is it safe for a baby to sleep in bed with you3

Is It Safe For A Baby To Sleep In Bed With You?

Few parenting conversations in early childhood elicit as much angst and judgment as to the one about our children’s sleep: Where should they sleep, and how do we get them to sleep through the night? We label newborn babies as “good,” or not, depending on how much they disturb us in the nighttime, or we believe babies’ sleep is a reflection of our parenting competence.

But our beliefs and decisions about children’s sleep are more a reflection of the culture we live in than the scientific evidence for what’s best for children, says anthropologist, in many of his 150 scientific articles on children’s sleep.

FAQs About Baby Bed

While room-sharing is safe, putting your infant to sleep in bed with you is not. Bed-sharing increases the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) and other sleep-related deaths.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends room-sharing without bed-sharing for at least the first six months or, ideally, until a baby's first birthday. This is when the risk of SIDS(sudden infant death syndrome)is highest.

Research shows that a baby's health can improve when they sleep close to their parents. Babies that sleep with their parents have more regular heartbeats and breathing. They even sleep more soundly. And being close to parents is even shown to reduce the risk of SIDS.

Six months old

Experts recommend that infants sleep in their parents' room without bed-sharing until their first birthday. If parents prefer to move the baby to another bedroom, it's best to wait until the child is at least six months old.

Some SIDS researchers believe this is a factor in a baby's protective arousal mechanism. This harmony may also be related to psychological synchronicity between co-sleeping mothers and their babies: The co-sleeping mom is more likely to subconsciously sense if her baby's health is in danger and wake up.


The Logistics of Safe Baby Sleep

Some experts caution against putting too much emphasis on where you sleep rather than how. "Location is not as important as relationships—how parents build attachment and love, an anthropologist specialising in infancy and development and director of the mother/baby behavioural sleep laboratory.

He also points out that gaining independence, which is part of the rationale for advocating crib sleeping, is something that a child will learn over time from her parents in many different ways.

The worst place for a newborn to doze is on a couch, armchair, and other soft, lumpy surfaces, which can create air pockets that make it difficult for her to breathe. This is especially dangerous during late-night feedings when both mom and baby are tired.

"If you think that there's even the slightest possibility that you may fall asleep [during a feeding], feed your baby on your bed, rather than a sofa or cushioned chair. If you do fall asleep, as soon as you wake up, be sure to move the baby to his or her bed.

The AAP recommends infants sleep on their backs in cribs outfitted with only a mattress covered with a tightly fitted sheet. There shouldn't be any other items, such as toys or blankets, in the crib until the baby turns one.

The psychological benefits of cosleeping

is it safe for a baby to sleep in bed with you

Meanwhile, anthropologists observed that all mammals and primates, as well as the majority of non-Western societies around the world, co-slept. Therefore, it was likely that the practice had some biological advantage.

One of McKenna and his colleagues’ greatest scientific contributions has been to show how parents serve as a kind of biological “jumper cable,” or outsourced regulator, to a newborn baby when she is completing her gestation outside her mother’s body, when parents and babies sleep together, their heart rates, brain waves, sleep states, oxygen levels, temperature, and breathing influence one another.

To a biological anthropologist, this mutual influence implies that the offspring’s growth is intended to occur most safely inside that biological system, near an adult’s body, especially in the first few months of life, while the baby’s physiology is the most immature. 

For example, animal studies found that when baby monkeys were separated from their mothers, their bodies went into severe stress. A small study of 25 four- to ten-month-old babies who were separated for sleep training showed that even though the babies’ behaviour quieted on the third night, their cortisol levels (a stress hormone) remained high.

Though that might sound undesirable, it is safer, especially in the first few months of life, because it creates more opportunities for caregivers to check on their babies and for babies to recalibrate their breathing to the adult’s breathing. 

For an added benefit, lighter sleep, or REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, is also important for synaptogenesis, the rapid growth of connections between neurons, in newborns.

At the same time, both adults and babies sleep longer overall when they bedshare, probably because caregivers don’t have to get all the way up out of bed to feed, and babies don’t have to call out, wait for help, and settle back down. 

