As you look at the ways to help your little one fall asleep quickly and remain safe and secure through the night, you may have come across the idea of co-sleeping. However, opinions on this topic can vary depending upon where you look.
If you are a new parent, you’ve already got a lot on your plate, and we are here to help you separate fact from fiction. We have compiled research from professional pediatric health resources to provide you thorough details on safe co-sleeping, the potential risks and benefits, and some helpful sleeping arrangements to consider for your family.
What is Co-sleeping?
As the name implies, the baby shares a bed with the parents. While some parents may prefer this method to feel closer to their infant, it does come with some significant risks for the child. Health experts warn sleeping in the same bed with your baby increases the possibility of suffocation, strangulation, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Sharing a bed may be riskier because an adult bed presents more safety hazards for a young child. For example, a softer mattress or loose bedding products such as pillows and blankets could suffocate the infant. The baby could also become trapped between objects or strangled from something nearby, such as a chord from the window blinds. Furthermore, a parent could roll over while asleep and accidentally suffocate the child.
In general, you should avoid sharing beds with babies who are at a high risk of SIDS. Children more vulnerable to SIDS include newborns, babies with low birth weight, and preterm infants.
A sidecar setup means the baby’s bed is adjacent to and touching the parents’ bed. Sidecar arrangements could incorporate an open-faced crib designed for this function. As a result, mom and child are at approximately the same level, and they have physical access to each other.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends room-sharing as the safest choice for a co-sleeping arrangement, adding that it reduces the risk of SIDS by as much as 50 percent. They also say it also helps prevent the child from becoming trapped, suffocated, or strangled.
The baby will sleep in a crib or bassinet in the same bedroom as the parents. While mom can bring the baby to the adult bed to breastfeed or provide comfort, the experts say the child should return to their crib afterward.
The advantage of this arrangement is that the parents can still be nearby for safety and security while allowing the child to experience sleeping alone. In addition, as the baby grows and enters the toddler stage, this could help them better prepare for falling asleep in their room.
Child Welcomed into the Parents’ Bedroom as Needed
In this arrangement, the child has a separate room but can sleep with the parents when needed. When the baby wakes up during the night, the child usually wants mom or dad’s comfort.
View Our Guide: Best Baby Co-sleeper
Benefits of Co-Sleeping
Reduced Stress for the Baby
Both mom and child may have separation anxiety. For an infant, this can be particularly terrifying. They have been attached to their mother for nine months, and the idea of being alone could be stressful.
A 2011 study looked at the effects of separating 25 infants from their mothers for sleep training. Even though the babies were no longer crying out by the third night, their cortisol – or stress – levels remained high.
Easier to Check on the Infant
When a baby is sleeping near mom and dad, it is easier to check on the infant during the night. Whether your little one is beside you or in the same room, you won’t have to make a trek down the hall to make sure everything is okay. You will also be able to hear the baby easier in case they are in distress.
More Sleep for Parents and Baby
Experts say that co-sleeping also helps both babies and parents sleep longer, which is likely because it takes less time to get up and check on them. Better rest is vital for parents’ physical and emotional health as they navigate raising a baby. The experts add this helps them make better decisions and lowers the risk of postpartum depression.
Breastfeeding is Easier
Newborns typically sleep in one or two-hour increments. These short increments mean the baby will likely wake up during the night, sometimes hungry.
Having your baby so close is also more convenient when it is time to breastfeed. Mom doesn’t have to get up and go into another room. Instead, the infant is at arm’s length or a few feet away for an impromptu nursing session in a co-sleeping arrangement.
Better Bond With the Father
While we may associate co-sleeping as primarily something a mom does for easier breastfeeding or bonding, Greater Good Magazine reports that bedsharing can also benefit fathers.
A 2012 study examined how different forms of co-sleeping affected testosterone levels in male parents, adding that higher testosterone levels could impact a father’s investment in parenting.
The researchers found that dads who slept on the same surface as their child showed lower testosterone levels. The findings suggest that less testosterone equates to more responsive parenting.
How to Safely Co-sleep
There are specific guidelines to sleep as safely as possible while sharing a bed with a baby. The following tips for sleeping next to an infant are from Nemours Children’s Health, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the University of Notre Dame.
Infant Should Be Older Than Three Months
Rather than allowing a newborn to sleep beside you immediately, experts advise you to never share a bed with an infant under three months of age. Instead, you can set up their crib in your bedroom and have the child sleep there. This way, the baby is still in the room with you during the night but isn’t at an increased risk of danger.
Parent Shouldn’t Be a Smoker
If you or your partner is a current smoker, the infant should not sleep in the same bed. Even though you may not actively smoke in bed, you should avoid sleeping next to the baby.
Furthermore, it is good to avoid any other irritants that could bother the child’s airways. For example, avoid strong-smelling hairsprays, deodorants, and perfumes as these could make it difficult for them to breathe or cause coughing and choking.
Parents Shouldn’t Be Overly Tired
Being a parent, especially with a young child, can make it challenging to get adequate sleep. In addition, those who have a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea could also feel more tired than usual since it can be difficult to obtain quality rest.
However, experts warn that you should never sleep next to your child if you are exhausted. If you usually feel extra sleepy, your best bet is to set up a room-sharing arrangement instead.
No Use of Medications or Substances
Parents should also avoid sleeping next to a baby after consuming alcohol or any substances that make them less alert. Certain medications can also make it harder for you to wake up.
Baby Should Only Share the Bed With a Parent
The baby should only share a bed with a parent. Even if you have other children, only the infant should be in bed with you.
Other caregivers for the child, such as babysitters or relatives, should not sleep right beside the baby either. If the caregiver is watching the infant overnight, a crib in the same room will suffice.
