If you've read a parenting blog in the last year, you’ve probably come across the concept of co-sleeping.
Co-sleeping, sometimes called the "family bed", is when your baby sleeps in bed with you. Parents who co-sleep can do so for weeks, months, or even years following birth.
Co-sleeping is a polarizing trend that new parents tend to either love or hate.
Supporters say it's a lovely way to increase bonding and feelings of trust. Opponents think it's dangerous and encourages unhealthy attachment.
What's the truth behind the trend?
With so many opinions flying around the internet, it's hard to know whether co-sleeping is really the best choice for your baby and family.
We pulled together a pro/con list of the benefits and risks of co-sleeping, so you can judge for yourself.
We're optimists here at Dooli™. So let's start with the pros:
Pros of co-sleeping
Easier nighttime breastfeeding
One of the biggest benefits of co-sleeping is how easy it makes breastfeeding.
When your baby is sleeping within a few inches of you, you can quickly satisfy to a nighttime feeding request. You and your baby might even be able to breastfeed without fully waking, which makes it easy to get back to sleep.
Studies show that babies who sleep in bed with their mothers often breastfeed more often and for longer than babies who sleep separately. Some moms find that co-sleeping makes breastfeeding easier and they have an increased milk supply.
Enhanced emotional bond
Pediatrician Dr. Susan Markel says, “Babies have an inborn need to be touched and held. They enjoy having physical closeness day and night, and this kind of connection is essential to meet a baby’s needs for warmth, comfort and security.”
Sleeping can be a scary concept for babies — waking up in a dark space, with no one around you. Whereas, waking up with Mom right next to you, hearing her breathing, is much more comforting.
For this reason, co-sleeping can be especially appealing for working parents who don't see their babies much during the day. Nighttime is a chance to build a sense of closeness with their children.
Co-sleeping can keep babies safe in two ways.
In the early months of infancy, it's normal for babies to have gaps in breathing. However, irregular breathing is a commonly believed cause of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS. Being able to hear a mother's breathing while co-sleeping may provide cues to the baby to breathe, reducing irregular gaps in breathing.
And according to sleep researcher James McKenna, co-sleeping increases the likelihood of a parent responding to a potential incident — breath-related or otherwise. "Co-sleeping gives the parent the best opportunity to hear the baby in crisis and to respond," McKenna says.
More sleep (for the whole household)
Babies wake up in the night for a variety of reasons: they're hungry, they need changing, or they just want to be cuddled. While your sleep will inevitably be impacted, co-sleeping can help minimize the amount of sleep lost.
When you co-sleep, you can respond to your baby's first murmurs quickly — so it doesn't turn into a cry-fest that wakes up the whole household (other parent, pets, and children included).
Co-sleeping also makes it much easier to fall back asleep after care. Because you haven't walked across the room, and your baby hasn't gotten itself all worked up crying, it's easy to fall back asleep.
Cons of co-sleeping
Yep, this goes directly against one of the pros that says co-sleeping is safer for babies! But the research is mixed and there are proponents on both side of the aisle.
A study in the British Medical Journal Open showed that babies who co-sleep with their parents are five times more likely to die of SIDS.
It's also possible for a parent to roll onto the baby while sleeping and cause injury or even death. For this reason, parents should stay away from alcohol or related substances while co-sleeping. If one or more parents is obese, that poses an additional risk to the baby.
Finally, adult mattresses don't have to meet any safety standards. Waterbeds or beds with a pillow-top mattress, soft pillows, and layered sheets and blankets can potentially suffocate an infant. A tiny baby can also fall off the side of the bed or in between the mattress and headboard, causing injury.
Less sleep for parents
Infants make all sorts of noise as they sleep, in addition to tossing and turning frequently. The majority of noises that infants make are perfectly normal and don't need to be attended to.
But when your baby is in bed with you, you're likely to awaken to even the tiniest noises. Sharing a bed with a squirming baby also takes some getting used to. You may not sleep as well as you do when not co-sleeping.
Overly attached kids
Co-sleeping critics say that children who share a bed with parents grow up to be overly attached and reliant. Constant physical closeness may prevent a baby from learning to be comfortable on his/her own.
It can be difficult to transition co-sleeping children to their own beds when the time comes. Leaving the baby with a babysitter or another family member is also problematic. If the baby is used to sleeping next to the warmth of their mom, they may be unable to sleep with anyone but her.
Diminished sex life
Having a baby in the bed makes it difficult for parents to find alone time.
Though this can also be a positive, as some couples find that co-sleeping challenges them to be more creative in their sex life and take advantage of other stolen opportunities to get jiggy with it.
Other children may become jealous
Finally, co-sleeping with a new baby may cause jealousy issues for older children that could lead to resentment of the little brother or sister. Especially younger children will not understand why the baby gets to spend the night with parents and they can't.
Co-sleeping best practices
If you decide to try co-sleeping, keep these tips in mind:
- Co-sleep on a large, firm mattress so it’s safe for the baby
- Use mesh guardrails, a baby dock like DockATot®, or put your mattress on the floor to minimize the risk of the baby rolling off
- Mom should sleep on the same side as her baby, to make breastfeeding easy
- No pets in the bed! I know, this is hard to hear. But doctors across the board advise keeping the family bed an animal-free zone.
If co-sleeping isn’t for you…
A great alternative is a "sidecar" arrangement, where the baby's crib is positioned directly next to your bed. You’ll still have ease of access to achieve many of the pros above, without the risk of the baby slipping off the bed or being rolled on.
The decision to co-sleep is a deeply personal one. At the end of the day, there are happy parents with both choices. Listen to your gut and make the choice that's right for you!
At Dooli™, we respect Mom's right to choose. We designed our diaper pail bag adapter system to allow you to use ANY refill bag you like, instead of needing to buy through your diaper pail brand.