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Infant Sleep

Baby Sleep Practices: Co-Sleeping and Bed-Sharing

April 23, 2019, Author: Tamra Cater

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:

Co-sleeping and bed-sharing

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 and bed sharing

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:

  • Improve breastfeeding success
  • Help to form secure attachment between baby and parent
  • Allow parents more opportunity for skin-to-skin contact
  • Reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety
  • Reduce the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome)

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:

  • One or both parents have consumed drugs or alcohol
  • One or both parents have smoked
  • The bed being shared is that of a sibling or pet
  • The baby was born premature or had a low birth weight

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.

co-sleeping and bed-sharing

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.

co sleeping and bed sharing

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:

Bio: My husband and I have Two-Under-Two, and I’ve been working in the field of child development for almost 10 years. I love to read and research, and I created OliveJuice as a way to help spread what I learn.
Please give her wonderful blog and links a visit! 🙂 

 

Sources:

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

comments (8)

  • avatar image
    Love this post! I shared a bed with my baby for about four months because it was the only way I could get him to sleep. It's a little stressful, but worked!

    Cynthia

    April 24, 2019 Reply
    • avatar image
      We had to use the baby swing a lot to get ours to sleep. So for us, it was back and forth between the crib and swing.

      Tamra Cater

      April 24, 2019 Reply
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    We bed shared with our youngest from 9 months, she just wouldn’t sleep in her own bed and that lasted for about 8/9 months. It was that or not sleep at all haha!

    Hollie

    April 24, 2019 Reply
    • avatar image
      I completely understand! We had to use the swing a lot, just so we’d all get some sleep!

      Tamra Cater

      April 24, 2019 Reply
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      Well said! I felt very guilty about doing this when my son was just days old, but I had terrible anxiety over not being able to see him in his bassinet. & then he was cluster feeding a few weeks later. We stopped for a while because sleeping around him was killing my hips, neck, and back. But we're back at it with the 4month sleep regression going on. What kills me is my MIL always saying, "that worries me. Please don't suffocate him." You think it doesn't worry me? That's why I'm so sore after waking up - I take every precaution I can! But bed sharing is basically the only thing keeping me from becoming a full on maniac, sooo... I'm gonna keep at it. Cheers!

      Jamie

      April 28, 2019 Reply
      • avatar image
        I definitely understand! We had to do things that kept us from going nuts. Finding a way to sleep was one!

        Tamra Cater

        April 28, 2019 Reply
    • avatar image
      Thanks for your fair and gentle post. We bad share with our little girl, she is now 13 months and I’d say she has only had 6 restless nights in her life. She did sleeping feeds from birth and started sleeping the whole night shortly after going on solids. I feel it’s a practice important for her health, wellbeing and our bond of trust and security as a family. Thankfully I didn’t have any gilt as I believe it’s a western cultural thing to think babies should sleep alone when they are telling you they don’t want to, and i have a multicultural up-bring Good luck to all the mums and dads doing their thing :)

      Rhoda

      April 28, 2019 Reply
      • avatar image
        I think she did a great job with her post. There definitely are some cultural differences in terms of co-sleeping and bed sharing. Thanks for reading! :)

        Tamra Cater

        April 28, 2019 Reply