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5 Reasons To Sleep With Your Baby (And One Good Reason Not To)

Affiliate Disclosure | in Motherhood | by | with 101 Comments

Is Co-Sleeping

Is Co-Sleeping As Dangerous As Putting Your Baby To Bed With A Butcher Knife?

The Milkwaukee Health Department thinks so, and last year they launched a controversial campaign to let the world know. “Bedsharing is dangerous,” says Anna Benton, Maternal and Child Health Division Manager for the City of Milwaukee. “We don’t think there’s any debate. We don’t think there is a quote un-quote safe way to share a bed with your baby.” (source, emphasis mine)

How sad.

While real risk factors like vaccines and chemical-laden mattresses get a nice, squishy hug from government agencies, parents are being scared away from the one thing that in most cases actually makes sleep safer. “But, there are studies!” some say. Yep, there are. But there are studies which examine whether the outcomes of soap opera coma patients are overly optimistic, too, and in my opinion that is about as useful. Why? Put simply, many of the “sleep safety” studies we’ve seen are funded by crib manufacturers.

A few years ago, it became apparent who was behind the curious disinformation campaigns about cosleeping. In May 2002, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) released a weakly supported announcement purporting the dangers of cosleeping.

Interestingly, the announcement was sponsored by the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA) – in other words, the crib industry. The crib industry went further by providing “Safe Sleep” brochures to Toys ‘R Us and other venues, creating a video clip for wide media distribution, and granting continued “education” on the topic to doctors.

Frightening families away from safe, natural cosleeping sells more than more cribs. Research shows that cosleeping supports breastfeeding. Crib sleeping makes breastfeeding less convenient and more difficult; therefore, enforcing crib sleeping sells more formula.

. . . Despite the 2002 CPSC statement about cosleeping “dangers,” the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) continued to support safe cosleeping. But now, with encouragement from SIDS organizations that are backed by pacifier and formula company funding, the AAP seems to have joined the anti-cosleeping bandwagon – and has begun plugging pacifier use, as well.

Healthy Child: Does Co-Sleeping Lead To SIDS?

Now, I Could Go On All Day . . .

About ridiculous studies and the industries they serve: like the recent Standford report which claimed organic and conventional produce are basically no different (funded by biotech firms like Monsanto, of course!) Instead, though, let’s examine what independent research really says, and by all means let’s use precise definitions rather than jumbling a variety of practices together like these so-called research endeavors do.

Co-sleeping is sharing a sleep environment with your baby. This may be by sharing your bed safely, having a sidecar arrangement next to the bed or even having a crib in the room that is within arm’s reach. It is the cultural norm for 90% of the world’s population (source)

Co-sleeping should NOT occur in unsafe environments, such as couches and waterbeds. These types of arrangements are often included in studies about co-sleeping dangers, which dramatically skews the results. Also, co-sleeping is not putting baby in a bed with an adult other than mama, who is biologically hardwired for sharing sleep with an infant (research indicates that some dads change their sleep patterns over the course of a few months to become more aware as well).

Now, with that said, if you WANT to co-sleep with your baby here are five reasons to tell the Milwaukee Department of Health where to put their campaign:

Reason #1: Your Baby’s Heart Goes Pitter-Patter Over You

Babies and their mothers share a deeply physiological connection. In one study of infant reaction to mothers, fathers, and strangers, an infant girl was brought into a lab and set in a plastic seat that was curtained off from distractions. The baby was then approached by her mother, then her father, and then a stranger.

Chest monitors on the baby and the adults showed that the baby synchronized her heart rate to that of the mother or father when they approached, but she did not synchronize her heart rate to the stranger’s.

The data suggests that babies and their caretakers are entwined in a homeostatic relationship, with the baby clicking in with the parents to achieve some sort of balance.”

Our Babies, Ourselves, p. 38 (emphasis mine)

Isn’t that amazing? And it just gets better: “Babies who sleep close to their mothers enjoy ‘protective arousal,’ a state of sleep that enables them to more easily awaken if their health is in danger, such as breathing difficulties’, says this article, which adds that “Infants who sleep near to parents have more stable temperatures, regular heart rhythms, and fewer long pauses in breathing compared to babies who sleep alone. This means baby sleeps physiologically safer.”

Reason #2: You Keep Your Baby Safe

On the flipside, mothers are deeply tuned in with their babies, often to the point where sleep cycles are synchronized so closely that they will naturally transition within a few seconds of each other. If something happens, the mother can act quickly on her baby’s behalf. According to the same article:

Trusted research by Dr. James McKenna, Director of the Mother-Baby Sleep Laboratory of the University of Notre Dame, showed that mothers and babies who sleep close to each other enjoy similar protective sleep patterns [as Asian cultures, which co-sleep and have the lowest SIDS rates known].  Mothers enjoy a heightened awareness of their baby’s presence, what I call a ‘nighttime sleep harmony,’ that protects baby.  The co-sleeping mother is more aware if her baby’s well-being is in danger.”

For more on how sleep sharing improves infant breathing and reduces the risk of SIDS, check out this article from Dr. Sears.

Reason #3: Makes Breastfeeding Easier

Bedsharing babies nurse about twice as often as those who sleep alone, which is beneficial for helping mamas maintain their milk supply, suppressing ovulation, and helping a baby who s on the small side gain weight. Best of all, though, you don’t have to get up several times a night to nurse. As someone who has breastfed while bedsharing and also gotten up to nurse a baby throughout the night (he was in bed with me but could not nurse lying down due to a tongue-tie), I can say definitively that getting up to breastfeed throughout the night is FAR more exhausting. This, of  course, leads to . . .

Reason #4: You Get More Sleep

Which in my book is what makes #4 so awesome! And it’s not just my experience – researchers at the College of Nursing at East Tennessee State University found that although breastfed babies sleep less than their formula-fed counterparts, their mothers actually sleep more! (source)

However, there **is** a tradeoff. You get more sleep, but it’s in a lighter state than if you were sleeping alone.  The same goes for your baby, too, and there’s a good reason why:

Babies who sleep with their mothers and breastfeed spend less time in the deepest  stages of sleep. Light stage sleep is thought to be physiologically more appropriate and safer for babies, because it is easier to awaken to terminate apneas (episodes where one stops breathing), than it is when babies are in deeper stages of sleep. The mother’s movements and the smells of mother’s breast milk nearby both contribute to the baby remaining in lighter sleep for longer periods of time.”

