanic populations. Although significant, peer-reviewed, studies of nonreactive cosleeping are not yet available, anthropological evidence (Lozoff & Brittenham, 1979; Thevenin, 1987) and research by both Dr. McKenna (1994) and Dr. Sears (1995b) appears to support the validity of cosleeping as a worthwhile custom, especially if the mother and child are breastfeeding.
In an article in the popular magazine The New Yorker, John Seabrook (1999) describes his journey with his wife and newborn son, into the experience of cosleeping. His wife, who coslept with her own parents and who is nursing their son, intuitively desires to cosleep. The author, however, feels more comfortable following the anti-cosleeping experts. After months of sleep deprivation and many tries at teaching the baby to sleep alone, the father relents. He has, in the course of this time, visited the infamous Dr. Richard Ferber, whose sleep-training method is a Pavlovian, incremental, cry-it-out system that promises the reward of solitary all-night sleep from babies once they are “ferberized.” In the course of the interview, the author asks Dr. Ferber about cosleeping, and Dr. Ferber, who criticizes cosleeping in his widely popular 1985 book, Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems, recants, instead saying that “there’s plenty of examples of cosleeping where it works out just fine” (Seabrook, 1999, p. 64). After this the father begins to recognize that the primary reasons most experts give for their anti-cosleeping stances is parental convenience and a vague idea about the importance of infant independence. Mr. Seabrook learns to respect the sleep patterns of his young child and he adapts, allowing the cosleeping relationship to blossom into a bonding experience which the whole family can enjoy.
Ball, Hooker, and Kelly (1999) conducted a study in the United Kingdom to determine a baseline of nonreactive cosleeping among British parents. It was believed that although cosleeping is not part of the mainstream of parenting ideology in Britain or America, and although the literature in the field is a mess of reactive and cross-cultural juxtapositions, this study would open the door to a valid discussion of the attitudes and practices of nighttime parenting. The study was conducted by enlisting expectant parents in an economically depressed community in Northern England. Parents were interviewed about expectations of infant care practices prior to the birth and then about actual infant care practices when the baby was expected to be two to four months old. Forty families completed both interviews. Both new and experienced parents were interviewed. None of the new parents anticipated cosleeping with the child although 70% of them actually did end up cosleeping with their infants at least occasionally. Mothers being interviewed following the births frequently cited the ease of breastfeeding while lying down in bed and the ease of caring for the child while cosleeping. Not surprisingly the experienced parents were more realistic in their expectations, with 35% anticipating cosleeping and 59% actually participating in cosleeping. The vast majority of the first-time mothers who coslept and all of the experienced mothers who coslept, were also breastfeeding their infants. The study revealed that despite preconceptions of cosleeping as a dangerous and rare practice, these mainstream British parents consider it an effective infant care technique and commonly engage in it.
Ball, H. L., Hooker, E., & Kelly, P. J. (1999). “Where will the baby sleep? Attitudes and practices of new and experienced parents regarding cosleeping with their newborn infants.” American Anthropologist, 101, 143-151.
Davies, L. (1995). “Babies co-sleeping with parents.” Midwives: Official Journal of the Royal College of Midwives, 108, 384-386.
Hayes, M. J., Roberts, S. M., & Stowe, R. (1996). “Early childhood co-sleeping: Parent-child and parent-infant nighttime interactions.” Infant Mental Health Journal, 17, 348-357.
Heinig, M. J. (2000). “Bed sharing and infant mortality: Guilt by association?” Journal of Human Lactation, 16, 189-191.
La Leche League International, Inc. (1997). The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. (6th rev. ed.) Schaumberg, IL: Author.
Lehman, E. B., Denham, S. A., Moser, M. H., & Reeves, S. L. (1992). “Soft object and pacifier attachments in young children: The role of security of attachment to the mother.” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines, 33, 1205-1216.
Lozoff, B., & Brittenham, G. (1979). “Infant care: cache or carry.” Journal of Pediatrics, 95, 478-483.
Lozoff, B., Wolf, A. W., & Davis, N. S. (1984) “Cosleeping in urban families with young children in the United States.” Pediatrics, 74, 171-182.
McKenna, J., Mosko, S., Richard, C., Drummond, S., Hunt, L., Cetel, M. B., & Arpaia, J. (1994). “Experimental studies of infant-parent co-sleeping: Mutual physiological and behavioral influences and their relevance to SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).” Early Human Development, 38, 187-201.
McKenna, J., Thoman, E. B., Anders, T. F., Sadeh, A., Schectman, V. L., & Glotzbach, S. F. (1993). “Infant-parent co-sleeping in an evolutionary perspective: Implications for understanding infant sleep development and the sudden infant death syndrome.” Sleep, 16, 263-282.