And that longer sleep has implications for parent-child interactions in the daytime. Research suggests that more well-rested parents make better decisions and, importantly, have better emotion regulation. Sleep deprivation also raises the risk of postpartum depression.

Fathers who bedshare benefit in other ways, too: One study found that when fathers slept close to their babies, their testosterone dropped more compared to fathers who slept separately. Men with lower testosterone tend to engage in more sensitive and responsive parenting, which means bedsharing may make for better fathering.

Families who choose to cosleep beyond infancy but worry it makes children overly dependent can relax. On average, children who bedshare tend to transition to sleeping independently about a year later than other children. Still, they may be more independent, self-reliant, and confident in their daily lives than children who did not attend bedshare.

A small study of 83 preschoolers found that children who slept alone from an early age fell asleep more on their own and slept more through the night. Still, the preschoolers who co-slept from an early age were more likely to dress, entertain themselves, and work out problems with peers independently. Another study of 205 families showed that by age 18, children who bedshared did not differ from solitary sleepers in their sleep problems or mental health. In other words, as children grow, many different factors contribute to their well-being.

Modern bedsharing

Most parents have a natural inclination to sleep protectively near their babies, and data suggest that co-sleeping is on the increase. In 2015, a A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey found that more than half (61 per cent) of American babies bedshare at least some of the time.

And while the Academy of Pediatrics recommended in 2016 that parents and babies sleep in the same room together for at least the first six months of life, and preferably for the first year, they stopped short of recommending that parents and babies share the same bed. 

That makes for a gap between what most parents do and what they are officially “allowed” to do. As a result, many parents are afraid to let their pediatrician know they bedshare for fear of being criticised or, worse, reported to child protective services.

When that conversation is stopped. Parents are deprived of accurate information about making their bedsharing most safe and beneficial. To that end, his book offers guidance, even drawings, for every sleeping circumstance.

After the first six months of life, when a baby’s physiology is more settled, various factors can come into play in the decision about where to sleep, like cultural beliefs, overall family well-being, and an individual baby’s temperament or medical needs. 

For example, a family may decide that a biologically sensitive child may benefit more from remaining close to the parents longer; on the other hand, a parent may need a separate sleeping arrangement to sleep better—and a happier parent is a better parent.

All the researchers agree, though, that families do better when the adults are intentional and in agreement about their choices. Importantly, to normalise expectations around sleep: 

Even by one year, not even half of babies sleep through the night, and eventually, it is the quality of the parent-child relationship, not where it plays out, that matters most to a child’s development.

Only parents can truly know their families’ specific needs. They must be free to make the choices that best serve them—they have the right to be accurately informed about all the issues involved. 

The 5 Pieces of Co-Sleeping Advice That Parents Should Ignore

For many cultures around the world, safe co-sleeping, the act of parents sharing a bed with their children, is the most natural and obvious way to get some rest while bonding. But co-sleeping with a newborn or co-sleeping with a toddler in families requires a different cultural context. 

Americans tend to live more geographically disparate lives, emphasising independence and privacy. The environments and furnishings we raise our children also prompt unique safety concerns. 

In the context of the modern family, what are the implications of parents who practice safe co-sleeping?

There is a tremendous amount of information — and misinformation — out there, muddying the waters around safe co-sleeping and making it difficult for parents to make comfortable, rational decisions about the best way to raise their kids. 

And for families who do choose co-sleeping, out of principle or pragmatism, still more questions arise. What kind of newborn co-sleeper is best for keeping an infant in arm’s reach but out of harm’s way? When does a co-sleeping toddler transition to their bed? Is co-sleeping just downright bad? With everything from bedside co-sleepers and cribs to suspended co-sleeper bassinets on offer, there’s a lot to sort through. 

Myth 1: Safe Co-Sleeping Is Impossible

The older a child gets, the safer co-sleeping becomes. That’s because the older children are, the better their ability to extricate themselves from suffocation or possible entrapment. And frankly, by the time they can toddle, a parent won’t likely be able to forget them as the kid spins like a top in their bed.

Even for babies, co-sleeping can be facilitated by co-sleeping devices that attach to the side of the bed. These allow breastfeeding mothers easy access to the child while keeping them away from the bedding and big bodies. 