~ An Overview of The Benefits of Co-Sleeping

In other words, being a “good sleeper” is not always in the best interest of young babies – checking in often and establishing good breathing patterns is!

Reason #5: You Might Actually Enjoy It!

Don’t tell CNN, though, because obviously any aspect of parenting you manage to enjoy means you are really doing it for **you.**

Just between you and me, though, I absolutely love that my first memory from this morning is my son schooching up to kiss me on my eye and then wrestle me into a cuddle.

The smell of breast milk serves as “homing beacon” that keeps baby from roaming in bed

One Surprising Reason NOT To Bedshare

While all major organizations agree that room-sharing arrangements are beneficial and may even reduce the risk of SIDS by half, there is no consensus when it comes to bedsharing. The American Academy of Pediatrics says never ever while UNICEF and the World Health Organization give the thumbs up.

Who should we believe? According to Dr. James McKenna, head of the University of Notre Dame’s Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory, “Bedsharing . . . can be made either safe or unsafe, but it is not intrinsically one nor the other.”

So what makes bedsharing unsafe? Here are some of the excluding criteria most experts agree on: “Obese parents; parents who smoke (either during pregnancy or at present); parents sleeping on a waterbed, recliner, sofa, armchair, couch or bean bag; parents who sleep on multiple pillows, a sagging mattress or a sheepskin or use heavy bedding, such as comforters or duvets; sleeping in overheated rooms; parents under the influence of drugs or alcohol; other children or pets who can or are likely to climb into the bed; and stuffed animals on the bed that could cover the baby’s face.” (source)

And then there’s one that took me completely by surprise: formula feeding. Now y’all, please believe me when I say this is not a jab at mothers who can’t or don’t breastfeed. I’ve had my own share of struggles when it comes to breastfeeding and I’m just not going there.

With that said, evidence suggests that formula feeding disrupts the biological feedback loop between mother and baby in two ways:

Sleep Position

Breastfed babies instinctually stay close to their mothers at night. The smell of their mothers milk serves as a homing beacon that keeps them from roaming around and getting stuck.

According to this article, “Data from Consumer Product Safety Commission indicate that the greatest risks to a baby sleeping in a bed with an adult is not, as many would assume, from an adult overlaying or rolling over onto the baby, but from the infant strangling or becoming wedged or trapped between a wall, a piece of furniture, the bed frame, headboard or footboard and the mattress.”

Another way baby’s orientation on bed tends to be affected by formula feeding is that breastfed babies tend to sleep at chest level with their mother, while formula fed babies tend to be placed further up on the bed near the pillows.

Sleep Awareness

The second factor is that formula-fed babies tend to sleep more deeply and wake less often. Because the sleep patterns of mothers often synchronizes with the baby’s this can lead to decreased awareness of one another in the sleep environment. For these reasons Dr. McKenna strongly recommends co-sleeping with a sidecar/nearby crib arrangement but not bedsharing.

So How Do I Know If I’m Bedsharing Safely?

That’s a great question! Here’s a safe co-sleeping checklist.

Do you co-sleep? Why or why not?

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101 Responses to 5 Reasons To Sleep With Your Baby (And One Good Reason Not To)

  1. Mommabear5

    says:

    Amen!!! Where is the “love” button?

  2. Sherry

    says:

    I co-slept with my son who nursed. He was a healthy, robust little fellow. I tried keeping him in “his” room. I tried keeping him in a cradle in my room. We both slept better when he was in bed with me. Due to life circumstances, we shared a bed for months. Even when he had his own toddler bed, he often came and climbed into bed with me at night. Kids instinctually need mom.

    My daughter was very sick (she had Trisomy 18). She came home from the NICU on oxygen and I was fearful of having her sleep with me. Her pulse-ox monitor usually went off several times each night (I was turning into a zombie)… unless she was in bed with me or even when we fell asleep in the recliner with her on my chest. The monitor very, very rarely went off when she was with me… I guess my nerves were shot and much against my wishes, nothing I tried kept my milk coming in. I had to put her on formula (I hated that and felt like such a failure). So, even when we couldn’t nurse (she never nursed due to problems with the suck/swallow/breathe reflex), she still did much better snuggled up with mom.

    I know it’s only anecdotal evidence, but my life experience shows that co-sleeping was the best choice for us. In the old south, it was common for kids to sleep with their parents until the next kid came along… thought I’m not southern by birth, I value the wisdom of the older generation.

    • Heather says:

      Sherry, I’m so sorry. That must have been so incredibly hard. If it were me I would have shared my bed, too. The pulse ox provides a buffer against the risks Dr. McKenna warns about, and he is a strong proponent of skin-to-skin contact for sweet little ones like yours when it can be done safely. Hugs to you

  3. Jenny

    says:

    I do cosleep but holy cow I’m struggling with lack of sleep right now. My little guy is 1 and it’s been a great deal, it’s easier, he’s happy, we love waking up to him. BUT, I work full time and have since he was 3 months old and I guess I’m such a light sleeper that I’m dying from lack of sleep. I can’t seen to fall asleep as he’s nursing. I’m sure I’ve drifted here and there but it seems like I’m awake ready for him to stop every nursing session. This severe lack of sleep is resulting in me being more sick than I normally am and more body aches. I don’t really want to stop nursing him or cosleeping, but I really wish there was a way for him to not nurse quite as much at night so I can get more rest. It’s a struggle right now.

    • Gabriele Hawthorne

      says:

      We (my husband and I) co slept with all our 5 kids (not all 5 together at the same time LOL)and we loved it. We even co slept with our premmie twins they were only 4 pounds when they came home. I breastfed them all and it made it so much easier. Our smallest ones they are seven still wonder into mommy and daddys bed in the middle of the night.