Medoff, D., & Schaefer, C. E. (1993). “Children sharing the parental bed: A review of the advantages and disadvantages of cosleeping.” Psychology: A Journal of Human Behavior, 30 (1), 1-9.
Petersen, S. A., & Wailoo, M. P. (1994) “Interactions between infant care practices and physiological development in Asian infants.” Early Human Development, 38, 181-186.
Rath, F. H., Jr., & Okum, M. E. (1995). “Parents and children sleeping together: Cosleeping prevalence and concerns.” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 65, 411-418.
Sagi, A., van Ijzendoorn, M. H., Aviezer, O., Donnell, F., & Mayseless, O. (1994). “Sleeping out of home in a kibbutz communal arrangement: It makes a difference for infant-mother attachment.” Child Development, 65, 992-1004.
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Sears, W. (1995b). SIDS: A parent’s guide to understanding and preventing Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company.
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Young, J. (1998). “Babies and bedsharing…. Cosleeping”. Midwifery Digest, 8, 364-369.
Every night millions of mothers and babies the world over sleep close to each other, and the babies wake up just fine. Instead of alarming conscientious parents, like the recent shocking and insensitive ad campaign in Milwaukee did, as reported in the Journal Sentinel, sleep advisors should be teaching parents how to co-sleep safely.
Since I’m a show-me-the-science doctor, consider the following:
Cultures who traditionally practice safe co-sleeping, such as Asians, enjoy the lowest incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
Trusted research by Dr. James McKenna, Director of the Mother-Baby Sleep Laboratory of the University of Notre Dame, showed that mothers and babies who sleep close to each other enjoy similar protective sleep patterns. Mothers enjoy a heightened awareness of their baby’s presence, what I call a “nighttime sleep harmony,” that protects baby. The co-sleeping mother is more aware if her baby’s well-being is in danger.
Babies who sleep close to their mothers enjoy “protective arousal,” a state of sleep that enables them to more easily awaken if their health is in danger, such as breathing difficulties.
Co-sleeping makes breastfeeding easier, which provides many health benefits for mother and baby.
More infant deaths occur in unsafe cribs than in parents’ bed.
Co-sleeping tragedies that have occurred have nearly always been associated with dangerous practices, such as unsafe beds, or parents under the influence of substances that dampen their awareness of baby.
Research shows that co-sleeping infants cry less during the night, compared to solo sleepers who startle repeatedly throughout the night and spend 4 times the number of minutes crying. Startling and crying releases adrenaline, which can interfere with restful sleep and leads to long term sleep anxiety.
Infants who sleep near to parents have more stable temperatures, regular heart rhythms, and fewer long pauses in breathing compared to babies who sleep alone. This means baby sleeps physiologically safer.
A recent large study concluded that bed sharing did NOT increase the risk of SIDS, unless the mom was a smoker or abused alcohol.
See this article for all the research references supporting the above statements. Parents often ask me, “Where should my baby sleep?” I respond, “Wherever you and your baby enjoy the best night’s sleep.” For most parents, this will be sleeping close enough to enjoy easy access to their baby for feeding and comforting. For safe co-sleeping:
We recommend using a bassinet that attaches safely and securely to parents’ bed, which allows both mother and baby to have their own sleeping space, while baby still enjoys sleeping close to mommy for easier feeding and comforting.
If bed-sharing, practice these safe precautions:
Place babies to sleep on their backs.
Be sure there are no crevices between the mattress and guardrail or headboard that allows baby’s head to sink into.
Do not allow anyone but mother to sleep next to the baby, since only mothers have that protective awareness of baby. Place baby between mother and a guardrail, not between mother and father. Father should sleep on the other side of mother.
Don’t fall asleep with baby on a cushy surface, such as a beanbag, couch, or wavy waterbed.
Don’t bed-share if you smoke or are under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or medications that affect your sleep.
We have enjoyed sleeping close to our own babies. I have promoted safe co-sleeping in our pediatric practice for nearly 40 years and have witnessed only positive outcomes, such as: babies sleep and grow better; promotes better bonding; breastfeeding is easier; and infants grow up with a healthy sleep attitude, regarding sleep as a pleasant state to enter and a fearless state to remain in. Finally, I would like to clarify some nighttime parenting terms: “Co-sleeping” means sleeping close enough to baby for easy comforting, such as in a bedside cosleeper. “Bed-sharing” means mother and baby sleep side-by-side in an adult bed. If bed-sharing makes you uncomfortable in any way, I recommend the use of an Arm’s Reach Co-sleeper® Bassinet so you can continue to co-sleep confidently. Because I highly value safe sleeping arrangements, I have thoroughly researched this subject. If you wish to read my research references that go into co-sleeping and bed-sharing in scientific detail, as well as more practical and safe nighttime parenting practices, consult the following: Scientific Benefits of Co-Sleeping Safe Co-sleeping Habits 7 Benefits of Sleeping Close to Your Baby Co-Sleeping: Yes, No, Sometimes? As well as our books, which can be ordered here: The Baby Sleep Book, by William Sears, Martha Sears, James Sears, and Robert Sears, Little Brown, 2005 The Baby Book: Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby From Birth to Age Two, William Sears, Martha Sears, James Sears, Robert Sears, Little Brown, 2003. SIDS: A Parent’s Guide to Understanding and Preventing Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, William Sears, Little Brown, 1995.
