Parenting Tips: Pros & Cons of Co-Sleeping With Your Baby

Co-sleeping with your baby or child is a controversial topic in many parenting tips forums. Some moms are all for it, claiming it is the healthiest option for everyone. Others feel it is dangerous for babies and a bane to marital relations. As with most parenting issues, there are both pros and cons to co-sleeping. With research studies coming down on both sides, it’s hard to figure out who “wins” the debate and offers the best parenting tips!

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Photo Credit: HoboMama via Compfight cc. Remixed by us.

First, though, let me tell you a little story. As many of you know, my son was born premature. He came home from the hospital weighing a whopping 4 lbs. He had to grow into preemie clothes! He was also hooked up to a portable monitor to alert me if he stopped breathing. Co-sleeping was not an option I felt comfortable with. I was terrified I’d roll over onto my tiny baby. The blood pressure medication I took to get my BP back under control after dealing with preeclampsia made me so sleepy and listless. So co-sleeping was not something I was comfortable with. Still, I can see the validity of both the pros and the cons of co-sleeping with your baby.

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My itty-bitty preemie in his bassinet.

Since I wanted to hear both sides, we asked our fans & friends on Facebook to give us their take on the subject. Check out their responses!

 

 

Pros of Co-Sleeping with Your Baby

Parenting tips experts often cite numerous pros of co-sleeping to support their side. I have to admit, they present an excellent case!

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The potential benefits of co-sleeping with your baby.
  • Co-sleeping with your baby may encourage breastfeeding, or at least make it easier. Since your baby’s food source is YOU, you don’t have to leave the bed to prepare feedings in the middle of the night.
  • May help new moms get some extra much-needed sleep. Even if you’re not breastfeeding, by co-sleeping you can shave at least five minutes off nightly feedings by skipping the trip to the nursery and trying to get your baby back to sleep in his crib after a feeding. That extra time really adds up!
  • Encourages bonding. Sleeping with your baby, especially if you work outside the home, may help you bond better by giving you more quality time at night.
  • Anthropological studies support co-sleeping. Did you know sleeping away from your baby is primarily a Western hemisphere trend? Throughout much of ancient history, moms slept with their newborns both to keep them safe and to help with feeding. According to a study performed at the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Lab at Northwestern University, it makes evolutionary sense to co-sleep with your baby.
  • Co-sleeping doesn’t mean sleeping in the same bed. This article from Current Pediatric Reviews on Safe Infant Sleep rhetoric really put things into a new perspective for me. While most of us think of co-sleeping as actually putting your baby in your bed with you, that’s not the “true” meaning of it. Basically, co-sleeping involves sleeping in close sensory proximity to your child. You could put your baby in a basinet next to your bed and still achieve the same benefits.
  • Could prevent childhood obesity? We wrote about a study that found that letting your child sleep with you may actually prevent childhood obesity. Check out that article for more details.

Cons of Co-Sleeping with Your Baby

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Potential downsides of co-sleeping.
  • Could increase the risk of SIDS. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) warns parents that co-sleeping with newborns and babies under age 2 can increase the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. The reason: our mattresses are not really designed for babies.
  • Can put a strain on a marriage. As if having a baby doesn’t put enough strain on marital relations, sleeping with your baby can make sex with your partner particular awkward.
  • Decreases the quality of your sleep. While sleeping with your baby may help you get a few extra “zzzs,” the overall quality of your sleep may be greatly diminished if you are subconsciously worrying about rolling over on your baby!
  • Discourages independence in your child. Honestly, I’ve never understood this one (and remember, I was on the CON side to begin with!). Some opponents of co-sleeping feel that it discourages self-soothing behaviors and overall independence. I have always encouraged independent thinking in my son, so there are clearly ways to compensate for any “damage” co-sleeping may do in this regard.

Safer co-sleeping with your baby

If you decide that co-sleeping is for you, it’s important to realize that it’s not as simple as just plopping your baby in the middle of your bed and going to sleep. Check out these safety tips for co-sleeping with your baby.

  • Get a firm mattress. That soft, plush mattress that you just sink right into isn’t safe for your baby. You’ll have to sacrifice a bit of comfort if you prefer those types of mattresses. Think about crib mattresses. They’re pretty firm with very little give. Look for a mattress that mimics that level of safety.
  • Don’t co-sleep with newborns and older children. Sorry, but a “family bed” just isn’t safe when you’re combining a newborn baby with, say, a toddler. Your toddler doesn’t know to watch out for the baby and may end up kicking or rolling over on her during the night.
  • Don’t smoke, drink alcohol or take certain medications. Smoking and drinking alters your sleep pattern, which can make you more likely to roll on your baby. Certain medications that induce deep sleep are also dangerous.
  • Consider “room sharing” rather than “bed sharing.” As pointed out above, you can achieve the same benefits of bed-sharing by having your baby in a basinet next to your bed. You can even put the crib in your room if you prefer.
  • Get rid of the blankets. KidsHealth by Nemours recommends stripping the bed of blankets, comforters and other items that pose a threat to your baby. If you wouldn’t put it in the crib, don’t put it on your bed when co-sleeping with your baby. Time to invest in thicker jammies!

Co-sleeping with your baby can be a beneficial sleep arrangement for both parents and babies. Like all parenting tips, though, it’s really up to you to decide what works out best for your family. Letting your baby sleep in his own room isn’t going to cause any lifelong damage. If you’re not comfortable with co-sleeping for any reason, don’t let anyone try to tell you that you’re “hurting” your baby. Millions of adults slept in their own beds and rooms as infants and didn’t grow up to become serial killers.

