Co-Sleeping with Your Baby? Read on for Cautious (Non-Alarmist) Pros and Cons
Mother and baby, snuggled up together, dreaming away. Could there be a sweeter, more natural state of bliss? Then you read the SIDS safety stats and get scared sleepless for a solid four years. Here, science weighs in on the perks and perils of sharing the family bed.
Officially, it increases the risk of SIDS
While Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is a relatively rare tragedy impacting 3,500 babies each year, it has been solidly linked to co-sleeping. With infants four months old and younger, a study published in the journal Pediatrics found that “A large proportion of [deceased] SIDS infants are found sleeping next to an adult, whether on a bed, sofa or other surface.” Updated AAP guidelines acknowledge that even moms who intend to put their infants back in the bassinet after breastfeeding inevitably fall asleep with them.
But it may reduce the risk of SIDS—IF you’re breastfeeding exclusively
Nursing and skin-to-skin contact both reduce the risk of SIDS, notes the revered Dr. Sears, a bigtime co-sleeping advocate. (He and his wife co-slept with all eight of their own kids.) He points to evidence that nursing mothers seem to breathe in harmony with their infants while asleep: “Breastfeeding mothers and infants compared with bottle feeding mother-infant pairs spend significantly more time in lighter rather than deeper stages of sleep. Lighter sleep makes it easier for a mother and infant to detect and respond to the presence of the other, making the bed sharing arrangement much safer.” It’s important to note the distinction: If you’re bottle-feeding even some of the time, your baby should sleep alongside you, within arm's reach but on a different surface like a co-sleeper or in a bassinet, experts say.
You and your baby may sleep better
Researchers have found that babies breathe better (because mom’s exhaled carbon dioxide may stimulate the breathing of her very nearby infant) and have more regular heart rates when sharing a bed with their mothers. And you’re far likelier to drift peacefully back to sleep after a pre-dawn nursing sesh when you never fully woke up to begin with. The alternative? Stumbling over to the bassinet, climbing into the glider, adjusting and readjusting the Boppy, twisting, turning, contorting, then finally, switching boobs. After that rigmarole, getting back to sleep too often seems like the impossible dream.
It may stress you the hell out
Anxiety about suffocating the baby with any number of items—your semi-firm mattress top, your one meager sheet, your husband’s enormous forearm—will surely lead to subpar shut-eye. And those fears are not unfounded. In fact, parents who co-sleep are advised to place their mattress (sans boxspring) on the floor, in the middle of the room, without any soft materials (blankets, pillows) and far, far away from walls, nightstands, lamps and other potential hazards. Oh, and no headboards either. Sounds…relaxing?
You may worry about your kid’s future independence
Will the three-year-old who refuses to sleep unless he’s drooling on your pillow with his knee in your kidney become the seven-year-old who runs scared from sleepovers? Not likely, says science! Psychologists have noted that “capacity for self-sufficiency as well as…for full engagement with others, and problem solving skills…are enhanced by routine co-sleeping from birth.”
Your baby’s development could benefit
To quote one study, for breastfeeding/co-sleeping mothers and children, “The increased sensory contact and proximity between the mother and infant induces potentially beneficial behavioral and physiological changes in the infants.” Noting how co-sleeping is the norm in most other parts of the world, the authors add, “Mother–infant co-sleeping represents the most biologically appropriate sleeping arrangement for humans and is both ancient and ubiquitous simply because breastfeeding is not possible, nor as easily managed, without it.” Close physical contact also facilitates increased milk supply. Definite upside.
Your romantic relationship could change
When one parent is gung ho about co-sleeping and the other is staunchly anti, it can further fuel postpartum marriage mayhem. On the flip side, have you ever looked with envy upon couples who co-sleep with their kid (the connecting! the bonding! the attachment!), then wondered how, if, when and where they ever…you know…do it? Turns out they probably get creative. Now that’s eye-opening.