From our family to your family, we wish you a safe and comfortable night’s sleep! Dr. Bill and Martha Sears
There has been a lot of media claiming that sleeping with your baby in an adult bed is unsafe and can result in accidental smothering of an infant. One popular research study came out in 1999 from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission that showed 515 cases of accidental infant deaths occurred in an adult bed over an 8-year period between 1990 and 1997. That’s about 65 deaths per year.
These deaths were not classified as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), where the cause of death is undetermined. There were actual causes that were verified upon review of the scene and autopsy. Such causes included accidental smothering by an adult, getting trapped between the mattress and headboard or other furniture, and suffocation on a soft waterbed mattress.
The conclusion that the researchers drew from this study was that sleeping with an infant in an adult bed is dangerous and should never be done. This sounds like a reasonable conclusion, until you consider the epidemic of SIDS as a whole. During the 8-year period of this study, about 34,000 total cases of SIDS occurred in the U.S. (around 4250 per year). If 65 cases of non-SIDS accidental death occurred each year in a bed, and about 4250 cases of actual SIDS occurred overall each year, then the number of accidental deaths in an adult bed is only 1.5% of the total cases of SIDS.
There are two pieces of critical data that are missing that would allow us to determine the risk of SIDS or any cause of death in a bed versus a crib.
How many cases of actual SIDS occur in an adult bed versus in a crib?
How many babies sleep with their parents in the U.S., and how many sleep in cribs?
The data on the first question is available, but has anyone examined it? In fact, one independent researcher examined the CPSC’s data and came to the opposite conclusion than did the CPSC – this data supports the conclusion that sleeping with your baby is actually SAFER than not sleeping with your baby (see Mothering Magazine Sept/Oct 2002).
As for the second question, many people may think that very few babies sleep with their parents, but we shouldn’t be too quick to assume this. The number of parents that bring their babies into their bed at 4 am is probably quite high. Some studies have shown that over half of parents bring their baby into bed with them at least part of the night. And the number that sleep with their infants the whole night is probably considerable as well. In fact, in most countries around the world sleeping with your baby is the norm, not the exception. And what is the incidence of SIDS in these countries?
During the 1990s, in Japan the rate was only one tenth of the U.S. rate, and in Hong Kong, it was only 3% of the U.S. rate. These are just two examples. Some countries do have a higher rate of SIDS, depending on how SIDS is defined.
Until a legitimate survey is done to determine how many babies sleep with their parents, and this is factored into the rate of SIDS in a bed versus a crib, it is unwarranted to state that sleeping in a crib is safer than a bed.
If the incidence of SIDS is dramatically higher in crib versus a parent’s bed, and because the cases of accidental smothering and entrapment are only 1.5% of the total SIDS cases, then sleeping with a baby in your bed would be far safer than putting baby in a crib.
The answer is not to tell parents they shouldn’t sleep with their baby, but rather to educate them on how to sleep with their infants safely.
Now the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Juvenile Products Manufacturer’s Association are launching a campaign based on research data from 1999, 2000, and 2001. During these three years, there have been 180 cases of non-SIDS accidental deaths occurring in an adult bed. Again, that’s around 60 per year, similar to statistics from 1990 to 1997. How many total cases of SIDS have occurred during these 3 years? Around 2600 per year. This decline from the previous decade is thought to be due to the “back to sleep” campaign – educating parents to place their babies on their back to sleep. So looking at the past three years, the number of non-SIDS accidental deaths is only 2% of the total cases of SIDS.
A conflict of interest? Who is behind this new national campaign to warn parents not to sleep with their babies? In addition to the USCPSC, the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA) is co-sponsoring this campaign. The JPMA? An association of crib manufacturers. This is a huge conflict of interest. Actually, this campaign is exactly in the interest of the JPMA.
What does the research say? The September/October 2002 issue of Mothering Magazine presents research done throughout the whole world on the issue of safe sleep. Numerous studies are presented by experts of excellent reputation. And what is the magazine’s conclusion based on all this research? That not only is sleeping with your baby safe, but it is actually much safer than having your baby sleep in a crib. Research shows that infants who sleep in a crib are twice as likely to suffer a sleep related fatality (including SIDS) than infants who sleep in bed with their parents.
