Few parenting practices raise as many eyebrows as the decision to allow baby to sleep in bed with you. Just try telling people that your infant shares your bed and watch the reactions. One thing you can count on is that reactions will be extreme, from fellow parents who confide secretively, “Our baby slept with us too, we all loved it,” to relatives who gasp in horror and scold, “That’s so dangerous, you’ll suffocate the baby!” So what’s the real deal on co-sleeping?
Harvard-trained pediatrician, Dr. William Sears, author of The Baby Book, includes co-sleeping as one of the seven pillars of what he calls “attachment parenting,” a high-touch style of child rearing that advocates breastfeeding, wearing baby in a sling for several hours a day, and otherwise creating a child-centric environment that promotes bonding and trust. He enumerates the many reasons that sleep-sharing works well for parents and baby, "Baby falls asleep and stays asleep better, mother sleeps better, breastfeeding is easier and middle-of-the-night feedings are less disruptive, and close physical contact at night can make up for lost time during the day if mother has to leave baby to work." Dr. Sears addresses and negates the most common objections to the practice of sleep sharing. Rather than creating dependency and a habit that can never be broken, Sears says that filling baby’s need early on to feel closely attached to his parents actually makes for a more secure and independent child. “Consider the long-range benefits of sleeping together,” writes Sears. “One of the most precious gifts you can give your child is a vivid memory of happy childhood attachments. What a beautiful memory it is for a child to recall how he was parented to sleep in the arms of his mother or father or to recall how he awakened in the mornings surrounded by people he loved rather that in his private room in a wooden cage, peering out through bars.”
The reality is that exhausted parents will try anything to get a good night’s sleep. “My son simply refused to sleep in his crib. Unless he was being held in my arms, he shrieked for hours on end. There was no thought of ‘letting him cry it out.’ He could go on all night. If I didn’t share my bed with my son, nobody would have slept,” recalls Lori, whose son is now in the first grade. “When he was almost three years old, we got him a ‘big-boy bed’ and from then on he only wanted to sleep in his own room. Now he’s a great sleeper.”
As for rolling over and crushing baby, that’s not very likely. “I was so aware of my son’s presence. I slept restfully but always knew he was there,” reports Jenn, who slept with her son for two years. “If anything was wrong with him or if he was uncomfortable, I sensed it and woke up immediately.”
If you’ve decided that sharing sleep with your baby feels like the right thing for you to do, be sure to follow a few simple guidelines to keep baby safe. Dr. Sears advocates the following safe co-sleeping practices:
- Place baby on his back to sleep.
- Position baby between mother and a guardrail rather than between mom and dad.
- Avoid over-bundling baby. Remember that your body heat will warm him. Too many layers of pajamas or blankets can lead to overheating.
- Never sleep with your baby if you’ve consumed alcohol or medication or if your senses are otherwise dulled.