Don’t Share With More Than One Person
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that the baby only share a bed with one person rather than multiple people. For those who share a bed with a partner, this means that a separate bed space for the baby would be better, and as mentioned, the AAP says room sharing is the safest choice. Furthermore, the baby should never sleep alone in the adult bed.
Sleep On a Firm and Safe Bed Space
Lastly, your bed must be conducive to safe sleeping with a baby. The mattress should be firm and void of soft items on the bed such as pillows, comforters, blankets, or stuffed toys. A king-size mattress also allows for extra space for the parent and child.
The bedding and the mattress should be secure with no cracks, crevices, or ways for a baby’s limbs to get stuck. Additionally, the bed’s surface should be flush against the wall so that the child can’t roll off the mattress or become wedged.
Couches are also considered a high-risk overnight sleep space for babies because these furniture pieces are too plush for a baby to sleep on if the parent is also asleep. In addition to the soft surface, the crevices between and behind the cushions present a significant threat.
The University of Notre Dame also adds that the infant should not be near any blinds or items in the room with cords as they could cause strangulation. Long hair could also be hazardous, so make sure to have it tied back and inaccessible to the baby.
Parents who are obese or weigh significantly more are advised to place the baby on a separate surfacer rather than their bed. Lastly, you should never let the child fall asleep on your chest; they should lie directly on the bed.
Additional Safety Tips
Whether your little one shares a bed with you, sleeps adjacently, or is in a crib in the same room, you should also apply the instructions listed below for safe sleeping.
- The baby should sleep on their back.
- Put the baby in minimal clothing, so they don’t get too hot.
- Do not cover the infant’s head.
Want to know more? Check out our complete guide to safe sleep for babies.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are bed rails recommended?
Bed rails might seem like a great way to keep a baby secured, but the experts say otherwise. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, you should not use portable bed rails for infants as they could lead to entrapment or strangulation.
However, bed rails are deemed okay for slightly older children<sup.. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says bed rails are intended for small kids old enough to get in and out of bed independently, specifically ages two through five.
When should you stop co-sleeping?
Pediatric authorities recommend that infants stay in the same room with their parents until at least six months or a whole year to reduce the risk of SIDS. By six months, babies should start sleeping for longer stretches at a time.
Does co-sleeping cause separation anxiety?
You may have concerns as to whether co-sleeping can lead to separation anxiety as the child matures. According to Greater Good Magazine, children who shared a bed adjusted to sleeping on their own about a year later than other kids. However, they may be more self-sufficient and confident in their everyday lives.
What are the different types of co-sleepers?
Parents have plenty of options to choose from regarding the type of bed they want for their child. For example, parents who bed share may opt for a baby lounger instead of placing the child directly on the mattress.
These cushioned pads are slightly raised around the perimeter to help keep the child snug. Many of them also feature a mix of kid-friendly designs such as stars or animals. However, parents who prefer something more subtle can pick neutral or solid color patterns as well.
Some co-sleepers are specifically designed to be placed right next to mom and dad’s bed. For instance, some can be formally attached and removed as needed, and they may have different height options to match the height of the adult bed.
These bedside co-sleepers will also typically have a side panel that opens. The opening side door allows mom or dad to have direct access to the baby during the night.
Bassinets are a cozy option for babies as well. Parents can place them right next to their bed or several feet away.
Some bassinets, like cribs, are convertible, providing extra convenience for the child and parents. For example, they can be used at the crib level or removed for travel. Furthermore, certain convertible bassinets can transition with the baby as they grow into the toddler stage.
How common is SIDS?
According to Boston Children’s Hospital, approximately 2,300 infants in the United States die from sudden infant death syndrome each year. However, following the safety guidelines set forth by pediatric healthcare professionals should help reduce a child’s risk of SIDS.
Experts do not know what causes SIDS, but they hypothesize that it is linked to several circumstances. These include the child’s inability to wake up from sleeping, notice low oxygen levels, or detect an excess of carbon dioxide in their bloodstream.
While newborns, in general, are more vulnerable to SIDS, the following factors also put babies at an increased risk.
- Stomach or side sleeping
- A plush sleep space that also includes soft blankets or toys
- Mothers who smoked during their pregnancy are three times more likely to have an infant with SIDS
- Exposure to smoke, either direct or passive
- Mothers younger than 20 during their first pregnancy
- When the mother has had minimal to no prenatal care – or care given too late during her pregnancy
- The baby was born premature or had a low birth weight
- The child has a sibling who died of SIDS
Sources and References:
-  “Bed-Sharing”, Nemours Children’s Health, January 2021
-  “SIDS and Other Sleep-Related Infant Deaths: Expansion of Recommendations for a Safe Infant Sleeping Environment”, American Academy of Pediatrics, 2011
-  Wendy Middlemiss, Douglas A. Granger, Wendy A. Goldberg, Laura Nathans, “Asynchrony of mother–infant hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis activity following extinction of infant crying responses induced during the transition to sleep”, Science Direct, 2011
-  “How Cosleeping Can Help You and Your Baby”, Greater Good Magazine, February 7, 2020
-  Lee T. Gettler, James J. McKenna, Thomas W. McDade, Sonny S. Agustin, Christopher W. Kuzawa, “Does Cosleeping Contribute to Lower Testosterone Levels in Fathers? Evidence from the Philippines”, Public Library of Science, 2012
-  “Safe Cosleeping Guidelines”, University of Notre Dame
-  “Bed Rail Safety”, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, August 30, 2018
-  “Room sharing with your baby may help prevent SIDS, but it means everyone gets less sleep”, Harvard Health, August 16, 2020