Co-Sleeping is Safe — When Practiced Responsibly

by Dagmar Bleasdale on November 14, 2011

Posting a poster like this is just wrong and misleading:

I originally wrote the following post for the New York City Moms blog, which no longer exists. After seeing these horrific posters scaring parents about co-sleeping, I’m reposting it here.

Thanks to MckMama for making me aware of these posters! I have written about the safety of co-sleeping after being outraged about a similar poster.

Co-sleeping is safe – when practiced SAFELY. There are guidelines to be follow and responsible behavior is warranted, as there always is when parenting.

Yes, We Co-Sleep. There, the Secret is Out.

We co-sleep. There, I said it, the secret is out. Actually, this isn’t much of a revelation to my blog readers or to anyone who knows me, but I seem to be one of the few parents who don’t have a problem with telling people that my son, now almost 3 1/2 years old, sleeps next to me every night.

Did I plan to co-sleep? Not really.

I was entertaining the idea before the baby arrived; and I certainly wasn’t opposed to it. I knew there was no way I was going to put him in his own room all by himself, and we set up his beautiful crib right next to our bed. But once my son was born, that was too far away.

I breastfed him on demand, and instead of having to get up every hour, I had him right next to me. He’d latch on and off we were again to dreamland, compared to other moms who have to get their baby from the nursery or warm up a bottle. I’d wake up a lot, making sure the blanket never covered him past his belly button, but I’d almost do it instinctively in a kind of semi-sleep and had pretty restful nights right from the start.

My son was a very content baby, yet if I tried to put him down in his crib, he’d cry and cry. Co-sleeping was the charm.

I suspect that is what many parents find — maybe to their surprise or against their prior objections: co-sleeping feels natural, wanting to be close to your child is natural, and it works since everybody gets more rest.

After a little investigative questioning, I usually find out that many parents co-sleep with their small children, yet they don’t feel comfortable telling the whole world about it. Why, I wonder, do so many parents feel like they have to keep their co-sleeping arrangement a secret?

I suspect it has to do with not wanting to be judged by older generations, our parents and grandparents, who in most cases put us in a separate room the day they took us home and let us cry — “and see, you turned out just fine!” And we don’t want to do things very differently because it might make them think we criticize their parenting style or hurt their feelings.

I tried that Ferber, let-him-cry-it-out method for two nights — and my son and I were in tears for hours.

I was in the room with him because I wanted him to at least know that I hadn’t abandoned him, but the whole time a voice inside me kept screaming, “Why does this feel so wrong to me? Having him not next to me goes against every instinct I have as a mother! Why am I forcing something on us when co-sleeping is working so beautifully?”

I tried it because I felt pressured to teach my son to self-sooth and sleep by himself, and the only thing it accomplished was to make me angry that I actually had been that impressionable and had put us both through that “ferberizing” agony.

Another reason why talking about co-sleeping might be such a taboo is that people wonder how you can be intimate with your partner while a child is also in the bed. What cracks me up is that we are so bashful when talking about sex in America, but when it comes to co-sleeping, all we think of is how not enough sex is happening in the bed. Obviously second children are born to co-sleeping families!

Co-sleeping lets children (and parents) sleep more contently and — when done safely — some studies even suggest that co-sleeping helps protect against SIDS. For more info, Kellymom has a wonderful list of resources, articles, and research studies on this subject.

Humans started out co-sleeping, having babies sleep in their own rooms is a pretty new concept — one that doesn’t seem to work for many families today, considering how many I know who share a family bed.

So co-sleeping parents of the world, stand up tall for what works for your family and don’t be shy to announce, “Yes, we co-sleep.”

Times change — heck, my mom went grocery shopping while we were napping! — and co-sleeping with our children is how a lot of us are parenting nowadays. It’ll be interesting what the next generation ends up doing.

Here are the comments I received on the NYC Moms Blog:

Leon Hoffman said… Why are there more books on sleeping than on any other developmental issue? Because all parents want to ease, as much as possible, their children’s transition from wakefulness to sleep. Each family and each child have different needs, therefore what works for one family does not always work for another family.

Co-sleeping (or using a family bed) may be a source of comfort or may be a source of tension in the family. Parents have to try to work this out as best they can.

Reply April 04, 2010 at 05:49 AM Dagmar Bleasdale said in reply to Leon Hoffman…

Hi Leon, thank you for your excellent comment. Just my point: do what works for your family. I think as long as everyone in the family is happy with the arrangement, go for it. Once one member of the family isn’t happy anymore, you need to find a different solution to avoid resentment and problems. Best, Dagmar

Reply April 04, 2010 at 06:06 AM Sheryl @ Little Snowflakes said… We also didn’t plan on co-sleeping – it just happened naturally…it was the only way I could get rest. My son also resisted his crib, and would only sleep snuggled next to me. At first I felt guilty about it – that my son “should” sleep in a crib…but I eventually gave into it and now my husband and I love co-sleeping with our now 2 year old. Lately he has been waking up and saying I love you mommy. What could be better than that?

