Co Sleeping with Baby: Is It Right for You?
Is your baby keeping you up all night?
Or are you an expectant parent hoping to keep your baby sleeping soundly as much as possible?
Have you heard one of your friends say “I co sleep with my baby” and wondered what he or she is talking about?
Co sleeping has recently become a very popular method of making sure babies and very young children get a good night of sleep. Although this practice has been performed for centuries, there for a while, it got a lot of negative attention because it was attributed to several infant health issues. Today, co sleeping is a controversial subject but still remains pretty common.
So how do you know if co sleeping is the right choice for you? In this article, you’ll find out everything you need to know about what co sleeping is, how it’s done, and how you can make sure to provide a safe sleeping environment for your child. You’ll discover pros and cons of this practice so you’ll be better informed and able to make the right call.
Of course, you want what’s best for your child. When you have enough information to help you decide whether or not to co sleep, you’ll be making one more positive step toward safe and secure care for your baby.
What is co-sleeping?
You might have heard the term getting thrown around often, but what does co sleeping mean exactly? There are a few different variations on co sleeping, but what it really boils down to is sleeping near your baby or small child. Most of the time, this refers to sleeping in the same bed with your child, but it doesn’t always have to be this way. There are many reasons why co sleeping is popular, and these will be outlined later on in this article. For now, just understand that the most common definition of co sleeping is simply sleeping with your baby closer to you than in a crib in a separate room.
You might be surprised to hear it, but over 80% of mothers who breastfeed have reported sleeping in the same bed with their babies. And in a recent study, only 11% of surveyed expectant mothers planned to co sleep with their children, but 42% of the same mothers ended up participating in this practice after their babies were born. Co sleeping with baby is a lot more common than you might realize!
But what is co sleeping with your baby supposed to accomplish? Isn’t it going to just be dangerous and potentially keep you from getting enough sleep yourself? There are a lot of potential issues to consider when thinking about co sleeping, and there are plenty of good reasons to go ahead with this very traditional practice, too. In the next section, you’ll find out the many different ways co sleeping can be done.
How is co-sleeping done?
Okay, so it makes sense that co sleeping means keeping your baby near you when you sleep. But how do you co sleep with your baby and manage to keep him or her safe at the same time? There are a few different ways you can practice co sleeping, and choosing the one that’s right for you boils down to examining your own individual situation and needs.
- “Bad dreams” bed sharing – This is probably the bed sharing you’re most familiar with. In this setup, your child or baby has his or her own bedroom (or possibly shares with siblings). Children are put to bed at the start of the night but are welcome to sleep in the bed with parents if they wake up during the night—usually from a bad dream or some other interruption of their normal sleep. This may happen very regularly or it may be very infrequent. Co sleeping isn’t practiced every night in this setup.
- Separate beds, same room – For very young babies, this is a common setup parents are pretty fond of. Cribs or bassinets are placed in the same room as the parents’ bed, never more than a few steps away. The whole family sleeps in the same room but not in the same bed. Older children might sleep on toddler beds or cots on the floor near the parents’ bed.
- Sidecar sleeping – This is similar to separate bed sleeping but slightly different. A sidecar crib is designed to attach securely to the side of the parents’ bed so that one parent can simply roll over during the night and have access to the baby without having to get up. The baby, however, has his or her own separate place to sleep that is free from any potential issues that might arise in the main bed.
- True co sleeping – True co sleeping is when a baby or young child sleeps in the same bed with one or both of the parents on a regular basis. The bed may be larger than normal to accommodate this setup, or it might be a standard sized bed.
What do you need to do to prepare for co-sleeping?
To co sleep with baby the right way, you need to prepare a very safe sleeping environment for your child. No matter how or where your child sleeps, you always want to be certain it’s a safe place that’s both secure and free from any potential problems. Check out this list for a few tips to keep you co sleeping safely.
- To begin with, both parents should be okay with co sleeping. If one parent isn’t on board with the idea, the bed might not be a safe environment for the baby.
- Do not let very young children share a bed with older siblings. If infants are going to co sleep, they should co sleep with an adult who is responsible enough to care for them properly during the night.
- Never put an infant in the bed with another adult who is already asleep and unaware that the baby is there.