    • Kirsten

      says:

      Heather probably has some great insights, but I just thought I’d share a book that might give you some ideas. The No-Cry Sleep Solution was written by a woman in exactly the same scenario you are. She has some great thoughts on continuing to nurse, co-sleep, AND get the rest you and your baby need. :)

      • Jenny

        says:

        Oh Kirsten! This is great. I had heard of the book but didn’t realize the woman who wrote it was in my similar situation. I’m so hopeful it’ll help ease everything just a little. I’ll check into it ASAP. Thank you!

        • Kirsten

          says:

          You’re welcome! Yes, she was co-sleeping with a one-year-old who was waking to nurse almost hourly. She was able to keep the sleeping arrangement and work with him so they both got good sleep at night. I hope it helps you! It’s my favorite book about baby sleep.

    • Leah

      says:

      Jenny, this is pretty typical at least so far for my two. They nurse a lot getting their molars in around that age. it passes I promise! take your FCLO and avoid caffeine.

    • Sarah L

      says:

      I also slept so lightly with my babies in the bed that I felt like a zombie. I chose a cosleeper (sidecar) arrangement. It was a great compromise for our family, as the girls were close enough to grab easily for nursing, but not actually on my sleep surface. I also highly recommend The No Cry Sleep Solution. It was a life-saver with my first baby.

  4. Kaia

    says:

    My son is only a month old and we’ve been co-sleeping since day 1. The midwife at the birthing center helped us figure out how to setup the bed space most safely. At first it was a little terrifying (first kiddo for us) but after a week or so it got to be quite normal & nice.

    I’m surprised just how many people have volunteered their opinion about what a bad idea cosleeping is, and for several different reasons. I guess I’m glad that we really don’t give much of a hoot over societal pressures. I’m breastfeeding and other than the generally lighter sleep state you described, haven’t gotten super sleep deprived like I was told I would – thank goodness! And kiddo is robust and healthy as can be. That said, every family is different and it’s good to read some facts on cosleeping that make sense. I look forward to your next post on this topic.

  5. deila says:

    I’m one of your older mom followers, and we did co-sleep with our babies — and they do eventually move out of your bed. I had five kids, and my life would not have worked if I had been getting up to nurse all night (I didn’t ween until age 2+). I tried to use a crib with my first, but it just felt better to bring her into bed with us, because I got rest too. I felt safer with them by me. This was back in 1981 — and I never told the pediatrician. I just did what I thought was best. It’s good especially when they are sick.

    So, I’m here to say, I have very well-adjusted kids now, from ages 31 to 17. My daughter now has 2 kids that co-sleep. And on those lucky days I visit, the 4 yr old will bunk with me. Love it. Of course, I have not slept through the night since I began having kids! And now menopause kicked in, so sleep is still interrupted.

  6. Susan

    says:

    I did so many things “wrong” (according to the “experts” and certain relatives) including co-sleeping, extended breast-feeding, raw milk drinking, and homeschooling. But my kids are now 16, 18, and 20 – very healthy, happy, well-adjusted people! My memories of sharing a bed/bedroom with my kids when they were little are some of my favorites. I will also admit I enjoyed it when the last one moved on to the kid bedrooms (at about 2-3 years old, and with little fuss) and my husband and I could rearrange our space just to be for us again :).

  7. Kirsten

    says:

    We don’t bed share, but I guess we technically co-sleep, because my baby is in a bassinet not two feet from my bed. I love having her close at night, and it makes my life so much easier to not have to run into another room to check on her or nurse. She’s right there by my side. <3

  8. Monica

    says:

    I was lying in bed this morning, thinking that maybe I could email you about cosleeping! Last night, I woke up because my baby was crying. When I looked at her, the corner of my pillow was on her face. She normally doesn’t start to cry before I feed her because I wake up much sooner than that, but it didn’t bother me at the time. Later though, I began to worry. I honestly don’t know which happened first; if she woke up and then I moved my pillow, or is she was crying because my pillow was on her. I don’t know how covered her face really was, I didn’t pay attention. Anyway, I was feeling like a terrible mother who put her child in danger. I’m feeling slightly better, and I look forward to your next article.

    • Kimberly

      says:

      Monica – I promise you that the overwhelming guilt feeling you have will pass. Don’t beat yourself up over it.

    • I have woken to each of my co-sleeping babies having their faces covered by blankets or even having fallen out of the bed…I think once each for each scenario. They were and are fine. There are just those rare nights you are really tired and these things happen, but since you are so aware of your babies you usually catch on pretty fast and fix it. I kept a pack-n-play next to my bed so that if I could think even slightly I would put them in it when I was really, really tired so that we could all get an hour or two’s sleep close to each other but in a separate space. It helped some nights. And others I was tired and fell asleep holding them anyway! These things happen and as long as you are careful and aware it is okay.

    • Andrea

      says:

      That happened with my first. She was fine, but I was so stricken and guilty, I never told anyone. I did a lot of praying about the wisdom and safety of co-sleeping. We went on to co-sleep 18 months and I’m at 16 with her sister! It is awesome for breastfeeding and getting as much sleep as possible!

  9. Leah

    says:

    I am a co sleeper as well. x 2! The first time by chance. I got tired of waking and sitting there dozing off to non stop nursing through the night and finally just brought my lil one to bed where she staid until our second one was about a month old and I had to have more room. 4 in a bed is a bit much. i did not really try to put our second lil one in the bassinet. it just was so natural to bring her to bed where she slept so well. now my 3 yr old sleeps in her toddler bed at the foot of our bed and our 1 yr old sleeps in our bed . both still nursing away. i wouldnt have it any other way. losing the baby in the bed has NEVER been an issue. rolling over on them was never an issue. like you mentioned I am so much more in tune with my children. You did such an excellent job explaining I need not go on except to say I cant imagine how people put tiny defenseless babies in a room all alone. i guess they are also the same people who pump their kids full of vaccines and processed foods. my theory is my baby was made in the bed, born in the bed, sleeps in the bed.we are a family! now on a side note….my husband does wish we had a bit….no a lot more time together…but this is such a small time in our life. and we did manage to add baby #2 with baby #1 one in the bed.

