Most parents are familiar with the occasional nighttime visit from a child who had a nightmare or just wants a snuggle, but some children sleep with their mothers each and every night. This practice, which is commonly referred to as co-sleeping or bed sharing, has its benefits and its drawbacks, and knowing what they are, as well as knowing the guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics, will help you decide if letting your child sleep with you is right for your family.
Co-sleeping, or bed sharing, is simply defined as a child sleeping in her parent's bed every night for an extended amount of time. This practice is often started during infancy, and many children who sleep with their mothers at this early age continue to do so during the toddler and sometimes even the preschool years. Bed sharing is a topic of major debate among parents. Many parents feel that co-sleeping is healthy, while other parents view it as weird or strange. The American Academy of Pediatrics, however, strongly recommends against co-sleeping if your child is under the age of 1. After your child's first birthday, you should make the sleeping decision that is best for your family.
Alternative to Bed Sharing
If having Mom nearby is your goal with bed sharing, consider moving a separate bed into your bedroom for your baby. This practice can fall under the umbrella of co-sleeping, since your baby will be close by during her slumbering hours. Move your baby's bassinet or crib into your bedroom to reap the benefits of co-sleeping without risking your baby's safety by sleeping in the same bed. Even toddlers can continue sleeping in your bedroom once they move out of a crib and into a big-kid bed, if that's what you decide is best for your family.
The bond between a mother and child is one of the most common reasons a parent might let her child sleep with her for an extended amount of time. Infants who sleep with their mothers are secure and learn that their needs are important and that mom will meet those needs right away, but your baby can reap similar rewards by sleeping in a separate crib in the same bedroom. The Ask Dr. Sears website notes that when a child can smell her mother, she may be more likely to sleep soundly, as well. Bed sharing also enables many children of any age to fall asleep more quickly and have more restful slumber, which means Mom sleeps better, too. Co-sleeping also makes it easier for a nursing mother to feed her infant without causing major sleep disruptions, though, again, this benefit can be reaped by having a baby under age 1 in a separate bed in the same bedroom.
Safety is the primary concern when it comes to bed sharing, especially when a mother is sharing her bed with an infant, which is why the AAP advises against it for children under age 1. The concern is that Mom will roll over and smother her baby or that the baby will suffocate if heavy bedding falls over her face. Falling off the bed is another concern of co-sleeping, even for toddlers and preschoolers. For children of any age, a mother who has had alcohol or taken drugs can make bed sharing more dangerous, too, according to the Kids Health website. Others who are against co-sleeping say it's because they're worried that letting their child sleep with Mom will create too much dependency and delay maturation, though this hasn't been proven by any concrete study. Another drawback for many parents is the change in sexual habits between adults that develop when a child is sleeping in Mom's bed.
Strongly consider following the AAP recommendations to avoid bed sharing with your infant. If you share a bed with your child, make sure the mattress fits the bed frame snugly, so your child can't fall between and get trapped. Don't drink alcohol or use drugs, including sleep aids, if you're planning to share your bed with your child of any age.