Other options include “suspended cribs” that keep a kid out of the parent’s way but easily accessible by suspending them from the ceiling above the bed.

Some parents have even opted to support co-sleeping by having a single parent in the bed on a firm mattress with a tight bottom sheet and minimal covering. This is a relatively safer sleeping arrangement. However, for the youngest babies, there is still a risk of entrapment or suffocation in these situations.

Myth 2: Co-Sleeping Is Perfectly Safe

is it safe for a baby to sleep in bed with you2

Okay. Hear us out here. Co-sleeping parents are often practising a form of attachment parenting that finds parents keeping kids close at all times so their needs can be attended to promptly and without stress. They often espouse the opinion that co-sleeping is a perfectly safe and natural way for parents to raise their children. It is — up to a point.

The problem is that having a child in a standard bed with two parents can be incredibly risky, particularly for babies younger than three months. 

That’s because babies sleeping between parents are at risk for suffocation and entrapment deaths. This can either happen because a parent rolls over on top of a child (this often happens when a parent is intoxicated) or when a baby becomes wrapped in heavy or puffy blankets.

There are ways to mitigate these risks. They include minimising bulky bedding, never placing the baby between parents, and never going to bed with a baby while intoxicated. That said, the risk will never be reduced to zero, and the practice is still not recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Myth 3: Co-Sleeping Kids Have a Harder Time Transitioning to Sleeping Alone

Whether moving a kid from a crib or co-sleeping arrangement to a big kid bed of their own, there is bound to be a period of adjustment. One transition is not necessarily more difficult than another. And like most things in parenting, how they take to sleeping alone largely depends on the kid's temperament.

It should be noted that getting a kid to sleep alone, whether they are babies or preschoolers, will be a challenge, but the transition from co-sleeping is best accomplished by the “fading” method. 

This method requires a parent to be close and quiet as a child falls asleep in their bed. Slowly, the parent puts more distance between themselves and the child (essentially fading back into their room).

Transitional object, like a stuffed animal or blanket, is recommended to provide a comforting presence as kids move from a common bed to solo sleeping. This object will help them soothe themselves back to sleep when they wake up alone.

Myth 4: There Are No Benefits to Safe Co-sleeping with Toddlers

Research shows that a baby’s health can improve when they sleep close to their parents. Babies that sleep with their parents have more regular heartbeats and breathing.

They even sleep more soundly. And being close to parents is even shown to reduce the risk of SIDS. That’s why the AAP recommends that children sleep in the same room with their parents while stopping short of having those children in the same bed as the parents.

Other benefits include better quality of life for breastfeeding mothers who can more easily feed their children without becoming fully active. Not to mention a baby that sleeps more soundly will have fewer wake-ups, meaning parents are more likely to get their extra shut-eye. 

Myth 5: Co-sleeping Parents Can Never Have Sex

Will parents be able to get it on at night in the privacy of their bed? Unlikely. But conflating a lack of nighttime sex with years of kid-enforced abstinence shows an utter and complete failure of creative thinking.

The fact is there are 24 hours in the day, and most of them are ideal for sex if parents can manage to find time alone together. Sexy time will be helped if parents embrace the quickie, keep the flame lit through the dry times with flirting and touching, and schedule a time to get it on when the kid is with a relative or at a playdate.

Co-sleeping should not be ruining anyone’s marriage. If it is, there were probably some deeper problems, to begin with.

Making the Decision to Co-Sleep

If you do choose to follow the co-sleeping route, make sure the togetherness you desire addresses your child's needs and not just your own. If you're a single parent or your spouse is often away from home, for instance, you should not allow your child to sleep with you to stave off your loneliness.

Children who start co-sleeping at an early age aren't likely to "grow out" of it once it has become as commonplace as sleeping with a pillow to them, Schneeberg warns. 

The long-term effects can be socially damaging too. "As the child grows up, they may not be able to participate in activities that other children the same age are enjoying like sleepover parties, summer camp, and overnight field trips.

If you've been sharing your bed because you feel it will be easier for your little one to sleep that way, it's not too late to break the habit. You can certainly teach your child to fall asleep in her bed within a few days.


Scroll to Top