Co-Sleeping is Safe, For Kids and Kitten

by Dagmar Bleasdale on June 7, 2011

How adorable is this cat mama co-sleeping and hugging her sleeping kitten!

I have co-slept with L for most of his life and am a hug fan of co-sleeping. L had a beautiful crib, but he hardly ever slept in it because it didn’t make sense to have him crying in his crib across the room or even in another room when he was so peacefully sleeping right next to me.

Happy baby equaled a very happy mama. I could attend to his needs at a moment’s notice, and I didn’t have to get up to get him or to make a bottle, since I was breastfeeding him.

I have written about co-sleeping before — Yes, We Co-Sleep. There, the Secret is Out. — and about how it is way more prevalent among families with small kids than most people realize.

I actually shouldn’t call what I’m doing co-sleeping — it’s bed sharing. Bed sharing happens when the child is in bed with mom and/or dad, and co-sleeping when the child sleeps in the same room with mom and dad. L now sleeps through the night in his own room, but he sometimes still come into our bed, which we love. I still bed-share with him sometimes when I fall asleep in his bed when I’m getting him to sleep.

It is so unfortunate that many public health organizations deem bed sharing and co-sleeping unsafe. I just recently saw a poster in my son’s preschool that said: “Babies are safest when they sleep alone.” That’s not true, and I’d love to know why money is being wasted to print those posters and on campaign that discourage bed-sharing/co-sleeping. Are crib manufacturers funding those campaigns?

According to Attachment Parenting International,

“advances in research have demonstrated that the proximity of the infant to the parents during sleep is a protective factor against both SIDS and unexplained infant death, as well as valuable for bonding and sleep-time parenting.”

Bed-sharing and co-sleeping is practiced safely all over the world, so don’t tell me that it is unsafe. The fact is that most bed sharing accidents that end up in the news involve a parent or caretaker under the influence of drugs, mostly alcohol. It should be common sense that you shouldn’t sleep next to a child when you are drunk.

In his article Sleeping Safely With Your Baby, Dr. Sear points out why bed-sharing and co-sleeping is safe:

“Until a legitimate survey is done to determine how many babies sleep with their parents, and this is factored into the rate of SIDS in a bed versus a crib, it is unwarranted to state that sleeping in a crib is safer than a bed.

If the incidence of SIDS is dramatically higher in crib versus a parent’s bed, and because the cases of accidental smothering and entrapment are only 1.5% of the total SIDS cases, then sleeping with a baby in your bed would be far safer than putting baby in a crib.

The answer is not to tell parents they shouldn’t sleep with their baby, but rather to educate them on how to sleep with their infants safely.”

A recent article about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome researcher Doctor James McKenna mentioned this:

Doctor James McKenna said that as long as co-sleeping is carried out in a responsible manner – not on a waterbed or couch and not by parents affected by drugs or alcohol – then babies up to 12 months old will reap the long-term benefits.

If parents are not able to sleep in the same bed as their baby then they should at least be in the same room, Dr McKenna said. “Co-sleeping is humankind’s oldest and most successful method of mother and baby sleeping,” he said.

“The push in the western world to get babies to sleep through the night on their own as young as possible is doing more harm than good.”

For more information and detailed guidelines on bed sharing and co-sleeping, I love PhD in Parenting’s extensive post Co-Sleeping Safety, and here are Ten Reasons to Sleep Next to Your Child at Night.

Do you practice bed sharing or co-sleeping? Were you surprised that you ended up bed sharing?

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Meg July 17, 2011 at 4:22 AM

It seems so normal and natural to me but then maybe because I’m out here in California! Everyone I know has done some version of co-sleeping or bed sharing and it just seems so obvious that keeping baby secure and happy is the priority, especially in those early months. It is also so soothing for a new mom to have baby nearby throughout the night. Children are more adaptable than we give them credit for, especially well-rested and secure children, so when it’s time to transition to a separate bed or room they can be helped into that next stage.
By the way I think it’s incredible how much your son age 4 looks like his baby photos! Just a smaller version of himself but definitely still that same little face.

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Mary Joan Koch June 29, 2011 at 2:16 PM

My daughters are grown, ages 38 to 29. I listened to the experts with my first daughter until I found her, at 2, asleep outside our closed door. We co-slept with the three others, and it makes things so much easier and more loving. I am delighted to see them co-sleeping with their own babies.

Most people I know who co-slept didn’t tell their pediatricians about it. That would certain skew any research on the subject.

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Jenn June 28, 2011 at 4:18 AM

Thanks so much for this post! I can’t imagine anything but bedsharing for my family.