  10. AshleyRoz

    says:

    I really wish someone would make the distinction with the obesity warning. I’m a breastfeeding mother who also cosleeps and has a BMI in the obese range. I can’t even imagine what my weight could possibly have to do with it. Maybe it’s the obese/ sleep apnea connection (which I do NOT have) or potential for smothering from “large pendulous breasts” (yes I have seen that exact phrase used in a warning. I have yet to honestly find a study that links smothering with cosleeping with obese mothers, though (I’d like to see it, though, if you have access to it.) Maybe a distinction should be made for morbidly obese mothers, or mothers with large fat pockets. I don’t know… but that particular warning always made me suspicious.

    • AshleyRoz

      says:

      For the record I do not have “Large pendulous breasts” or any distinctively large fat pockets that would pose a smothering damage…

    • racheal resendiz

      says:

      I know what you mean. we’re obese and I was nervous when I first read that but we have cosleep since dd was a newborn without problems.

  11. Apryl

    says:

    I am so acutely aware of my baby’s safety when I sleep with her that I have a hard time sleeping all night with her in the dark. When it starts getting light out I will bring her to bed to sleep with me until I get up for the day. That way I feel safer about it since I can see her. This has been the best of both wprlds for us. I have noticed that she sleeps much more comfortably with me than by herself because she doesn’t move, but when she’s in her crib, she tosses and turns. I don’t leave her in bed alone with my heavy sleeping husband though. He could sleep through a tornado and I just don’t feel safe about it.

  12. Melissa

    says:

    I nursed and co-slept with all four of my kids, but I felt like a rebel the whole time. It was drilled into me from the time they were born that it wasn’t safe. They asked about it at every doctor’s appointment and I would just lie and say the baby slept in a crib. It was instinctive to me that if I didn’t co-sleep, neither of us would get any rest! But usually around six months I needed my space and wanted the baby in the crib next to the bed and not in the bed with me. I just want to mention that The No-Cry Sleep Solution made my son’s sleeping much, much worse. It was a disaster for our family. Luckily we read Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Dr. Marc Weissbluth soon after. It saved our sanity, and ever since our children have all slept like babies straight through the night. I give that book at every baby shower now.

  13. Caitlin

    says:

    Another set of co-sleepers here. :) I have 3 and have kept them next to me constantly at first and then slowly switch them to a crib a few feet away. And my husband does just fine, too. They seem to be comforted by his presence almost as much as by mine. They all go to bed in their own beds every night nos, but it is a rare night when one or more of them doesn’t end up in bed with us. And if one of them is sick, that one gets to sleep with us. They ALWAYS sleep better that way, even as they get older. My oldest is 3.

  14. Bianca

    says:

    We bedshare out of necessity (small bedroom) and choice. I love it – even though at 8 months old my sleep is definitely lacking. But there is nothing better than feeling my daughter snuggle up to me, or search for me when I change positions.

  15. Rebekah says:

    Well, I’m pregnant with my first, and planning to cosleep one way or another. Why? Because my mom did. :) She had six kids, and we all ended up sleeping in my parents’ bed(room) as long as we were still nursing! She got more sleep, my dad didn’t care one way or the other, and everybody was happy. Makes sense to me. I sure don’t want to be hopping in and out of bed all night. My hubby isn’t so sure about having the baby in bed with us, but I know he’ll be fine with a bassinet or something like the Arms’ Reach cosleeper.

  16. Mary

    says:

    I agree with you that co-sleeping is wonderful for most moms and their babies. In fact, I highly endorse it! However, co-sleeping with an infant when an immature/irresponsible mom or other person is under the influence of drugs/alcohol is why Milwaukee’s Health Department has aggressively pushed this agenda. There have been several cases where an infant died under those circumstances and the deaths ruled accidental.
    Mary

  17. Erin

    says:

    we had planned on cosleeping using a sidecar arrangement but after a week of putting my son in the cosleeper to start the night and ending up with him in the bed with us we just keep him with us from the start. so much easier and we all get better sleep :)

  18. Beverly

    says:

    I’m 51 yrs now but I did co-sleep with two babies. I got a goodnights rest and didn’t suffer from sleep deprivation. I breastfed for 17 months each. I had a WAVELESS water bed with soft side bumpers, at the time, for both babies. The waveless made the “mattress” firm and the bumpers created a cradle bar effect. I was/am a back sleeper mostly which I think helped a lot (from breastfeeding on the side I just resumed my back position effortlessly – they were back sleepers too). Hubby was a lite or aware sleeper so I never worried I’d get a heavy arm or jerky wrist that might harm me or the babies. I was very lucky! I am very thankful my circumstances for co-sleeping was easy.

  19. Izzy

    says:

    On my way to #3 and still co-sleeping with #1 & #2. I can’t even go to the bathroom without worrying about waking #2 and when he does he screams. And a pregnant mama needs to go all the time. Good luck co-sleeping!

  20. My son contracted a nasty bronchial infection at 3 months which started our co sleeping days. I slept better and knowing about the phrase nighttime sleep harmony just brings it all together for me. It was the best decision brought in by a virus. I adore having him there.

  21. Annie-Rae Marques via FB

    says:

    My only issue with co-sleeping is now my son (2) and daughter (5) will wake up in the middle of the night and find there way into our bed. Perhaps if we had a bigger bed it wouldn’t be an issue lol

  22. Jess Thompson via FB

    says:

    Anyone have thoughts on this concern of mine? We sleep in a king – from left to right it’s dad, 2 yr old, mom, 6 month old, then we have a safety rail. I worry about before my husband and I come to bed. Is it safe to let the 2 boys sleep together yet?

    • Izzy

      says:

      My boys are 18 months apart and they sleep in our bed. Dad, #1, Mom, #2, pillows and co sleeper. Now I’ve got #3 on the way. Planning to start #3 on his own but #2 is still crying out for me all the time.

  23. Janell Richardson via FB

    says:

    Just because a breastfeeding mother is obese does not mean she will roll on top of her child.

