September 16, 2016

To co-sleep or not co-sleep? That is the question!

Sleeping newborn co-sleeping

If you are a new parent one of the biggest questions probably on your mind is where is the baby going to sleep. And if you start asking around for opinions, you will quickly find that it can be a hot topic.

In fact, there doesn’t seem to be much neutrality as most people tend to be adamantly for or against it.

Both sides feel their opinions are best and well researched.  In fact, I remember late one Friday night shortly having my second baby receiving a phone call from a close relative. That person called me and basically said, “Please don’t continue to bed-share with your baby! I just watched a news article about how many babies die that way.”

Now at that point, I am the mother of a newborn and I have a 16-month-old. I was extremely tired and a bit overwhelmed. I hung up on that person and my husband called them back and issued them a warning about causing drama!

Hopefully, this won’t happen to you.

So what should you do? I think the best option is to research for yourself what is the best option for you, your spouse, and your family. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what everyone else thinks. It matters that you and baby are safe and thriving.

I’ll be frank, though, I am a big pro co-sleeper, and in particular, I’m pro bed-sharing. Well, most of the time!

Sometimes I fantasize about having the entire bed to myself without someone kicking me in the head or stuck to my boob. But I figure that this time with my children overall is so short. One day they will want to sleep on their own and I’m sure I will miss it.

So for now, it is what we do! First, let’s define co-sleeping. There is not one way to co-sleep!



What is co-sleeping? And how is it done?


Many people do not realize that co-sleeping is just sleeping in close proximity to your child in the same room. It could be in the same bed. It could be that you are in your bed and your baby is in a crib next to your bed or in another spot in your room. If you look back at human history and even at current cultures around the globe, families have shared rooms together for thousands of years. Our idea of a modern house with separate rooms is a new idea compared to the length of human history.


Just like it sounds, bed-sharing is sharing a bed with your child or baby. This is what my family does. We have a king and queen pushed up next to each other to make one huge bed. When our third child was born we created a barrier between the queen and king to keep my other two boys from getting too close to the baby.


This is our family bed. Plenty of room for all of us.

It is not recommended that babies under one-year-old sleep with other children. Then I sleep in the queen with the baby and my husband sleeps in the king with the other two boys. We, of course, did this to make sure that the bigger children did not accidentally roll over the baby. As you can imagine older children don’t stay still in their sleep. They tend to spin around and you never know when you will get a foot in your face or an elbow in your back.

Sidecar Bed

Many people want the baby next to them but they also don’t want to worry about blankets and pillows suffocating their child. In this case, you can purchase a crib that attaches to the side of the bed right next to mom. With many of these beds, you can even nurse side lying with the baby in his own space. The only challenge is that to do this you will only be able to nurse on one breast. Many people who do this like to pick up the baby to nurse and then put him back in the bed when the baby falls back asleep.

What are the advantages of co-sleeping?

You will get more sleep when co-sleeping.

There’s no running from room to room as the baby or child is right there with you. And for many this is a blessing as a lot of moms wake up too much if they are running down the hall to the baby’s room. To make matters worse this often wakes mom up too much and then she has difficulty falling back asleep. And often parents who go to their child’s room to comfort them end up climbing in bed with their child and sleeping there anyway.

Babies often sleep more.

At birth, a baby’s brain is only 25% developed. We are the only species that is completely dependent at birth. All other mammals can get up and walk shortly after birth. For your baby, sleeping next to them is necessary for physiological support and regulation. They also need this kind of closeness due to the nutritional needs of breastfeeding.

Sleeping next to baby also helps mother and baby bond.

This interaction helps cognition and intellectual development. Most importantly, it helps a mother become more sensitive to her baby’s needs and signals.

Co-sleeping encourages breastfeeding.

New babies need to eat frequently and also at night. Being in arms reach helps facilitate this relationship more easily. This will also help new nursing moms keep up their supply as supply equals demand.  Breastfeeding also helps protect babies from SIDS and creates a strong and healthy immune system.

Sleeping next to mom helps regulate the baby’s respiratory and thermo-regulatory systems.

Being next to mom helps buffer the immature infant from the environment in which it lives.

It lessens the chance of SIDS.

