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Co-Sleeping with Babies

Co-sleeping with babies, the practice of having babies share a bed with their parents, is controversial.  What are the pros and cons of co-sleeping with your baby?

Pros

Co-sleeping helps parents and babies get more and better sleep than non-co-sleeping parents and babies.  Babies rouse often in the night.  Parents who have to get out of bed and walk to the baby’s crib in another room will have their sleep more interrupted than parents who can merely roll over and comfort baby.  Because of the shorter commute of the parents who are responding to their babies’ cries (i.e., rolling over versus walking to another room), parents who are not responsible for responding to their crying babies will have less interrupted sleep because their babies’ cries are more quickly addressed.  Co-sleeping babies cry for shorter periods of time (due to quicker parental response times) and fall asleep faster.  Finally, in co-sleeping, it is easier for nursing mothers to sync their sleep cycles with their babies’ sleep cycle.

Co-sleeping promotes parent-child bonding, nurtures both parents and children, and can comfort ill or frightened children. 

Co-sleeping encourages breastfeeding by making breastfeeding more convenient.  Breastfeeding has immunological benefits, so co-sleeping can indirectly increase the immune systems in babies.

Co-sleeping reduces infant stress.  When babies stop crying in their cribs, they have not changed their minds about being alone in their cribs: instead, they stop crying because they perceive that crying is futile, that their needs will not be met.  The American Association for the Advancement of Science has issued the opinion that babies who sleep alone may be more prone to stress disorders as a result.

Some studies suggest that co-sleeping babies spend less time in Level III sleep (deep sleep where there is a greater risk of apnea) and mimic the health breathing of the people with whom they share a bed.  Further, some studies indicate that children (who experienced co-sleeping as babies) are more likely than children who did not co-sleep to perform well in school and have higher self-esteem.

Cons

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Centers for Disease Control have determined that co-sleeping with babies increases the likelihood of infant suffocation and strangulation caused by babies being rolled over on by a bedmate, being suffocated in adult bedding, being trapped between the mattress and the wall or headboard, etc.  The CPSC cites the following statistics: between January, 1990 and December, 1997, at least 515 deaths resulting from co-sleeping.  Of those deaths, 121 were caused by a parent, caregiver, or sibling rolling over onto the baby.  The CPSC further states that 75% of these deaths involve babies who are less than three months old. 

Co-sleeping babies can become dependent on their parents for falling asleep. 

It can be more difficult to transition older children to their own beds than to transition infants to their own cribs.  Ultimately, transition does have to occur . . . co-sleeping with teenaged children is a recipe for disaster.

Parents who co-sleep with babies may have more diminished sex lives than non-co-sleeping parents.  These parents must have sexual relations outside of their bedrooms or temporarily relocate their babies if they wish to have sexual relations in their own beds.  For many parents, diminished sexual activity can ultimately harm the way the parents related to each other.

Summary

There are strong arguments to be made on both sides of this hotly debated issue.  Many parents seek compromise positions, such as placing their babies’ cribs in the parents’ bedrooms or attached baby “sidecars” to the parents’ beds.  That way, babies and parents have their own spaces while the quicker response times and resulting benefits are achieved.  However, these compromise positions do not address all co-sleeping cons.  There is no one-size-fits-all perfect solution.  Parents are advised to weigh their alternatives and make the decisions that they believe to be best in their families.

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