What are your thoughts on co-sleeping with your baby? Do you think the benefits outweigh the cons?

19 thoughts on “Parenting Tips: Pros & Cons of Co-Sleeping With Your Baby”

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  2. CourtneyLynne

    Ughhhh we told our selves no co-sleeping & now that my daughter is 3 ughhh…. She weaseled her way into my bed. In the process of getting back in her bed!

  3. I couldn’t do co sleeping simply because I was SO afraid I was going to sleep on top of him and never know it. I know it is right for some people like my SIL. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  4. I loved it, but most nights the baby started out in his own bed and joined us for feeding. Sleep quality wasn’t an issue as I heard every noise he made anyway.

  5. Megan Marquez

    Not co-sleeping is merely a western culture thing. Children have been sleeping with their mothers and fathers for thousands of years. Doing it safely is the most important part. We have so many infant deaths from co sleeping because of down feather comforters, idiots becoming parents, things we didn’t have to worry about back in the day. I mean seriously who leaves their 3 month old in a bed alone to go out and party?! Anyway, I believe that families need to do what’s right for them, and everybody needs to be supportive of everyone. Wether you co sleep, breastfeed, use formula, swaddled or not, we are all in this together as parents and I think we an get a lot more done supporting each other rather then being at each other’s throats because our differences in parenting. It’s like family recipes, in the end we have all created the same thing, but our ways of getting there are just a little different and that’s okay. I love cosleeping with my son, but that’s my family’s decision. You decision is yours, and that will be respected.

    As for the rift in the marriage, I strongly advise any couple who is only ‘doing’ it in bed with the lights off, to get out of that room, put on something sexy, keep the lights on, and make some alternative uses for that kitchen table, don’t worry it can be disinfected. 😉

  6. I think it has a lot to do with cultures too, I know a lot of Hispanics will cosleep with their babies. There are definitely safety issues involved but it can be done.

  7. I co-slept with both of my kids when they were little. I think a lot of common sense goes a long way. It worked out really well for us, since my husband had a completely different schedule than most, and I was nursing, and I had a lot of pain from delivering, so it was the best choice for me.

  8. I co-slept with my duaghter when she was a baby! But I was a single mom, so there was no marriage to worry about. When I got married when she was 3, she was already sleeping in her own bed.

    1. I got separated when my son was three and that’s when he moved in to my room, so I was kind of the opposite! He was scared to sleep in his own bed for two years after seeing a scary Halloween display.

  9. ◾Could increase the risk of SIDS.
    That’s merely a guess.

    ◾Can put a strain on a marriage.
    Having shared our bed with a number of children over a number of years, I can attest that sleeping arrangements do not strain a marriage, that is, the addition of children to the bed. I can’t speak for those who leave their marriage bed to sleep with a child. Sleeping next to someone you love is good for the family unity. Mom and dad can find creative and fun ways to connect in privacy over the years, and when the youngest finally leaves the bed, it’s all NEW again! Woohoo!

    ◾Decreases the quality of your sleep. While sleeping with your baby may help you get a few extra “zzzs,” the overall quality of your sleep may be greatly diminished if you are subconsciously worrying about rolling over on your baby!
    That’s a guess, again. Nursing mothers do not roll over on their babies. They curl protectively around their offspring, just like other mammals do. In the recent noise about several bedsharing deaths in one US state, they found that 100% of the babies who died were not being breastfed.

    ◾Discourages independence in your child.
    Nonsense. Around the world people will share sleep with others in the family – a sibling, an aunt or grandparent. We’ve hosted International students in our home. One student, a Korean, was shocked to find out babies do not sleep with their parents in North America because it’s believe it makes them too dependent. On the contrary,Korean children are very independent; we’ve had them as young as 11 years old staying with us.

  10. Research doesn’t support your co-sleeping cons. Children who co-sleep become independent sooner. Co-sleeping actually helps prevent SIDS – babies who co-sleep have a fourfold decrease of SIDS. There are 3 times MORE fatal deaths of children in cribs than in adult beds.

    As for the parents, sleepless nights happen regardless of where your child sleeps, I pity the couple who only has sex in bed, at night – where is your sense of adventure? 🙂

    For a collection of the research, check out: http://www.askdrsears.com/topics/health-concerns/sleep-problems/scientific-benefits-co-sleeping

    1. As with all of the “great parenting debates,” I find that there is always research to support either side, it’s just a matter of taking all the information and going through it to determine which aspects of a study relate best to your (general your) circumstances. The main issue that researchers have with co-sleeping as it relates to SIDS is that babies are not really as safe in the over-stuffed mattresses that we have today as they would be on a firmer mattress. Also, certain medications can interruptions to normal sleep patterns, which may in turn pose a threat to the baby.

      In the end, though, letting a baby sleep in a crib doesn’t make one a bad parent, so it really does come down to what is best for each family. In my situation, I was uncomfortable having my preemie sleep in my older, not quite firm bed while he was attached to a monitor. When he was three and scared of monsters, I had no issues letting him sleep with me for a while. That “while” turned into three years, but I wanted him to feel safe. Some would say I was wrong for that, that I should have made him go back to his own bed. But like I said, we all make our choices based on what is best for our circumstances. 🙂

      As for the independence, I supported your theory on that by saying I never understood that con, so we are in agreement there. However it is important to present both sides of a debate, and I wanted to cover all the major reasons that I’ve seen cited for pros and cons. 🙂

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