It is estimated that SIDS or some other form of asphyxia is reduced by one-third to one-half when the baby sleeps close but on a separate surface(Referenced epidemiological studies: Carpenter et al. 2004; Mitchell and Thompson 1995, and Blair et al. 1995).

There is no separation anxiety.

Children who sleep with their parents feel secure because their parents are close by and thus have their needs met.

Bedtime rituals are much easier.

Babies that know that they are going to stay with their mom and/or dad feel more secure and can fall asleep much more easily. Here are a few suggestions to help create a restful environment for all of you. They will also help you later when you want to transition your children to their own room in the future.

Reading bedtime stories, keeping the lights dim, and playing soft, soothing music during bedtime are sure ways to relax your baby and help them drift off. Some parents play rhythmic sounds instead of music, like a white-noise CD or putting their baby to sleep while doing the laundry.

Either way, establishing a routine makes the transition from wakefulness to sleepiness easier. And will help you transition to them moving out of your room eventually. Our family likes to listen to a book on tape to help us drift off to sleep.

Our family likes to listen to a book on tape to help us drift off to sleep.

It is so sweet to snuggle with your precious little one.

They are not babies for long so take advantage of the moment.

If your baby or child is sick in the middle of the night he will get possible much-needed attention much sooner.

One of our children had a seizure in the middle of the night and since he was sleeping next to my husband we knew right away. We were able to get him medical attention much sooner. If he had been in his own bed he might have woken up the next morning and we could  have missed it all together.

Used with permission by APCA.

Used with permission by APCA.

How do you make your space safe if bed sharing?

Some sources will tell you that no matter how you do it bed sharing is unsafe and should not be done. There are many families and many doctors that disagree and with a little planning bed sharing can be done safely. Here is what the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine has to say about it:

“There is currently not enough evidence to support routine recommendations against co-sleeping. Parents should be educated about risks and benefits of co-sleeping and unsafe co-sleeping practices and should be allowed to make their own informed decision.”

Make sure the surface is firm and flat.

Do not bed-share on a waterbed. This is a high-risk situation for a baby as he is more likely to roll around and you on top of him.

Do not sleep with your baby in chairs, reclining chairs, or couches.

All of these have nooks and crannies that babies can fall into and suffocate. You should also not use sheepskins or bean bags.

Make sure that your mattress is tight fitting if you have a headboard and footboard.

These cracks can be very dangerous to the baby.

Do not use blankets, stuffed animals, or pillows around the babies head.

For almost the entire first year of my babies’ lives, I wore warm clothing and did not use a blanket. Our baby slept in warm PJs without a blanket either.

Make sure the baby can’t roll between the bed and the wall.

Make sure there are no gaps or spaces between the bed and the wall.

Both parents should ideally agree if bed-sharing together.

Each adult in the bed should take responsibility for the infant. It is also not safe for an adult to not know that baby is there.

Parents taking sedatives or any medication that causes them to be unaware of their environment should not sleep with an infant.

Nor should intoxicated people.

Mothers with really long hair should tie it up to prevent strangulation.

Unfortunately, yes, this has happened.

Infants less than a year should not sleep with other children.

Only with a parent who takes full responsibility for them.

Pillowcases should have tight pillow covers.

Bottle fed babies should always be on a separate surface from mom.

This is according to the Dr. Helen Ball from the University of Durham and James McKenna, PhD from the University of Notre Dame. Dr. Ball’s research has shown that bottle fed infants move away from mothers and thus increase the chances of an asphyxial event. On the other hand, breastfeeding mothers typically sleep with their babies under their triceps at about mid chest level and often on their side in a curled up position. This position is protective and is not found with mothers that bottle feed.

On the other hand, breastfeeding mothers typically sleep with their babies under their triceps at about mid chest level and often on their side in a curled up position. This position is protective and is not found with mothers that bottle feed.

Why have babies died while bed-sharing?

Some babies have died while bed sharing because parents have not researched the risks and made their environment safe and secure. It has also happened when parents smoked in bed, drank in bed, or came to bed drunk. It also occurred when babies were placed on their stomachs, slept in an adult bed with no supervision, there were other children in bed, slept on couches, or due to adults using drugs. All of these bed sharing deaths where the outcome of at least one other risk factor other than “bed sharing”.

Where can I go to find out more information on actual research regarding co-sleeping?