Education on safe sleep. I do support the USCPSC’s efforts to research sleep safety and to decrease the incidence of SIDS, but I feel they should go about it differently. Instead of launching a national campaign to discourage parents from sleeping with their infants, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission should educate parents on how to sleep safely with their infants if they choose to do so. Here are some ways to educate parents on how to sleep safely with their baby:
Use an Arm’s Reach® Co-Sleeper® Bassinet. An alternative to sleeping with baby in your bed is the Arm’s Reach® Co-Sleeper®. This crib-like bed fits safely and snuggly adjacent to parent’s bed. The co-sleeper® arrangement gives parents and baby their own separate sleeping spaces yet, keeps baby within arm’s reach for easy nighttime care. To learn more about the Arm’s Reach® Co-Sleeper® Bassinet visit www.armsreach.com.
Take precautions to prevent baby from rolling out of bed, even though it is unlikely when baby is sleeping next to mother. Like heat-seeking missiles, babies automatically gravitate toward a warm body. Yet, to be safe, place baby between mother and a guardrail or push the mattress flush against the wall and position baby between mother and the wall. Guardrails enclosed with plastic mesh are safer than those with slats, which can entrap baby’s limbs or head. Be sure the guardrail is flush against the mattress so there is no crevice that baby could sink into.
Place baby adjacent to mother, rather than between mother and father. Mothers we have interviewed on the subject of sharing sleep feel they are so physically and mentally aware of their baby’s presence even while sleeping, that it’s extremely unlikely they would roll over onto their baby. Some fathers, on the other hand, may not enjoy the same sensitivity of baby’s presence while asleep; so it is possible they might roll over on or throw out an arm onto baby. After a few months of sleep-sharing, most dads seem to develop a keen awareness of their baby’s presence.
Place baby to sleep on his back.
Use a large bed, preferably a queen-size or king-size. A king-size bed may wind up being your most useful piece of “baby furniture.” If you only have a cozy double bed, use the money that you would ordinarily spend on a fancy crib and other less necessary baby furniture and treat yourselves to a safe and comfortable king-size bed.
Some parents and babies sleep better if baby is still in touching and hearing distance, but not in the same bed. For them, a bedside co-sleeper is a safe option.
Here are some things to avoid:
Do not sleep with your baby if:
You are under the influence of any drug (such as alcohol or tranquilizing medications) that diminishes your sensitivity to your baby’s presence. If you are drunk or drugged, these chemicals lessen your arousability from sleep.
You are extremely obese. Obesity itself may cause sleep apnea in the mother, in addition to the smothering danger of pendulous breasts and large fat rolls.
You are exhausted from sleep deprivation. This lessens your awareness of your baby and your arousability from sleep.
You are breastfeeding a baby on a cushiony surface, such as a waterbed or couch. An exhausted mother could fall asleep breastfeeding and roll over on the baby.
You are the child’s baby-sitter. A baby-sitter’s awareness and arousability is unlikely to be as acute as a mother’s.
Don’t allow older siblings to sleep with a baby under nine months. Sleeping children do not have the same awareness of tiny babies as do parents, and too small or too crowded a bed space is an unsafe sleeping arrangement for a tiny baby.
Don’t fall asleep with baby on a couch. Baby may get wedged between the back of the couch and the larger person’s body, or baby’s head may become buried in cushion crevices or soft cushions.
Do not sleep with baby on a free-floating, wavy waterbed or similar “sinky” surface in which baby could suffocate.
Don’t overheat or overbundle baby. Be particularly aware of overbundling if baby is sleeping with a parent. Other warm bodies are an added heat source.
Don’t wear lingerie with string ties longer than eight inches. Ditto for dangling jewelry. Baby may get caught in these entrapments.
Avoid pungent hair sprays, deodorants, and perfumes. Not only will these camouflage the natural maternal smells that baby is used to and attracted to, but foreign odors may irritate and clog baby’s tiny nasal passages. Reserve these enticements for sleeping alone with your spouse.
Parents should use common sense when sharing sleep. Anything that could cause you to sleep more soundly than usual or that alters your sleep patterns can affect your baby’s safety. Nearly all the highly suspected (but seldom proven) cases of fatal “overlying” I could find in the literature could have been avoided if parents had observed common sense sleeping practices. The bottom line is that many parents share sleep with their babies. It can be done safely if the proper precautions are observed. The question shouldn’t be “is it safe to sleep with my baby?”, but rather “how can I sleep with my baby safely.” The data on the incidence of SIDS in a bed versus a crib must be examined before the medical community can make a judgment on sleep safety in a bed. To read more about SIDS, click here