Being a parent tends to put you smack in the middle of controversy, doesn’t it?
It seems like every decision we make as parents has two very extreme ends of an argument that no one anywhere is ever going to win.
Do I circumcise my son or not?
Do I breastfeed my baby? Bottle feed? Both?
Should I exclusively breastfeed for six months before I introduce solids or should I start solids at 4 months and introduce table food at six months?
Is it ok for me to pierce my daughter’s ears?
Should I give my baby a pacifier?
And on and on and on it goes.
There are viable sides to each and every parenting debate, and today’s topic is no exception.
Well let’s hop to it then, and get to talking about the elephant in the room:
For something like 30 years, the topic of co-sleeping/bed-sharing has created lively discussions on the debate about safe sleep for babies.
There is a whole lot of information out there that would confound and befuddle even the most invested of scholars, and it makes the answer about as clear as mud.
I’ve taken the liberty of exploring some of the research out there, and I hope that you’ll be able to take the information I’m bringing and put it to some good use.
The first thing that we need to do here is differentiate between the two terms. In this post (but not in every bit of research out there, so be wary):
Co-sleeping refers to room sharing, or sleeping in the same room as your child without being on the same sleep surface.
Bed-sharing is what it sounds like: sharing a bed with your child. I’m talking exclusively about beds, not floors or couches or chairs.
Now let’s discuss.
Both co-sleeping and bed-sharing have potential benefits.
Oh yeah, you read that correctly. Both have benefits.
Co-sleeping is pretty widely recognized as best-practice when it comes to infant sleep, and most pediatricians will recommend that you co-sleep with your infant for at least six months, preferably a year. However, most pediatricians will also recommend that you do not bed-share.
I don’t think that’s a good recommendation. Done properly, and in the absence of other hazardous circumstances, bed-sharing can actually have an array of benefits in infant development. Bed-sharing can:
Just to name a handful.
Now please, please note that I specifically said this is only in the absence of other hazardous circumstances.
Bed-sharing is definitely not safe if:
And it should also be noted that couch-sharing is never recommended.
Parents can, and do, bed-share. The American Academy of Pediatrics specifically advises against this and there have been a number of campaigns that use fear tactics to try and dissuade parents from choosing to bed-share with their babies.
This is a dangerous practice.
The fact is that, just like the decision to breastfeed or to give your baby a pacifier or to pierce your daughter’s ears or to circumcise your son, the decision to bed-share or not is only the decision of the parents to make. Trying to force the parents’ decision to match your opinion creates feelings of anxiety and guilt that are then associated with the baby.
Parents who make the decision to bed-share or not either do so proactively, having done their own research and actively made the decision to sleep in the bed with their infant, or reactively, as a response to a certain event (like poor infant sleep or accidentally falling asleep while breastfeeding). Parents who bed-share reactively are more likely to feel guilt and anxiety associated with their sleep habit, which in turn creates an environment of guilt and anxiousness for the baby.
It is because of this potential that most of the information that I read (from research that has been conducted globally over the last five years) advises against making blanket-statements when it comes to sleep recommendations.
I know for me, when TJ (my now 2 year old) was born I was adamant that he would never sleep in our bed. And that is a decision that we stuck to, through the sleep regressions and night-feedings and teething and every other sleep inhibitor out there, he never slept in our bed.
When JT (our now 18 month old) was born, however, I experienced a ton of mom-guilt because, even though I had decided that his sleep would be no different than TJ’s, I did end up bed-sharing with him quite frequently. In the first 3 months of his life he had colic, lactose intolerance, sleep regressions, and he cluster-fed like you wouldn’t believe. I work full-time. I had to get some sleep. And I learned that the only way I could possibly do that was to put JT in my bed and we both slept.
Imagine my surprise when I realized that he was perfectly fine! Despite the recommendations and the research I did when I became a parent, I bed-shared with my infant and he. was. fine.
The best practice when it comes to safe sleep in the first year is to provide parents with all of the information that is needed for them to make an informed decision for themselves. NOT to tell parents flat-out what they can and can not do.
That means I’m not here to tell you that you absolutely cannot under any circumstance share a bed with your child. I’m also not here to tell you that you absolutely must share a bed with your child.
What I am here to tell you is that you’re a rockstar parent for coming here today, and sticking through it to try and make an informed decision that will be the best decision you can make for your family.
All the Best,
About the Author:
Russell, Charlotte K. and Ball, Helen L. (2015) ‘Bed-sharing, co-sleeping and parent education : a time for change.’ International journal of birth and parenting education., 2(2). pp. 19-20
Mileva-Seitz VR, et al., Parent-child bed-sharing: The good, the bad, and the burden of evidence, Sleep Medicine Reviews (2016), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.smrv.216.03.003
Blair PS, Sidebotham P, Pease A, Fleming PJ (2014) Bed-Sharing in the Absence of Hazardous Circumstances: Is There a Risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome? An Analysis from Two Case-Control Studies Conducted in the UK. PLoS ONE 9(9): e107799. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0107799
Ball, H. L. (2017). The Atlantic Divide: Contrasting U.K. and U.S. Recommendations on Cosleeping and Bed-Sharing. Journal of Human Lactation, 33(4), 765–769. https://doi.org/10.1177/0890334417713943