Should my baby sleep in the bed with me? I have asked this question to myself in preparation for our baby’s arrival. In my opinion, this is not a controversial topic, it is simply an individual’s opinion based on beliefs and instinct as a parent. I know there is so much information out there and decided to research the specifics. The forms of co-sleeping, bed sharing, or the family bed is a widely discussed topic around the world. In my opinion, sleep sharing includes any sleep arrangement within arm’s reach of my baby.
The terms are used interchangeable but some have completely different meanings. For instance, the word “co-sleeping” could either mean the baby either sleeps in the bed with the parents, or just in the same room depending on the person. I want to clarify what I mean by the family bed or co-sleeping in regards to this paper. Most of what we will cover is the form of when the baby is sleeping in the bed with the parents. We will discuss what the experts are saying and what research has been conducted to show the wide variety of information.
I want to consider all of my options and formulate a nighttime arrangement that works best for my family and the safety of our baby. Why are experts against the family bed? A number of child development specialists, psychologists, and doctors have advised against co-sleeping citing concerns about safety, sleep disruption, and independence. Besides the potential safety risks, sharing a bed with a baby sometimes prevent parents from getting a good night’s sleep. Some parents find that their quality of sleep is affected by co-sleeping.
For example, co-sleeping with an infant may prevent parents from getting a good night’s sleep for fear of rolling onto their infant. Pediatricians have pointed out risk factors of co-sleeping such as accidental sleep-related deaths, including suffocation. “The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has discouraged co-sleeping because it can contribute to the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) due to the possibility of the infant being rolled on, turned into a wrong position, or become entrapped by loose bedding” (Sobralske & Gruber, 2009, p 474). Sleep researcher Dr.
James J. McKenna, director of the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory University of Notre Dame, believes this is a real danger in only two situations: a young infant sleeping on a water-bed or a parent who is too intoxicated by alcohol or drugs to attend to a child’s needs (McKenna & McDade, 2005). He has formulated a safe co-sleeping guideline to highlight areas of concern and what precautions to take. It appears that safety issues are more related to bedding and safe practices than to actual bed sharing.
Because of the risks involved, both the AAP and the U. S. Product Safety Commission (CPSC) advise against bed-sharing. The AAP does recommend the practice of room-sharing without bed-sharing. Infants who co-sleep might learn to associate sleep with being close to a parent in the parent’s bed, which can become a problem at naptime or when the baby needs to go to sleep before the parent is ready. One study conducted in Southern California showed 42% of mothers and 47% of fathers who chose not to participate in co-sleeping stated that their child’s independence was too important, a belief that has also been reported in other studies (Germo, Chang, Keller & Goldberg, 2007, p 442).
I personally disagree with experts who suggest that independence is vital while rejecting family values like interdependence. While some experts argue that sleep sharing promotes independence by making baby feel secure, others say that the longer you wait to move baby out of your room, the greater the chances he’ll have a tough time adjusting when you finally do. Having explored the risks and controversy surrounding co-sleeping, it is important to remember and examine the benefits which family beds can provide. It is becoming a more common practice among families in the United States.
Evidence supports the benefits of co-sleeping by promoting breastfeeding, parental monitoring, and psychological security. “Mothers who chose to co-sleep stated reasons such as emotional security, having the physical closeness with their child and the convenience of nighttime feeding” (Germo, et al, 2007). Mothers who co-sleep report how convenient breastfeeding is and tend to breastfeed for a longer period of time (Matlock-Carr & Ward, 2015, p 79). Thus co-sleeping encourages mothers to continue breastfeeding and all of its numerous benefits.
Mothers preferred sleeping with their baby because it helped preserve maternal sleep when breastfeeding (Ward, 2014, p 677). They say that it is much more convenient if the infant sleeps with them to breastfeed and are more in tune with their baby’s sleep and can take action to keep their baby comfortable and safe during the night. According to researchers, “bed-sharing also provides physical and emotional security for the infant” (Ward, 2014, p 677). Sleeping together provides more hours in each day for family members to connect and share loving, nurturing moments. Parents describe the feeling of pleasure, closeness, and comfort when bed sharing with their infant” (Matlock-Carr & Ward, 2015, p 79).
Some parents have reported bed sharing helps them reconnect and bond with their child for those who have trouble balancing their work schedules or don’t spend as much time with their child (Matlock-Carr & Ward, 2015, p 79). According to James McKenna, co-sleeping increases the chances that a parent can successfully intervene to help prevent a death, whether that is due to a physiological condition or to a physical accident.
He reminds parents that “co-sleeping gives the parent the best opportunity to hear the baby in crisis and to respond” (McKenna & McDade, 2005). I think we still don’t really know if there is some small risk associated with bed sharing minus known hazards in young babies, but I also think that is sort of beside the point. We have a lot of data to guide us in identifying the biggest risks, and from there I think we have to trust ourselves to make the right choices for our family.
It is easy to make a case for both styles of parenting and that is the suggestion at work here: each parent should be able to make the choices that they feel suit their family’s needs best. This is a very important topic and I’m glad to have the opportunity to conduct the research. It asks a question that is important to parents trying to figure out what is best for their family. The findings provide guidance on the most important risk factors and reassurance to parents who choose to bed-share that it may be a safe option if done with care.
A bedside co-sleeper is my first choice as a mom and based on the evidence on safe sleep. The AAP is right that there isn’t much research on co-sleeper safety, but some common sense there goes a long way. It lets you stay close to baby for comforting and feeding but gives baby a separate sleep surface with a little physical distance from adult bodies, pillows, and blankets. Even though we still have five weeks until baby is due, I feel like this is the best decision for my family based on my research and instinct as a parent so far.