Reply April 06, 2010 at 06:37 AM Natalie said… We do partial co-sleeping. My two start out the night in their own space, then migrate when they need us. It gives us some time with the bed to ourselves, but we are still able to enjoy the cuddle time and convenience benefits… only have to get up and get a baby once! The toddler can climb in on his own. ;)

Reply April 08, 2010 at 06:33 AM Nanci Harvey said…

I have had five kids the first four I did the “right” thing and they slept in a cradle next to my bed till about three months then went to a nursery down the hall. It was okay and I didn’t really know or hear anything else. I did breast feed but always put the baby back in the cradle. THEN I had my last daughter she was colicky and very small and just a very unhappy girl from the star. I breast fed her to and there was just no way she was going to sleep anywhere but with me. So we slept together for four years. It was great for her and me. Now I tell others about this as at least as and option to the crib down the hall. Nanci

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Nichole T. July 2, 2013 at 11:25 PM

Are you available via e mail to help me with co sleeping/bed sharing? Thank you.

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Petra May 27, 2012 at 3:27 AM

Hi. I discovered your website today, actually I was googling pretty living rooms and it led me to you, and then I noticed your interest in co-sleeping, and I felt I must comment. I didn’t think about it at all, it just happened out of accident and the need for sleep. My (one and only) child, was colicky and I did everything “by the book”; of course it didn’t work. I did “control crying” by the book, for 2 years would you believe, and it didn’t work AT ALL. He and I would both be crying (for 2 years!) but I didn’t know what else to do. Then when he was 2.5yrs old, out of necessity as mum and dad moved in, I slept in a fold-out bed beside his bed, and we BOTH slept through the night. Miracle of miracles! We still co-sleep. Sometimes in the marital bed, sometimes in his bed. He is a sensitive child who constantly needs and wants cuddles and closeness of family around him. He is 10 years old now and yes, we still co-sleep, although I must say, I do make a midnight run to my own comfortable bed, but after a few hours he follows!!! Now, have you heard of a 10 year old still needing/wanting to sleep with his parents?

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Dagmar May 27, 2012 at 1:42 PM

Hi Petra, I’m glad you found co-sleeping and that it works for your son and yourself. I love sleeping next to L. Yes, I have heard of kids older than him still sleeping in his parents’ bed.

As long as it works for you and him, who cares how old he is? I think he will want to sleep all by himself soon enough.

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Crys April 30, 2012 at 11:40 PM

When co-sleeping, are you in bed each time they go to bed or do let them fall asleep and get up sometimes?

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Dagmar May 1, 2012 at 12:12 AM

Bed sharing is sharing the bed with the child. Co-sleeping actually means having the child near you in his/her own bed in your room. I shared my bed with L for three years and then we transitioned him to his own twin bed. I’d nurse him to sleep and he’d stay in his own bed most of the time. I sometimes fall asleep with him all night, still do, but mostly I sleep in our big bed. Sometimes L comes into our bed for the last few hours of sleep.

L hardly ever falls asleep by himself, only on rare sleepovers at his cousins. I get him to sleep every night. I love falling asleep with him, so I don’t mind. But I would like him to learn how to fall asleep by himself soon – we are working on it. :)

Whatever works for the family is the right thing – it doesn’t really matter what the name for it is :)

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Joyce Harrell February 28, 2012 at 10:14 PM

We had our children in the bed with us. Sometimes all three. My grandchildren now come over. They sleep with their parents. The kids sleep with us when they spend the night. The oldest is 10. The youngest are 4 and 5. I love it. Wouldnt’ have it any other way.

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Colin Webb November 22, 2011 at 10:21 PM

Thank you for opening up to all about a subject that is so skewed in the media. I must admit when I first saw those ads I was a little confused as it seemed pretty extreme. My wife and I have two children and I just got used to having a little one next to us. We believe co-sleeping is part of comforting our children. We are extremely careful and I feel that is why we are successful. Good point about not wanting to tell our parents as that older generation would frown upon such thing. Thanks for sharing.

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Marciemom November 15, 2011 at 6:51 PM

Thanks for retweeting on my co-sleeping experience. Wanted to share a little more on eczema here – it’s very itchy and parents whose babies have severe eczema have stress level as high as those with kidney issues. My baby has eczema from 2 weeks old, n I quit my job, relocated, and stayed home for a year. She’s 2 year old now n I started a support group n blog eczemablues.com for parents.
I co-sleep up til 2 weeks ago-it’s not blissful cosleeping but every 2hours wake up for 30 mins or > to hold her hands. Still it’s worth it. Many parents in Singapore don’t cosleep, thinking it’s bad n a hassle. Will you help answer a few questions that I send u over email so that I can put up on my blog for parents to know? Do email me if you agree, thanks so much!