- Never put the baby in bed with one or more adults who are intoxicated or under heavy medication.
- If one or more parent has very long hair, it should be worn in a bun when co sleeping with the baby.
- If one or more parent is very obese or has any trouble feeling any part of his or her body (and therefore feeling whether or not they are too close to the baby), it may be safer to choose a sidecar sleeping arrangement.
- Do not put the baby in bed with one or more adults while the adults are fighting. Even if it’s just a normal verbal argument, the adults in question might not be paying close attention to the baby at the time.
- Never smoke in bed with your baby. For your safety, never smoke in bed at all. Never place your baby in bed with an adult who smells of secondhand smoke.
- Baby’s head should never be covered and all blankets used should be light and breathable.
- Make sure the bed is firm and clean before letting your baby sleep in it.
- Always put your baby to sleep on his or her back.
- This may go without saying, but put the baby to sleep in a separate room if you plan to be intimate with your partner in bed during the night.
What is a good time to start and stop co-sleeping?
When your baby wants to co sleep, you might wonder when it’s time to begin and end this practice. Everyone’s situations are different and your needs (and your child’s needs) will not be the same as your best friend’s and her child’s. However, here are few guidelines you can keep in mind.
- You can begin co sleeping with your newborn as soon as you bring him or her home if you like. However, you must take extra care to be sure the baby is very safe and secure during this time. Co sleeping with a newborn is best done with a sidecar setup until the baby is a little bit bigger and older.
- You can also transition to co sleeping at any point if you’ve tried crib sleeping and found that it isn’t working for your situation. However, once you start, be prepared to keep it up for a long time if necessary.
- You’ll probably know when it’s time to move your child into his or her own room. This is best done when the child is still young enough to make the change with relative ease and hasn’t gotten too used to it. Many people transition to separate sleeping by the age of two.
- However, some children continue co sleeping until they are five or older. This may cause problems as your bed becomes too crowded for a bigger child, and he or she might start to feel embarrassed about this during sleepovers or similar situations. If you feel like it’s time to transition, then it’s time.
Why can co-sleeping be beneficial for parents too?
Now that you understand a little more about co sleeping, you might be asking yourself, “What is co sleeping with baby going to do for me?” While you should, of course, make this decision based on your child’s needs above your own, it’s normal to wonder what benefits you as a parent can get from this unique sleeping arrangement. Check out this list to learn more.
- Co sleeping can actually help you sleep more. While you might think having a crying, screaming baby next to your face all night could be a problem when it comes to a good night’s sleep, you’re more likely to find yourself getting better rest when you aren’t having to wake up completely, walk to another room, and turn on a bunch of lights to tend to your child when he or she wakes up.
- You will wake up feeling happier when you aren’t starting your day fretting about your baby in another room. As soon as your alarm goes off, you don’t have to jump out of bed and rush off to check on the baby. You can take your time waking up, tend to the baby in your own bed, and then get your day started like normal.
- You will not have to struggle as much to put the baby to bed every night. When your baby gets a little bit older, he or she might start to have some anxiety when it comes time for bed. Baby might associate going to his or her own room with being away from Mom or Dad, and that can cause problems that only get worse as your child ages. You can avoid this altogether when you co sleep.
In the next section, you’ll learn the co sleeping pros and cons for you and your baby both so you can decide what’s best for your individual situation.
Pros of Co-sleeping
As with anything, there are plenty of pros and cons of co sleeping you should keep in mind before you make the right decision for your family. Take a look at these pros of co sleeping to help you figure out if this is the right choice for you and your baby.
- Co sleeping makes breastfeeding much easier and encourages breastfeeding to take place for longer. Of course, if you aren’t breastfeeding your child, you’re probably not too concerned with this! However, if you are, it can be so much easier to simply wake up a little bit at the first sign of your baby stirring, breastfeed normally, and then go back to sleep. This can be beneficial to both you and the baby.
- Babies are able to get more sleep during the night when they co sleep. Since parents are more in tune with the baby’s needs when they co sleep, they will be better able to tell when the baby first starts to fret and stir while still sleeping. Parents can then feed or care for the baby as needed before he or she completely has time to wake up and start screaming, which can spare the sleep schedules of everyone involved.