  24. Freda Mooncotch via FB

    says:

    When my son was born, I was all but 19, I did all the research, prepared to breast feed and co-sleep and boy did the nurses criticize me. They gave me all sorts of lectures and were so condemning. I did it anyway! He is 21 in a month and we are very close! Wouldn’t change it for the world.

  25. Janell Richardson – I agree, but according to the leading researchers on the subject it can be a risk factor. I don’t really know why it is or how they’re defining the term, but in listing the criteria for safe/unsafe sleep conditions I didn’t feel the liberty to leave out something that experts I trust thought was important to mention.

  26. As far as obesity…I’ve read it’s because of the “dent” that is made that the baby can roll into.

  27. kyla

    says:

    We co-slept with all three of our kids. We even, at one time had, quite literally a BEDroom. We had a twin pushed up against the wall with out two year old in it, a king pushed up against that with my husband, me, and our newborn in that one, and another twin at the base of both of these beds with our then three and half year old :) It was awesome. When we moved to our new house, the two olders went into their own beds, while the then baby slept with us for another three years. Now, they are all in the “big kid” room and we have baby number four on the way :) Looking forward to three more years of co-sleeping and nursing.

    • Leah

      says:

      I’m chuckling because my husband and I often joke about doing this. We have had many different configurations of beds pushed together but sometimes think about pushing two kings together. Nice to know we’re not the only ones!

  28. @ Jess- I’ve read not to let a toddler sleep next to an infant. And from experience, I’d agree. I have a 3y/o and 2m/o who both still bedshare. The older one isn’t aware enough yet of his body during the night and rolls all over the place. The infant can’t move out of the way at all. Use your best judgement for your situation but I wouldn’t recommend them sleeping next to each other just yet. Not until the little one has a firm grasp on moving his head out from pillows, rolling over easily, etc…

    Btw- I love bedsharing. Both my babies were born at home and have slept next to me ever since. If you use common sense, there are tremendous benefits to it!

  29. Thank you for the clarification, Terri Osness Kurcab!

  30. Leticia Cruz via FB

    says:

    Does it not effect your relationship with your spouse? We personally didn’t co-sleep with our children. Just curious to if it caused any issues in that matter.

  31. Jennifer Starmann via FB

    says:

    I know McKenna from ND is an expert and I respect him. ( I am an ND grad) But I disagree with the formula feeding exception. I am unable to breastfeed and co-slept in the beginning with both my girls. It was instinctual for both of us and a wonderful way for us to bond and “sync” up. Most often I would wake to find my baby snuggled right up to my chest just like you mentioned for nursing moms. I think it is more than the milk. I would encourage formula moms to co-sleep if that is what their instinct tell them. It gives a bonding opportunity that is precious to a formula feeding mom. I think our instincts have kept the human race going just fine. If we only listen to experts we will lose our ability to listen to something greater, the automatic knowing we moms have. It is powerful and should be honored.

  32. Christina Rocchi via FB

    says:

    Jess Thompson – we have a similar situations – our son is nearly 3.5 and our daughter is 6 mos. and our line up is the same. We do not however put them down alone together. My son goes to sleep in a twin bed on the floor of his own room. My husband of I will lie down with him until he falls asleep. I put my daughter down in our bed. We stay up a bit, crash, and son joins us at some point in the night. Early morning ill let them lay next to one another. My son is very affectionate toward his sister and they are interested in one another. But in a deeper state of sleep I fear an accident could possibly occur and it just seems safer to have them go to sleep in their own spaces

  33. Amber

    says:

    I had never intended on bedsharing, but made a baby bed in a laundry basket to use beside our bed for the first couple of months. I would lift her from the basket into the bed for her first feeding, then we would both fall asleep like that. I’m sure I slept better feeling her breathing and warm against me. So, I just ended up co-sleeping. When I started getting pressure from my DH to put her in her own room, at about 6mo, (He had to work, understandable) I found it tough. Sure I was sleeping more deeply, once I actually fell asleep, then waking during the night for feedings, going to her room, feeding sitting up and struggling to place her back in the crib without crying and trying to get back to bed, left me a zombie. Sometimes when I went in to feed her, we ended up sleeping on the floor, in her room.

  34. Jess Thompson via FB

    says:

    Ok thanks all. I felt worried about it but wasn’t sure if I was over thinking it as I sometimes do. We put big to bed and let little sleep in livingroom until we go to bed. Then we take him in with us. Just feeling like I need to tweak that a bit so I will think of something else. Thanks again for your thoughts.

  35. Janell Richardson via FB

    says:

    Well I’m obese, and my son is 2 years old and has bed shared since day one, I guess my son is safe since I don’t have a dent in my bed. I thought it was just due to mother being large.
    When we are sleep, I don’t move at all, its like when I wake up I’m still in same position I was when I went to sleep, if I do move I’m aware of it.

  36. Kate says:

    We co-sleep all together, the four of us, mom, dad, and two little ones on a king size bed (two and a half, and one year old). The younger one is still breastfeeding app 5-6 times a night + few times a day, he basically stays connected to me all night long, while the older one asks to breastfeed just sometimes when he feels especially cuddly. I am fat, my husband smokes, we live in a camper…we have not had any bad experience ever with co-sleeping. Perhaps only me being slightly tired because I would kill for a whole night sleep totally alone :) but that’s just the breastfeeding era, so I’m use to it.
    Great post!

  37. Rachel Salcido

    says:

    Question- My son is two and we are about to have our second in January. How do you suggest we do bed sharing. I don’t really want to stop bed sharing with my son yet. We have crib open on one side against our bed, he starts there then in the middle of the night climbs over me to be in the middle. What do you think?

  38. I breastfed both my boys and they were in the bed with me. There was never an issue and the bonding was amazing.

  39. Amanda Ronco

    says:

    Thanks, Heather! I enjoyed reading your article. We are a happy co-sleeping, extended breastfeeding family :)

  40. […]  Then I comfort her without actually picking her up, since she is lying right next to me.  I read this article the other day that made so much sense to […]

  41. Emily Van Horn

    says:

    Thanks for the blog Heather!

