The Co-Sleeping Question: Making the Right Choice

As if there weren’t enough controversial topics surrounding newborns! From debates over whether breast is the best or formula, the perfect alternative to pacifier use, swaddling, disposable diapers . . . you’re faced with big decisions from the get go.  To add to the personal choices you’re going to have to make for your newborn, here’s another one: co-sleeping.

Co-sleeping or bed-sharing is simply the practice of sharing your own bed with your little one.  Proponents – and opponents – both have compelling arguments. Read on to find out more about the pros and cons of co-sleeping and make an informed decision that’s right for YOU.

The Argument for Co-Sleeping

Proponents of co-sleeping defend their parenting choices pretty passionately and list these benefits of bed-sharing:

  • Bonding.  Parents who co-sleep report that this helps them to bond with their baby and to develop the strong ties needed for a healthy and loving parent-child relationship.  Co-sleeping allows you to cuddle, coo, and get skin-to-skin time with your baby while you’re in bed. For working mothers who have limited time with their little ones, this helps make up for lost time.
  • Security. Co-sleeping parents also believe that their babies have a greater feeling of warmth and security. They report that babies appear less agitated when they’re allowed to share a bed with their parents.
  • Better Sleep for Babyand Mom. Co-sleepers also report that their babies sleep better, are less fussy when they awaken and fall back to sleep more easily than babies who sleep alone. Moms also report that they’re able to get more sleep each night and feel less exhausted and stressed due to sleep deprivation.  Breastfeeding moms especially find co-sleeping a major benefit when it comes to night feedings.
  • Common Practice.  Many proponents of co-sleeping also point out that this is a common practice in many parts of the world, including Europe, Australia, India, and other parts of Southeast Asia.  Even in the United States, co-sleeping was a common practice up until the 19th century.

If you’re planning on co-sleeping, be sure to read up on safe co-sleeping the guidelines laid out by Dr. James McKenna from the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Lab at the University of Notre Dame.

It’s important to note, however, that even Dr. McKenna is not an unconditional advocate of co-sleeping. He notes that parents who are obese, who smoke, who drink alcohol or use medications (such as muscle relaxers) that can cause lethargy and drowsiness should consider alternative sleeping arrangements, since these factors are all safety risks for the baby. He also believes that in two-parent households, both parents need to be on board with the co-sleeping arrangement in order for it to be effective.

The Argument Against Co-Sleeping

Opponents of co-sleeping are just as passionate in their opposition to this practice and, like co-sleeping advocates, have many arguments to back up their beliefs:

  • Dangers of suffocation and strangulation. The most compelling argument against co-sleeping is the danger it poses to the baby – with an increased risk for strangulation (from getting caught in the bedsheets) or suffocation (if a parent rolls over onto the baby in their sleep). There have been multiple deaths due to co-sleeping for these very reasons.
  • SIDS.  One of the reasons that the American Academy of Pediatrics, among others, oppose co-sleeping is that it’s been associated with sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), which remains the leading cause of death for babies under 12 months here in the United States. Proponents, however, claim that co-sleeping reduces the risk since it allows parents to better sense any abnormalities in their baby’s breathing.
  • The danger of falls.  Also in opposition to co-sleeping is the idea that a baby will roll over and fall out of bed, since of course adult beds do not have safety features like rails.
  • Strain on the marriage.  Opponents of co-sleeping also point out that this practice can put a strain on the marriage due to the fact that it preempts sexual intercourse, adult communication, spouse-to-spouse bonding, and other aspects of the relationship which are necessary for it to be fully functional.

Is There a Middle Ground?

At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be any common ground between these two opposing viewpoints. Dig a little deeper, however, and it’s possible to find middle ground. For instance, while the American Academy of Pediatrics does oppose bed-sharing, they do promote the concept of room-sharing, an arrangement where babies sleep in the parents’ bedroom but in their own bassinet or crib.  This way, babies are still in a bed designed specifically for them but are close enough to parents to give a sense of security and to make it easier for breastfeeding mothers to get up at night and feed.

New products are coming out to help parents find an arrangement that’s really the best of both worlds. For example, there are bassinets that can attach to the side of the bed.  This allows babies to have their own special space to sleep, while still placing them close to the parents and allowing for ease of breastfeeding. Hopefully, there are more innovative products on the horizon.

Will you co-sleep with your baby? Why or why not?

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