University of Notre Dame – Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory

When I had my first baby I did not know where to go to for answers on co-sleeping. I had one friend who did it, but I wanted resources. After much searching on the internet, I found the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame. It is both a researching and teaching laboratory within the Department of Anthropology. They research important pediatric questions like:

  • How do families decide on their sleeping arrangements?
  • Are parents’ satisfied with how much their kids sleep?
  • What are the differences between bottle feed and breastfeeding moms in regards to sleep?
  • What are the differences between mother and father nighttime caring responsibilities?
  • How do parents feel about where their infants should sleep as time passes?
  • And many more.

The director of the program Dr. McKenna is considering a leading authority in mother-infant co-sleeping and nursing, as well as co-sleeping and SIDS. One of my favorite articles by Dr. McKenna is about what health care professionals should know about co-sleeping moms. Here are a few summarized highlights:

  • Co-sleeping is normal for a breastfeeding mother. It is neither irresponsible or neglectful.
  • Sweeping anti co-sleeping statements by authoritative figures is not helpful.
  • Co-sleeping is biologically interdependent with breastfeeding.
  • There are many ways to co-sleep.
  • Claiming that co-sleeping increases SIDS is not true. Co-sleeping does not necessarily mean sharing the same bed or surface. There isn’t a singular risk factor associated with bed sharing.
  • Parents, and not medical authorities, should decide their sleeping arrangements.
  • There is no one-size fits all situation that works.
  • Culturally separate rooms for mother and child is a recent social construct, and, in fact, goes against biological needs.

The site overall is full of great information and includes links to many articles, presentations, resources for parents, co-sleeping guidelines and a lot of other very useful information.

Durham University: Parent-Infant Sleep Lab

The main professor in the Parent-Infant Sleep Lab is Professor Helen L. Ball who has dedicated her career to understanding parents and infants during sleep and, in particular, the difference between cultural preferences and biological needs related to this. They also created the

They also created the Infant Sleep Information Source. This website discusses how babies’ sleep is affected by cultural behaviors and looks at what babies are feed, where they sleep, and how we decide what babies need. They also dedicate their site to providing parents with information about infant sleep and night time care and help health professionals share evidence-based information on this topic to their patients.

What are some other great resources for parents?

Here is an informative video on co-sleeping with infants by James McKenna, PhD


Here is a video on how to tell if your mattress or your baby’s mattress is too soft.


La Leche League International

La Leche is devoted to helping mothers breastfeed their children. They have events all around the globe. You can find them on their site.

Attachment Parenting International

Attachment Parenting International is a fantastic resource for parents who want to raise empathic, secure, and joyful children. They teach parents to be sensitive and responsive to the needs of their children while also creating strong emotional bonds. Children learn that their needs are being met and this helps them grow into secure adults.

What are the disadvantages of co-sleeping or bed sharing?

If you are bed sharing, as the children get older, they get bigger and inevitably you will get pushed over to the very edge while they enjoy the entire bed.

bed sharing

If you instead have a mattress on the floor next to the bed for the kids you will often get lured into their bed while they enjoy yours!

While bed sharing you will find elbows, legs, feet, arms, and heads poking you.

If you are nursing it is much more likely for the baby to try to use your breasts as a pacifier rather than for nourishment. I often have to detach my two-year-old to get some sleep myself. It is much harder to be intimate with your spouse.

So, uh, er, when do you have sex?

Yup, this is the $64 question. And it plagues parents who co-sleep or not. All I can say is that you have to get creative and do a little bit of extra planning.

So what should you do?

I am not going to tell you as this is up to you, but I hope that I have provided you with enough information and resources so you can do what is right for you and your family. Co-sleeping has many benefits as illustrated above. Bed sharing can be done safely as well. Are there also disadvantages? Yes, but I think the advantages out weight them.


I'm a stay home, homeschooling mommy of three little boys. One of my goals it to normalize natural living to bring us closer to mother earth.

Jackie@Babygrotto - October 1, 2016

Thanks for this really informative article. I personally didn’t co-sleep, except for the odd night when either I was too tired, or the baby was really restless. We only had a double bed, and small bedrooms though, so it wasn’t practical to do every night. I can see how it would work though if your room is big enough to have a queen and a king next to each other.

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