  42. Pru

    says:

    My son is 6 months old. We bed share at night, however recently he will only nap during the day if I am with him in bed. It is not feasible for me to do this. He used to nap in his cot during the day (with a lot of work). Any thoughts on how I can get him to sleep on his own?

  43. Karen

    says:

    Co-sleeping didn’t work for my family, even though we were all on board before my daughter was born. Just didn’t take, at least this time around. My question is, what do you do with babies that have begun to crawl? If they go to bed before the parents do, how do you make sure they don’t fall off the bed if they wake up? I am genuinely interested to know.

    • Hi Karen, We put our mattress(es) on the floor from the start of co-sleeping. Never any problem or anxiety about my kids falling out of bed. And because we had 3 mattresses alongside each other – we had a big family bed where there was plenty of space and no reason to think someone might fall out. It’s only a season of our lives – we’ll get our ‘bed’ back one day soon – a small price to pay for peace of mind.

  44. Natalie P. says:

    We cosleep. My son is 13 months old. We have a mesh bed rail on my side of the bed that separates us from the crib he uses for naps and first sleep of the night(if he goes to bed first). It is the best situation that my husband and I wouldn’t change.

    In fact, because of our cosleeping, our son lives. When he was younger, he had horrible reflux. One night I woke up with a start. Something was wrong with him. He wasn’t breathing. I had to perform chest compressions to stimulate his brain to start breathing again. His reflux was so horrible it was causing asthmatic symptoms like his father’s reflux did, including sleep apnea. If he had been somewhere other then next to me….I shudder to think what could have happened.

  45. Lana says:

    I must say the defining factor that forced us to put our daughter into her crib was once she was able to army crawl or pull herself along… I was sleep deprived and she pulled herself off the edge of the bed and fell. Another night she actually crawled right over me and off the bed and landed on the wood floor below. She cried a lot, but was fine thank God. This is the reason our next baby will be in a bassinet right next to our bed and not in our bed where it’s easier to ‘escape’ when momma is incredibly sleep-deprived :( Be SO careful once your baby can wiggle around, they can get into trouble fast! The reason I felt safe with her in bed as a newborn was because she literally wouldn’t move once asleep so we had her on her back in a very firm boppy up between our pillows, then I’d move her to me when she was hungry or on occasion I’d even put her in her bouncy seat, buckle her in, and put that up on the bed in between us = worked great when she was a little more fussy than usual. You need to do what you’re comfortable with as a parent, don’t let anyone pressure you otherwise, but just be aware of the risks either way… and don’t forget to get an organic mattress or a gas-impermeable cover for your crib mattress ;) proven against sids in New Zealand study (google it)

  46. Angie

    says:

    I co-slept the whole time with my two oldest children, who now share a bed that is still in our room (we have a very small house). My new baby is 7 weeks and I am co-sleeping with her, too. It’s so convenient and comfortable and all of us have always gotten plenty of sleep. I would be so nervous with my baby away from me. My husband and I have very, very different preferences to mattress firmness (his mattress to me is like sleeping on cement, and he complains my mattress gives him severe neck pain because it is too soft), so we actually sleep in different beds pushed together to make one large bed, so it’s only me and the baby.

    I was just thinking of this recently, too, after reading a story about an Australian couple who had put their baby to sleep in a tent on a camping trip with friends, and the baby was dragged away and eaten by a dingo. In modern times, we don’t usually have to worry about predators and we are very comfortable with having babies sleep apart often a considerable distance apart in another room from us. But our ancestors certainly had to worry about it for much of our history. In terms of human history and evolution, the only time a baby would have been put down far away would be if it was being intentionally abandoned. I think we are hardwired to keep babies close at all times–in fact we really have to train them to be comfortable being apart from us.

  47. […] is inherently dangerous. The Milwaukee Health Department has gone so far as to compare it with putting baby to bed with butcher knives. Mamas, nothing could be further from the truth. According to Dr. James McKenna, head of the […]

  48. shannon

    says:

    I had a bassinet in the room until he was too big for it, but did not bedshare out of fear of hurting him. I am a VERY heavy sleeper and was worried I would hit him in my sleep. The bassinet was the perfect solution for me. :) Now that he is older, if he wants to sleep with me, I don’t mind at all. :) I know he’ll just push me if I get too close. :) And now my bed is against the wall, so he won’t roll off. :) He’s a squirmy one! I love sharing the bed with him. He is so sweet :)

  49. Mandy

    says:

    I didn’t do either – breast feed or bed share. I think you have just got to do what feels right for you and your babies. My girls are now fine young women and I couldn’t be more prouder of them, we have always had a close, very loving relationship and I wouldn’t change a thing. I really do not think there is any right or wrong, just do what you feel is best at the time. Go with your mama instincts.

  50. Michelle says:

    We started with #1 DS in a queen bed with us. When he started getting active, DH built wooden bedrails and turned our bed into a queen-sized cot for all of us to share LOL. When #2 DS was getting close to due, we put a king single bed against the wall and pushed the queen bed against it. Then when #3 DD was on her way, we stood the king single mattress up against the wall, pushed the queen bed against it, got rid of the “big cot” rails and bought a fire-engine bunk bed with solid “walls”. Pushed that up against the queen bed. By this stage DH had moved into the tv room (being a night owl), so now I have baby and me in the queen, the boys in their bunks, still feeling protected and close, and date nights with DH once the kids are asleep. Works well for us. I had to stay in hospital for 10 days after DD was born, and until the midwives got used to me, it was so funny to have them come in, look into the empty plastic box bassinet and gasp “where’s your baby???” I would then show her snuggled up sound asleep and smiling by my side in the hospital bed. By the end of the 10 days, I was getting compliments about how calm and relaxed we both were, and the midwives were coming into my room to get a moment’s peace and quiet from the chaos elsewhere :P

    • Heather says:

      Lol, the “where’s your baby” line had me giggling! So fun to hear what is working for your family. We have a queen and king size bed next to each other right now and are quite happy with the arrangement.