I tried putting my baby in her own crib when she was just born and I ended up worried all night. I like to feel her belly rise and fall.

I know it’s not for everyone, but really wish critics would read some of McKenna’s work before discouraging parents from doing what I believe to be one of the sweetest parts of parenting.

Why would we stop parenting because the lights are out?

Anyways, thanks again for a great post.

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Dagmar June 28, 2011 at 4:25 AM

I love this: “Why would we stop parenting because the lights are out?” Thanks!

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Donna Huebsch June 11, 2011 at 3:55 PM

Nice post – I can remember 16 years ago, the hospital had me sign a statement that we would not let our baby sleep in the bed with us…looking back on it, I can’t believe they actually did that! I hadn’t planned to have her sleep with us, but because I breastfed her that’s what we ended up doing, and it worked out well for us.

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Melissa (Confessions of a Dr.Mom) June 8, 2011 at 4:17 PM

As a pediatrician and mom, I too ended up cosleeping with my first son. I was surprised by it…but my son essentially “demanded” it. I had to find a good sleep solution that worked for us all and it ended up working. I was nervous and anxious about it but found that it was a wonderful experience once I put all safety precautions in place. My daughter didn’t need cosleeping, so she was in a bedside bassinet during her first few months.

As you know, this is a contentious issue, fraught with safety issues and concerns. I just wrote about this issue on my blog yesterday. I hope more studies are done so cosleeping can be surrounded with education and support as I believe it can be a safe and healthy sleep environment for babies if done right.

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Brynna June 8, 2011 at 1:22 PM

A trial bus ride? Oh my goodness, that has to be one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen!!

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Brynna June 8, 2011 at 1:23 PM

Ooookay, obviously THAT didn’t go where I’d planned it to!! That’s what I get for having too many tabs open.

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Beth June 8, 2011 at 10:56 AM

My son is 3 months old now and I’ve been sharing my bed with him since he was born and plan to continue until he sleeps through the night.  I get a lot of negative reactions from people. Even my oldest daughter gives me grief about it. I thought I might agree with them after the stress I put on my myself and my oldest when she was younger. I shared my bed with her for years and then from the advice of my pediatrician I spent three nights of torchure denying her any rights to my room. I completely cut her off at the age of 3. I now feel that the advice was wrong and cruel in so many ways. My son doesn’t have to stress about getting food, getting changed, or feeling lonely. And this time, he will always be welcome, even when he does sleep in his own bed. For now, his crib will continue to be the changing table.

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Kristi {at} Live and Love Out Loud June 8, 2011 at 3:10 AM

Well done, Dagmar. We’ve co-slept and bed shared as well. I understand that it doesn’t work for everyone, but it certainly worked for us and made nighttime breastfeeding sessions a breeze. In fact, I still bed share on occasion.

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Erika @NAMAmmaSTE June 8, 2011 at 2:47 AM

I will never understand why there is so much bad press around natural parenting in general.  Everything, from natural birth to extended breastfeeding and cosleeping, is constantly frowned upon by many medical professionals and therefore popular culture and it is SO FRUSTRATING to me!  

I remember telling two of my girlfriends about my plans for a drug-free birth center birth and the look they shot each other (the yes-I-think-she’s-insane-too look).  I will also never forget when my husband’s grandmother felt the need to inform me that I “really should stop breastfeeding once Dylan turns one”.  

I obviously haven’t let these or other experiences stop me from doing what I want to do, but, like you said, I really don’t understand why so much time, energy, and money is put into proving that new is better and natural is scary, dangerous, or weird.

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Dagmar June 8, 2011 at 4:52 AM

I so agree, Erika. It seems counter-intuitive to do things not in a gentle, attachment-parenting way for me. And I really believe in doing what works for your family.

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Nikki O June 7, 2011 at 5:38 PM

I also co-slept with both my sons, but like Jenn said it was for sanity/survival:). I also breast fed and it really made things much easier.

My boys are now 5 and 2 1/2 years old and they sleep in their own beds through out the night.

But I will say this past year I interned at a pediatric skilled nursing facility and there was a boy there who had basically been in a coma for years because when he was a baby his dad was sleeping with him on the couch and he rolled over on him while sleeping and didn’t realize until the baby already had brain damage due to loss of oxygen to the brain.

I’m not saying this to scare any one, but just to say that while it is pretty rare,it does happen. And in this particular situation, the family was low-income and did not have the finances for a crib nor were they aware of the resources available to them or provided with educational information.

