Co-sleeping is a practice in which babies and young children sleep close to one or both parents, as opposed to in a separate room. It is standard practice in many parts of the world, and is practiced by a significant minority in countries where cribs are also used. Bed-sharing, a practice in which babies and young children sleep in the same bed with one or both parents, is a subset of co-sleeping. Co-bedding refers to infants (typically twins or higher-order multiples) sharing the same bed. There are conflicting views on bed-sharing safety and health compared to using a separate infant bed.
The American Academy of Pediatrics does encourage room-sharing (sleeping in the same room but on separate surfaces) in its policy statement regarding SIDS prevention, but it recommends against bed-sharing with infants.
Bed-sharing can lead to accidental suffocation of the infant in a number of ways, however following safe bed-sharing guidelines presents no extra risk than a baby sleeping in a cot alone.
Parents who were under the influence of drugs or alcohol and whose children died while bed-sharing have been prosecuted and charged with manslaughter in several US states (including Minnesota, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Utah).
Bed-sharing is standard practice in many parts of the world outside of North America, Europe and Australia, and even in the latter areas a significant minority of children have shared a bed with their parents at some point in childhood. One 2006 study of children age 3–10 in India reported 93% of children bed-sharing.
Bed-sharing was widely practiced in all areas up to the 19th century, until the advent of giving the child his or her own room and the crib. In many parts of the world, bed-sharing simply has the practical benefit of keeping the child warm at night. Bed-sharing has been relatively recently re-introduced into Western culture by practitioners of attachment parenting. A 2006 study of children in Kentucky in the United States reported 15% of infants and toddlers 2 weeks to 2 years engage in bed-sharing.
Proponents hold that bed-sharing saves babies' lives (especially in conjunction with nursing), promotes bonding, enables the parents to get more sleep and facilitates breastfeeding. Older babies can breastfeed during the night without waking their mother.
Opponents claim that co-sleeping is stressful for the child when they are not co-sleeping. They also cite concerns that a parent may smother the child or promote an unhealthy dependence of the child on the parent(s). In addition, they contend that this practice may interfere with the parents' own relationship, by reducing both communication and sexual intercourse at bedtime, and argue that modern-day bedding is not safe for co-bedding.
Safety and health
Health care professionals disagree about bed-sharing techniques, effectiveness and ethics. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission warns against practicing it with babies because of risk of suffocation or strangulation, but many pediatricians, breast-feeding advocates, and others have criticized this recommendation.
One study reported mothers getting more sleep by co-sleeping and breastfeeding than by other arrangements.
It has been argued that co-sleeping evolved over five million years, that it alters the infant's sleep experience and the number of maternal inspections of the infant, and that it provides a beginning point for considering possibly unconventional ways of helping reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Co-sleeping may promote long-term emotional health. In long-term follow-up studies of infants who slept with their parents and those who slept alone, the children who co-slept were happier, less anxious, had higher self-esteem, were less likely to be afraid of sleep, had fewer behavioral problems, tended to be more comfortable with intimacy, and were generally more independent as adults. However, a recent study (see below under precautions) found different results if co-sleeping was initiated only after nighttime awakenings. Co-sleeping from birth or soon afterwards is the norm except in some Western cultures.
Bed-sharing creates an increased risk of injury for any child when a parent smokes heavily, has a history of skin infections, or has any of a number of other specific risk-increasing traits. Some common advice given is to keep a baby on its back, not its stomach; that a child should never sleep with a parent who smokes, is taking drugs (including alcohol) that impede alertness, or is obese. It is also recommended that the bed should be firm, and should not be a waterbed or couch; and that heavy quilts, comforters, and pillows should not be used. Young children should never sleep next to babies under nine months of age. It is often recommended[who?] that a baby should never be left unattended in a typically linened adult bed even if the bed surface itself is no more dangerous than a crib surface. There is also the risk of the baby falling to a hard floor, or getting wedged between the bed and the wall or headboard. Parents who roll over during their sleep could inadvertently crush and/or suffocate their child, especially if they are heavy sleepers, over-tired or over-exhausted and/or obese. Some co-sleeping advocates[who?] also recommend that the baby should only sleep next to the mother, on the outside of the bed with a mattress on the floor (without a box-spring).
A recent report explored the relationship between ad hoc parental behaviors similar to traditional co-sleeping methodology, though the study's subjects typically utilized cribs and other paraphernalia counter to co-sleeping models. While babies who had been exposed to behaviors reminiscent of co-sleeping had significant problems with sleep later in life, the study concluded that the parental behaviors were a reaction to already-present sleep difficulties. Most relationships between parental behavior and sleeping trouble were not statistically significant when controlled for those preexisting conditions. Further, typical co-sleeping parental behavior, like maternal presence at onset of sleep, were found to be protective factors against sleep problems.
Products for infants
There are several products that can be used to facilitate safe co-sleeping with an infant:
- special-purpose bedside bassinets, which attach directly to the side of an adult bed and are open to the parent's side, but have barriers on the other three sides.
- bed top co-sleeping products designed to prevent the baby from rolling off the adult bed and to absorb breastmilk and other nighttime leaks.
- side rails to prevent the child from rolling off the adult bed.
- co-sleeping infant enclosures which are placed directly in the adult bed.
- specially designed separate sleeping bags for parents and infants which prevent covers being inadvertently pulled over the baby's head.
A study of a small population in Northeast England showed a variety of nighttime parenting strategies and that 65% of the sample had bedshared, 95% of them having done so with both parents. The study reported that some of the parents found bedsharing effective, yet were covert in their practices, fearing disapproval of health professionals and relatives. A National Center for Health Statistics survey from 1991 to 1999 found that 25% of American families always, or almost always, slept with their baby in bed, 42% slept with their baby "sometimes," and 32% never bed-shared with their baby.
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