The “Experts” Say No – are Co-Sleeping and Bed Sharing Actually OK?

Is it irresponsible of new parents to sleep in the same bed as their newborns? Mothers and babies have been sharing sleep for centuries, long before they were advised not to. 

What is co-sleeping and bed sharing?

Co-sleeping describes sleeping in close proximity to, or in the same room as your baby. Some families prefer bed sharing—a type of co-sleeping, where the baby sleeps in the same bed with his or her mother, or both parents. Bed sharing has become controversial. Some health care providers advise strongly against it, naming bed sharing as a possible cause of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) . However, these bed-sharing warnings may not be for everyone.

Organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, and other experts that oppose bed sharing recommend “room sharing” as an alternative. They advise that babies should sleep in their parents' room, in a crib or bassinet close to the bed for easy monitoring during the night.    

It’s up to parents to make informed, independent decisions regarding sharing sleep with their infants.  All situations are different, and no circumstance is ever guaranteed. All parents look at risks and benefits differently. If you decide to bed-share, make sure you gather the right information, and use your wisdom to make the best decision for yourselves, your newborn and your family.

Co-sleeping advantages: 

  • Decreased disruption of feedings
  • Increased sleep and satisfied emotional needs
  • Easier and more frequent nursing, which builds milk supply
  • Comfort provided faster and easier to babies when they fuss, or need something during the night
  • Comfort and peace of mind for parents, knowing they have immediate access to their newborns
  • Mothers and babies formulate a sleep rhythm
  • Sleeping safely near your baby or in the same room as your baby can reduce the incidence of SIDS
  • Everyone gets more sleep!!

Bed-sharing

A lack of sleep is the number one stressor for a new parenting couple.  Your newborn must eat around the clock.  Babies need comfort, food, close contact, and love, all day, and all night, too!  Constant sleep disruption for mother and baby can increase fatigue, and may even lead to anxiety.  

If you create an environment for constant physical contact, nourishment, and sleep, you and your newborn will get the rest you both so desperately need. There are actually more risks to falling asleep in a rocking chair, recliner, or couch than there are to bed sharing. For some couples, it makes perfect sense to sleep share with their infants.  Sharing sleep doesn’t have to be an every-feeding or every-night occurrence, either.  

If you are uncomfortable with having your baby in your bed but still want to be close by, you can also try a co-sleeper, which is a type of bassinet that attaches securely to the side of your bed. This allows co-sleeping with your newborn, without her sharing your bed with you. Your baby is right next to you, yet in her own bed. How can you balance your need for sleep and your newborn’s needs for closeness, frequent feeding, and cuddling, without creating an unsafe sleeping situation? There are ways to share sleep safely if you follow some safety guidelines.

Bed Sharing Safely

For safe sleep, take care to make the bed and environment safe:

  • Firm mattress; no waterbeds, couch, recliners, or chairs
  • No cords, loose strings, or wires
  • No fluffy pillows, loose blankets, or toys
  • The mattress should fit very securely in its frame to avoid entrapment
  • Use a safe side rail, or put bed firmly against a wall; fill gaps securely—there should be no space between the bed and the wall
  • Use a low bed, or if your bed is very high, place the mattress on the floor
  • No smoking, alcohol, drugs, prescription tranquilizers, or medications that cause sleepiness
  • Long hair should be tied back
  • Don’t swaddle the baby when sharing sleep 
  • Older siblings should not sleep in the same bed with you and your baby
  • Please do not bed share with your premature or low birth weight baby
  • Smokers, in general, should not co-sleep.

Make your own educated decision about what works best for you. Be smart and safe, be aware, and most of all, trust your own instincts.

Cheryl Zauderer, PhD, CNM, NPP, IBCLChas been a registered nurse since 1985. She is a nurse-midwife, a lactation consultant and a psychiatric nurse practitioner specializing in perinatal mood disorders and other women’s health issues. Dr. Zauderer has authored her first book entitled Maternity Leave: A New Mothers Guide to the First Six Weeks Postpartum, Praeclarus Press. It is a self-help book for new mothers focusing on the first six weeks postpartum. You can follow her with her blog and on her website at: postpartumcare1.com, on twitter, and on facebook.  Dr. Zauderer has also served as a board member for PSI (Postpartum Support International) and has been the Nassau/Suffolk coordinator for PSI since 2009.