- If parents are unable to spend all day with their children, co sleeping may help strengthen their bonds together. Parents who are busy all day every day with work and with older children might not have enough time to set aside for baby. However, when co sleeping, parents and baby grow closer through natural bonding.
- When you co sleep with your baby, you’re more likely to sync with his or her schedule very quickly. Biological mothers are often already pretty in tune with baby’s needs and frequently report anticipating a nighttime feeding before the baby ever wakes up. However, when you co sleep, you can encourage this syncing between any parent and the baby, and everyone will benefit from it.
- Parent and child anxiety both will decrease when sleeping in close contact with each other. Children won’t go through nighttime separation anxiety, and parents who are very worried about the baby during the night won’t have to constantly wake up wondering if they heard a strange sound on the baby monitor. You will reduce the number of trips you take to the baby’s room during the night, and you’ll simply be able to roll over and check on your child without disturbing him or her or your partner.
Cons of Co-sleeping
You’ve probably heard a lot of people talking about the cons of co sleep, but why is co sleeping bad? Below, you’ll learn about some of the cons of co sleeping you might potentially face.
- There are potential risks when sleeping in the bed with a baby, such as accidental crushing or smothering with the blankets during the night. If you follow the safety tips outlined in a previous section of this article, you shouldn’t have too many of these risks to worry about. However, there are still concerns to keep in mind, and there’s always the rare chance you might cause harm to your child during the night without intending to.
- Some people believe that SIDS is more common when co sleeping, and some people believe it’s less common. Studies are still underway to determine the relationship between SIDS and co sleeping, but for now, this is a consideration you should keep in mind. For the time being, the medical community believes that SIDS has a pretty equal chance of happening at random to babies whether co sleeping or not.
- If you also have pets in bed with you, you run the risk of not having enough room for you, your partner, your baby, and your dog. You also run the risk of your pet causing harm to your child during the night. Not having enough room to sleep in the bed means you have a greater risk of rolling onto your baby or pushing him or her out of the bed accidentally during the night. This also increases the risk of smothering with pillows or blankets. If you have a family pet who is used to sharing the bed, jealousy issues could cause rare but potential harm to the baby as well. (As a side note, if you’ll be co sleeping regularly, it’s probably best to train the dog to sleep in a separate area before the baby every arrives.)
- Some people believe that co sleeping is spoiling a child or otherwise contributes to emotional problems later on. There isn’t really any scientific research to back this up, but once again, it’s something to keep in mind. Some studies have shown that children who co sleep are more likely to be able to pay attention better in school, while others have shown that co sleeping can contribute to intelligence and performance issues in school. This is a situation that’s really best determined on your own based on individual family needs. However, it’s something to keep in mind.
- A child who gets used to nighttime co sleeping might need a parent around for daytime napping too. You might get your baby into the habit of having someone nearby every time he or she sleeps, and that could be very complicated if you don’t have time to lie down with your child for every midday nap. If you have to leave your baby with a sitter or at a day care, when naptime rolls around, this can cause even bigger problems! Not all children who co sleep will form this habit, however.
So, should you co sleep with your baby? It’s a hard decision to make, and since it’s a very controversial topic, you might find yourself worrying about what to do for a long time before your baby is born and well after, too. However, the best thing to keep in mind is that every situation is different. You don’t necessarily have to do the same thing your cousin, friend, sister, or even mother did! However, if their preferred methods work for you, then by all means, go for it.
If you feel that your baby sleeps better in bed with you, and if you’re committed to providing the perfect safe sleeping environment, then co sleeping may be a great solution. However, if your partner disagrees or if you have a lot of anxiety about the what-ifs of co sleeping, then it’s probably better to leave your baby in a separate room, or at least in a separate crib.
With the right information, you’ll be able to make the perfect decision easily and keep you and your baby happy and healthy well into the future. Co sleeping isn’t for everyone, but it’s perfect for some. Just remember to keep your sleeping environment safe, to judge when it’s best to start and stop co sleeping with your individual baby and to keep all your potential pros and cons in mind before you make your decision.
When it comes down to it, a good, safe night’s sleep is the most important factor for you and your baby both.