Co-Sleeping with Your Child: Everything You Need to Know

Co-sleeping describes the practice of sharing a bed with your child at night. Some parents start co-sleeping with their children when they are infants, but some experts may not recommend this. Studies suggest that there are some risks and potential benefits to co-sleeping.

Key takeaways:
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    Co-sleeping is when parents share a bed with their child or sleep in a very close vicinity to them.
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    Co-sleeping can offer some benefits as well as some drawbacks.
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    There are some risks to co-sleeping, which is why healthcare professionals sometimes advise against it.
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    Co-sleeping may increase closeness with your child and can make night nursing easier.
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    Never co-sleep with a child if you have been drinking alcohol or using drugs.
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    Children who co-sleep may have a harder time sleeping on their own later in life.

Why do parents choose to co-sleep?

Parents choose to co-sleep for many reasons. Some parents bring their children into bed with them during infancy to make night nursing easier. Body heat and being face-to-face with parents may make it easier for infants to fall asleep after waking.

In some instances, co-sleeping isn't a nightly practice. Some parents simply sleep with their child on rare occasions, such as when their child is sick or if the child has a bad dream. In these scenarios, children are less likely to expect to sleep with their parents on a nightly basis.

What are the benefits of co-sleeping?

Co-sleeping offers some possible benefits, including better sleep for the parents and a closer bond with the infant. Close contact while sleeping next to each other can help establish a better bond with your baby and protect them from certain risks. Because the baby and parents are close, parents can respond more quickly to their baby when they wake at night. This gives young babies a sense of security, knowing their needs will be met.

Co-sleeping can also help to facilitate breastfeeding by making night nursing more accessible. Remaining close to their parents at night also helps newborn babies breathe more regularly, helping them grow faster and experience less stress. Babies often feel more comfortable when they are in bed with their parents, causing them to sleep for longer stretches at night.

Are there risks to co-sleeping?

Parents are often told to avoid co-sleeping because it can have some dangers. One of the most commonly discussed risks of co-sleeping is the risk of suffocation. Parents are told that sleeping with a baby in their bed is dangerous because they may roll over on the child or a pillow or blanket could fall over their face and lead to suffocation. You should never co-sleep with a baby if you have been drinking or using drugs.

There is great debate surrounding the question of whether co-sleeping increases or decreases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Some experts say that it increases the risk of SIDS due to suffocation. While other experts state the opposite, claiming that co-sleeping helps parents keep babies safer by being nearby and having the ability to intervene in the event that the child's breathing is interrupted or another danger is occurring.

Co-sleeping usually refers to parents sharing their bed with their baby, but co-sleeping can also involve using a bassinet next to or in the bed. This device can give babies a safe place to sleep while also keeping them close by.

Does co-sleeping have a long-term effect on children?

There is some potential that co-sleeping can have long-term effects on children. The most common concern amongst parents is that co-sleeping can hinder a child's ability to fall asleep independently. Because co-sleeping children rely on their parents to fall asleep, it will likely be hard for them to fall asleep by themselves later on when they get older.

Some studies claim that co-sleeping can increase the risk of anxiety and other psychological challenges. However, it is important to note that (in this study) it isn't entirely clear if co-sleeping was the cause of anxiety or if co-sleeping occurred amongst the studied children who already suffered from anxiety.

Additionally, this study looked at school-aged children rather than infants and toddlers. If co-sleeping is causing a child to be sleep deprived, it will likely cause further issues. However, most parents choose to co-sleep for the opposite reason–because it helps everyone in the family get more sleep.

Is there an age limit for co-sleeping?

There isn't necessarily a clear-cut age limit for co-sleeping because every family is different. It will likely become clear when co-sleeping is no longer working. If you and your family are no longer getting good sleep and your child is old enough not to need you at night to be breastfed, then it may be time to transition slowly.

For some families, co-sleeping is the way to go, but it can cause issues for others. Ultimately, every family is different, and what works best for one family may look completely different for the next family. For questions and concerns, it's best to reach out to your doctor or pediatrician to learn more about healthy sleeping strategies for you and your child.

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