Sleep Care

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Family Bed Sharing

New parents face many difficult decisions in the first few years of their child’s life. One that is gaining more attention is where will the new baby sleep?  In most western countries infants and toddlers are put to sleep in their own crib or bed, but in Asia and many other world cultures family bed sharing is a common practice. The number of parents in America who co-sleep with their child has increased in popularity in the last several decades. A recent report on trends in bed sharing show that bed sharing between parents and children is strongly associated with race or ethnicity. In America the highest prevalence was among black families 27.9% followed by Asian families 20.9% and the lowest among white families 7.2%. Several factors may influence a family’s decision to co-sleep. Crowded housing, family values, or cultural beliefs are strong deciding factors.

So what are the pros and cons of sharing a sleeping space with your infant or toddler? If you’re like most parents your number one concern is for your child’s safety. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against sleep sharing for the health and safety of the child, citing increased risk for suffocation, SIDS, and strangulation, but bed sharing advocates disagree claiming bed sharing can be safe and beneficial if done properly.

A study done on the risk of SIDS in the urban population of Chicago found that infant bed sharing with one or more people was associated with increased risk for SIDS and is much higher in other combinations of bed sharing, including children sleeping with other children and children sleeping with parents. Co-sleeping with infants on a sofa was found to be extremely hazardous as it was cited in 15 of the SIDS cases observed in the study. In addition to the safety factor other child experts have expressed concern on the effect co-sleeping may have on young children.  Traditionally child experts have argued that sharing a bed with your child may cause them to become overly dependent. Co-sleepers were found to have less regular bedtimes than solitary sleepers, more night awakenings and to be less likely to soothe themselves back to sleep after waking. While their quantity of sleep may not be affected, the quality of sleep may diminish causing a fatigued or sleep-deprived child during the day.

On the other side of the argument, breast-feeding mothers often find it more convenient to feed their baby at night when they are right next to them, and many families say that with busy schedules during the day they enjoy the closeness and bonding that bed sharing provides. Pediatrician William Sears, who advocates attachment style parenting believes babies who co-sleep grow to be more confident and independent because of early nurturing.

If you decide that co-sleeping is what works best for you and your infant be sure to take the necessary steps to ensure their safety. If you co-sleep with your baby always put them to sleep on their back, and never sleep with your baby when you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. If you are extremely overweight, a very deep sleeper, or restless at nights sleeping with an infant may not be the safest option. Keep pets out of your bed and be sure your baby is sleeping on a smooth, flat surface with no blankets covering their face.

A third option for parents who like the close proximity to their baby but do not want to share a bed would be a bassinet or co-sleeper next to the parent’s bed. This allows for easy access for night feedings but ensures the child’s safety and allows parents to maintain their own space.

Each individual must decide if family bed sharing is the right choice for your family. Dr. Richard Ferber states in his book Solving Your Child’s Sleep Problems, “Children do not grow up insecure just because they sleep alone, away from their parents; and they are not prevented from learning to separate, or from developing their own sense of individuality simply because they sleep with their parents. Whatever you want to do, whatever you feel comfortable with is the right thing to do, as long as it works.”

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