  51. N

    says:

    I have bed shared with both my boys and had them on a crib mattress next to me until they turned 2. My husband removed the bed frame from our bed and we slept on the mattresses only, with the boys besides us, so they wouldn’t roll off the bed and fall, or roll under the bed.As infants, they were both formula fed as I had no breast milk, but they slept on my arm, no pillows, just mom’s chubby arms, that way if one moved away or woke up, I would also wake up because I didn’t feel a warm, small,, fuzzy head on my arm.Now they are 3 and 6 respectively, and awesome little guys, who are independent and happy, and they now sleep on their own bed frame-less bed.(I’m scared to put frames on the bed, because they jump a lot, and I don’t want them to get hurt).

  52. Nikki

    says:

    We did a sidecar co-sleeping arrangement for our now 3-year-old’s first year, and then a crib in the same room when he outgrew the sidecar. By the time he moved into his own room at about 1.5, he was perfectly happy to do it. I wasn’t able to breast-feed him, so when he awoke hungry, my saint of a husband would fix and feed him a bottle of my milk while I expressed another one. I expressed until he was 9 months and the logistics of an out-of-state move made expressing every bottle impossible, but he was still right there with us.

    My now 14-month-old daughter was another story. From moment one in the hospital (after a very complicated pregnancy and full-term induced birth no thanks to pre-eclampsia) she made it very clear that the only way she would sleep–ever–was cuddled up to me. So, with ditched our queen for a king bed (which DH had always wanted anyway!) and baby moved in. DH has been one of the dads that has adjusted into a more baby-aware sleep. It was pretty cool to watch that evolve!

    The reason I write this comment is that I think co-sleeping may have saved my daughter’s life. Twice during her first year I awoke thinking something wasn’t right. What wasn’t right was that I could not see/feel/sense her breathing, and checking her confirmed that she was not. Both times I roused her and she was fine, but some part of me wonders what might have happened if she had been in another room in the house.

    She’s become a bit more independent in bed now, sometimes cuddling up to Daddy, or just lying spread-eagle in the middle of the bed, but she’s still a momma’s girl, and this momma is so glad to have had the freedom to make that choice. I’m quite sure it benefited all of us, because even though she fussed and wanted to eat quite often all night, all I had to do to make her happy again was make sure she could latch on and everyone was back to dreamland. We all got (and get) more sleep!

  53. Paula

    says:

    Co-Sleeping killed my nephew. Please do not sleep with your baby. If you do make sure it is one big bed and only one parent.

  54. Holly

    says:

    I thought babies NEEDED to get into a deep sleep, for brain development and growth???

  55. Courtney says:

    Reason #2 is so true! I co-sleep with my 2 month old daughter and almost every night I wake up just a few seconds before she does. I just thought it was a bizarre coincidence because it happens every night, its cool to know its not just coincidental!
    I love co-sleeping, middle of the night feedings are so easy and I love being able to instantly reach my baby if something happens.

  56. lindsay

    says:

    I live in Milwaukee so I feel the need to defend the “campaign” a bit. My husband is a cop here and sees irresponsible co-sleeping far too often here. Beds are filled with children of all ages and parents are unaware of safe sleeping conditions for their children. People here use the pack n plays they are provided with from our government for storage. My husband has to explain why the sleeping conditions are unsafe but then has some big backlash from the uninformed parents. While I agree completely with what you are saying, here in Milwaukee it is best to have these campaigns. I have absolutely no issue with co-sleeping, but when it isn’t practiced safely and responsibly, it can be deadly. Unfortunately those are too often the cases here.

  57. Kathy

    says:

    I co-slept with both daughters until just this month, they are now 4 and 6. Our morning cuddling sessions are priceless and foster in them the knowledge that time stops for us when we are together. HOWEVER, things change when you introduce mood altering drugs such as sleep aids, alcohol or whatever. If daddy imbibes, best make sure he is on the ‘other’ side of the bed. The reality is, we are nearly unconscious if we have been drinking alcohol or such and our ‘drug induced coma’ will kill baby.

  58. Bing

    says:

    I find it odd how you can wave off the research that disagrees with your point of view out of hand, then go ahead and use…wait for it…”research” to support your point of view just a few sentences later. I don’t care much about co-sleeping either way, but I do care about confirmation bias, and this post is logically fatally flawed because of it.

  59. Lexi

    says:

    I stumbled upon this blog thanks to another blogger and I’m loving all the info. I don’t have kids yet, but I’m finding this cosleeping very interesting and it makes a lot of sense! I’m just wondering though…how do you and your partner find time for practicing baby-making when you are sharing a bed with children? I’m sorry if this is a TMI question, but because I don’t have kiddos yet I can’t quite think through the logistics of this…

  60. Brittany says:

    Why no co-sleeping for formula feeders? I was just wondering the reason behind that. (And this isn’t to start any arguments, I have no race in the horse since I have no babies yet!)

  61. Sofia

    says:

    Are you saying you’re 100% certain that your bed is a safe sleep environment for your infant? That you’d never ever roll over too close, pull a cover too high, make the temperature too warm?

  62. Becky

    says:

    I didn’t sleep well with the baby in my bed — that lasted for about a month with my firstborn. My sleep was too light, and I was constantly worried I would roll over on them like the woman in 1 Kings 3. So they slept in a bassinet that was up against our bed. I could lift them out to nurse without having to get up. It was so nice. My babies were sleeping through the night at 3 months so I was able to get great sleep too!

  63. Becky

    says:

    Just thought I’d add… our children sleep with us now. Around 18 months, they began showing an interest in our bed, even though they have their own bed right up against ours! But, I must say a queen size bed is a little cramped for a party of four.

  64. Tracy

    says:

    I beds share with my 3 month old as she sleeps so much better and only wakes once to nurse. Otherwise she barely sleeps and wants to nurse all night. I am just afraid about the chemicals in our mattress. We don’t have an organic mattress and I know there has been an article written about the dangers of off gassing mattresses for infants. Has anyone been worried about this? If so, did you wrap your mattress or have another solution. We bought our daughter an organic mattress but she will not sleep in it! Would love your feedback, Heather. Thanks!