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Karin Böning November 15, 2011 at 11:42 AM

I so needed to hear this. This morning my child-doctor told me that co-sleeping is not a good idea etcetera. I told her that I feel that psysical closeness is very important to me and that I breastfeed my son on demand. Bf’ing is so easy when your child sleeps next to you. I make sure he’s never coverd by the blanket and that the room is well-aired. We don’t smoke or drink, and when my husband has had a beer, he sleeps in another bed. We all get the sleep we need and we are happy.

Karin from Holland

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marciemom November 15, 2011 at 11:23 AM

Yes, I do co-sleep with my baby for 2 years becos she has eczema and I want to know whenever she’s scratching at night. It’s very tough, but worth it when I can prevent some scratches. I even drew a cartoon on it!
http://eczemablues.com/2011/10/13-of-the-101-things-that-moms-with-eczema-child-do-differently-challenging-bedtime/

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Dagmar November 15, 2011 at 11:35 PM

Oh, that must be so hard to have to try to get her to not scratch herself. I feel so bad for both of you. Is there nothing that can heal eczema?

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MarcieMom November 15, 2011 at 11:42 PM

Eczema is a chronic condition, meaning has to be managed overtime rather than cured. My baby’s eczema is much better after a one-time oral steroid course at 7 months old, before it’s all red in a few seconds for no reason, now it’s localized and manageable. The hardest part is at night, when there’s no toys/TV/food to distract. It’s very awkward to co-sleep, my baby lies on my chest (we weaned her off cos she’s 12 kg now), and I have to ‘secure’ her hands between my arm & body. Sometimes, she even squeeze her legs between my thighs! It’s like being a bed, pillow, bolster and anti-scratch device for the night!

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Dagmar November 16, 2011 at 12:17 AM

It’s amazing what we moms will do to keep our babies safe… I’m praying that her eczema gets so much better soon that you both can sleep more soundly. This sleeping arrangement will surely get much harder when she gets bigger/older.

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Lisa @Granola Catholic November 14, 2011 at 7:43 PM

Thanks for taking this on, sometimes I feel like I am too far gone to write about these subjects, since my “baby” is 7. But truth be told, he still likes to sleep with us. Not every night, just usually when dh is out of town. We co-slept with two at one time in a king size bed. Then we moved the preschooler to her own little bed in our room, it was what worked best for us. I don’t think my children ever fell asleep in their own rooms until they were 3. But at the ages of 13, 11 and 7 they sleep on their own, for the most part, most nights. But be sure if one of them is sick I will move them into my room to keep an eye on them.

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Shari Lynne November 14, 2011 at 4:58 PM

Fantastic Post! I’ll stand with your secret..we co-slept too :) But it’s not for everyone.
Blessings
Shari

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Ellie (Mommy Masters) November 14, 2011 at 4:10 PM

Hi. Thanks so mch for reading and commenting on the Mommy Masters blog. I think it’s great you posted this to educate other moms. Everyone is going to have an opinion and I think that no one can really judge what works for someone else. What works for you may not work for someone else. If you are educated and know your actions are safe then what you are doing is ok. Hope we can keep reading each other’s blogs!

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Dagmar November 15, 2011 at 11:32 PM

Hi Ellie, I went back to your blog – where are all your blog posts?!

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flygyrl72 November 14, 2011 at 3:54 PM

I definitely co-sleep! And it’s fine! Just like you said, Dagmar, it wasn’t planned, but b’fing on demand made it happen. When I first brought her home, my c-section stitches just couldn’t take the constant getting up & bending over to get her out of her crib every hour. I find it gives both of us a sense of security & comfort that just isn’t there when she’s in her crib. My daughter sleeps so much better next to me than alone & so do I, as I don’t start awake at every gasp & whimper, or feel compelled to check on her all the time like I do when she’s in her crib.

As has been said before, people have to do what works best for their family.

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Cristi Comes November 14, 2011 at 2:51 PM

That poster is absolutely ridiculous and just wrong. Thank you Dagmar for tackling this important issue. We’ve co-slept safely with both of our children.

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Making Our Life Matter November 14, 2011 at 2:39 PM

I have awarded your blog an award! Please stop by and visit Tuesday, November 15th after 5am to pick it up!

Making Our Life Matter

Congratulations!

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Dagmar November 14, 2011 at 10:57 PM

Thank you!

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