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Dagmar June 8, 2011 at 4:06 AM

That’s why I think it’s so important to teach every parent about safe bed sharing instead of putting money into campaigns that scare people and make them put babies in cribs by themselves! Education is power.

Also, dads are not as aware of their kids sleeping next to them, it’s mom’s instincts to be aware of their baby next to them, even when sleeping, so I would be more cautious to have only dad sleeping next to a baby. Plus, sleeping on a couch is NOT a safe co-sleeping practice, period.

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Brynna June 7, 2011 at 7:42 PM

We have had all of our babies in our bed for the first 2(ish) years (and then they just come in sporadically!). I wouldn’t do it any other way. Not just because of the huge nigthtime benefits and easing breastfeeding around the clock, I’d be VERY uncomfortable having my tiny baby in another room!!! I am always hyper-aware of my baby’s presence beside me in bed, as is hubby, so we have no concerns about that. We also have a lot of support from his family- his mom and dad had the kids in their bed too (6 kids), and he’s a 50+ year MD and she’s an RN (and hubby is an EMT), so it’s nice to have them back up our decisions!

Most people told us “Oh, you’ll regret it…you’ll never get them out of your bed!” But we transitioned my 2 older girls pretty seamlessly. I think the problem is that these days many parents want instant changes and aren’t willing to put in time and effort to GENTLY change things up for a child.

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PragmaticMom June 7, 2011 at 4:11 PM

I co-slept with my 3 kids because it was the only way I could nurse them and they weaned late at nearly 2 years! The downside was that they never slept through the night until they weaned, but I loved cuddling them, especially for the first because I worked full time and not in the house.

Co-sleeping, I think, is dangerous for parents who use drugs or alcohol, are extremely overweight, or for very deep sleepers. I am a light sleeper so this was not an issue.

Co-sleeping is common in Asia where there is very low incidence of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), so there might be something to co-sleeping that helps with this.

I tried the side car with one, but didn’t really use it. The side of our bed was also not against any walls — another danger for suffocation.

I’m glad I co-slept though it’s nice that the kids are out of the bed finally!

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Jenn Fox June 7, 2011 at 3:57 PM

We bed-share with both of our kids but it was never our intention to do so . . . honestly, it was just plain survival. My second baby just wanted to be near me and so in bed he came. It was easier for me and he slept better.

Now I have a 3.5 and a 1.5 year old that go to bed with one of us laying down with them. They start in their own bed but eventually in the night they end up with a parent and they sleep better because of it. They don’t see us during the day because we work so this gives us extra bonding time.

We get comments for the grandparents but such is life . . . this is how we are doing things and yes it is different but it is working for us.

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Courtney @ The Mommy Matters June 7, 2011 at 3:54 PM

My son slept in the bed with us until he was almost 8 months old. And the only reason he moved to a crib then, is because he decided to become an independent sleeper. He doesn’t like to be bothered or touched when he’s sleeping, so we just went with it. Even now that he’s almost 3, there are still nights (and mornings!) when he’ll come crawl in our bed. I think that co-sleeping, or bed sharing, are perfectly normal and SAFE for everyone. We loved those first few months of closeness with our son. And what people seem to forget, is that they won’t be that little and that cuddly for long. I plan to do the same with a second child.

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Beth June 7, 2011 at 2:50 PM

This is such a relief to read- thank you Dagmar! My son just turned 3 and we have coslept with him since conception (he he he). I used to worry that it was “bad” for him, would damage him psychologically or stunt him in some way, but I think it has actually helped to foster a healthy capacity for both dependence and independence- vital for human relationships and endeavors throughout the life cycle. Thanks for writing this!

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Dagmar June 7, 2011 at 3:05 PM

Hi Beth, oh, I’m so glad this helped you! No, you will not harm your child by co-sleeping, you will foster closeness and your child will feel secure, which lets kids have the self-confidence to explore the world.

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kelly @kellynaturally June 7, 2011 at 2:41 PM

Ugh, I can’t believe there are posters saying babies are safest sleeping alone! That is so completely unnatural!

We had a family bed until my youngest was ~18 months; and once my children moved out of our bed, they coslept together (still do at 6 & 4!).

I’ve never understood the concept of putting a newborn alone for sleep, when adults typically cosleep with their partner every night. Cosleeping is comforting, temperature regulating, and natural. Thanks for spreading the word, Dagmar!

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Diane @ OhDiane June 7, 2011 at 2:26 PM

When my son was younger, he refused to sleep in his crib, so he wound up sleeping with us in our bed. He slept in our bed every night until last fall when he turned 4 and we got tired of all the kicking! Every now and then he asks to sleep with us and of course we let him.

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