  65. […] the first six weeks with Carter he slept on me and I’ve learned it’s a good […]

  66. Kasey

    says:

    I actually live in Milwaukee and yes, the campaign against co-sleeping has been very strong. Most if not all of the co-sleeping deaths in Milwaukee have occurred among African-American parents who were under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. To me it just seems like an easy way to scare parents of all races and cultures away from a natural and beneficial practice. The inner city of Milwaukee is riddled with problems, but unfortunately we see many of these problems addressed in idiotic ways. Instead of taking aim at co-sleeping, how about taking aim at responsible parenting, not doing drugs, waiting till you’re married, etc. etc.

  67. Matt B.

    says:

    I think you could have done a better job of talking about safe means to achieving a safe co-sleeping environment. Instead you gave it like two lines. It’s a disservice to your readers. Glossing over it “like everyone knows” is foolish & dangerous. PS The “special ability” of a mother to sleep safely with a baby is bed is a dangerous lie. It is simply not true. The “rollover” deaths that happen daily attest to this. Something as simple as a hand on a belly or chest of and infant can have tragic consequences.

    Want to know the REAL impetus behind this campaign? (Educated guess since I am on the West coast). The investigators, coroners and ER pediatricians all got tired of seeing dead babies. Contrary to one of your commenters, it’s not just drunk and under the influence parents this happens to. It’s loving parents as well.

    I am sure you are well intentioned, loving and care for your readers. I only know of you because a friend linked your article. But please know (from my personal experience on a dozen occasions as a child abuse investigator) this happens way too often. So maybe do another article (which you may have already done – I don’t know and don’t have time to look) on what a safe co-sleeping environment is and the ways to create one.

    Thanks for listening. I can tell you the pain I feel and the others feel is deep, each time.

    Now imagine the parents pain.

  68. […] James McKenna, head of the University of Notre Dame’s Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory. This post and this post are based on his […]

  69. Jessica

    says:

    I know this is an older article but just wanted to share. I started off co sleeping with my newborn but it was not a healthy thing for my husband and I. we barely had to time to connect and touch and with baby in the bed it put everything to a screeching haunt. to feel safe we would sleep in the middle of the bed and dad would end up on the couch. it just wasn’t fair to him.

    eventually we got a rock and play and stuck baby right next to bed at the same level. our relationship improved greatly and so did our sleep. and the baby would wake to nurse until he was weaned.

    Just wanted to share because it’s not always the family’s best interest to cosleep. although there are benefits for mother and baby, there are other people (like my husband) that deserved healthy sleep and time and touch with his wife. Thanks for letting me post.

    • Heather says:

      Glad you shared your experience, Jessica! Just to clarify, though, most experts define co-sleeping as baby sleeping in the same room but not necessarily sharing a bed. Glad you found what worked for you :)

  70. Bre says:

    I’m from the Milwaukee area and am very familiar with this issue. It is very regular that a baby has died due to co-sleeping. So sad. But most of these cases fall into a category you mentioned, sleeping on a couch, waterbed, or the caretaker was under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

  71. […] you want more reasons to sleep with your baby, check out this fun post from one of my favorite mommy bloggers, the […]

  72. […] James McKenna, head of the University of Notre Dame’s Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory. This post and this post are based on his […]

  73. ashley

    says:

    I absolutely cannot sleep with the baby in bed because i often wake up in a frantic state from a strange dream and don’t have control over my movements for several seconds. it’s quite a physical experience and very dangerous. my husband came in from snow blowing about midnight and i had fallen asleep with the baby on my chest and as he walked into the room i sat straight up so fast and the baby came forward and luckily my husband was there to catch him. i have hit my hubby pretty hard trying to get out of bed, i’ve sprinted across the house, and ran into walls and doors. i think it’s stress related but as much as i miss my babies in their crib, i feel much better about them being a little further away. they do stay in my room in a crib for about 6 months, but both babies after the 2nd month have slept better when i just lay them down to sleep.

  74. […] James McKenna, head of the University of Notre Dame’s Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory. This post and this post are based on his […]

  75. Mallory says:

    Thanks for putting some great insight out there for people, Heather. I enjoy reading all of your articles. I just thought I’d chime in from the opposite side of the spectrum just in case there are some people out there wondering about the other side. My husband and I enjoy our bed being “our” bed. We love fostering an independence in our son, who has been sleeping on his own since day one. He slept in our room in a Pack and Play for six weeks until we put him into his own room in his crib. We are very fervent on keeping some parts of our lives–our marriage–the same, and this is one boundary we didn’t cross. Our son has an amazing relationship with the both of us. Not following the co-sleeping method doesn’t make your child love you any less is what I’m trying to get at in case there are some moms out there wondering. I felt the same way about breastfeeding when that didn’t work out for me. I was guilty over that. I thought our relationship wouldn’t be the same, and I wouldn’t have that bond. That was for sure wrong. There is no perfect way of parenting; you just have to try different things and do what works for you, always keeping your home as your main priority. Your baby isn’t going to be happy when mommy and daddy are miserable. Are you going to be able to give your child adequate time to play? Are you completely present and rested? Do you feel guilty because you spend more time worrying about your children’s needs than your spouse’s. These are all things my parents dealt with, and I vowed that it wouldn’t happen to me.

  76. Gabi says:

    I just accidentally came upon this…Great article, you hit all the salient points in a simple and informative way. Well done. Bed sharing is SO important for mama and baby…healthier, natural, traditional…and wonderful! I slept with all three of my children, and they are far older now, and I remember those as precious times. Kids grow up SO fast, the baby/toddler season is just too short. I find sometimes that arguments I hear against bedsharing are based in selfishness. Mamas need to nurse little baby thru the night, and some older babies need it, too, and having that sweet child tucked in by you makes it so much easier. The suppression of ovulation is really important for mama’s health, too. For those who can bedshare, they really should do it (and I think most of us can)…you won’t regret in the future that you spent more intimate cuddle time with your young child and helped preserve his/her health. As for concerns about how mama and daddy spend “special time” together? Well, we had no issues. Daddy can still touch mama and cuddle her, even with a bed in the baby…it’s a dad, mom, baby snuggle fest. And sex can be done in any room in the house, as well as on a bed with a baby tucked in on another spot on the bed. :)

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