The practice of cosleeping, or parents sharing a bed with their infant, is controversial in the United States. Supporters of cosleeping believe that a parent's bed is just where an infant belongs. But is it safe?
Cosleeping supporters believe — and some studies support their beliefs — that cosleeping:
But do the risks of cosleeping outweigh the benefits?
Despite the possible pros, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) warns parents not to place their infants to sleep in adult beds, stating that the practice puts babies at risk of suffocation and strangulation. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends the practice of room-sharing with parents without bed-sharing. The practice of room-sharing according to the AAP is a way to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Cosleeping is a widespread practice in many non-Western cultures. However, differences in mattresses, bedding, and other cultural practices may account for the lower risk in these countries as compared with the United States.
According to the CPSC, at least 515 deaths were linked to infants and toddlers under 2 years of age sleeping in adult beds from January 1990 to December 1997:
Cosleeping advocates say it isn't inherently dangerous and that the CPSC went too far in recommending that parents never sleep with children under 2 years of age. Supporters of cosleeping feel that parents won't roll over onto a baby because they're conscious of the baby's presence — even during sleep.
Those who should not cosleep with an infant, however, include:
But can cosleeping cause SIDS? The connection between cosleeping and SIDS is unclear and research is ongoing. Some cosleeping researchers have suggested that it can reduce the risk of SIDS because cosleeping parents and babies tend to wake up more often throughout the night.
However, the AAP reports that some studies suggest that, under certain conditions, cosleeping may increase the risk of SIDS, especially cosleeping environments involving mothers who smoke.
CPSC also reported more than 100 infant deaths between January 1999 and December 2001 attributable to hidden hazards for babies on adult beds, including:
In addition to the potential safety risks, sharing a bed with a baby can sometimes prevent parents from getting a good night's sleep. And infants who cosleep can learn to associate sleep with being close to a parent in the parent's bed, which may become a problem at naptime or when the infant needs to go to sleep before the parent is ready.
If you do choose to share your bed with your baby, make sure to follow these precautions:
Most medical experts say the safest place to put an infant to sleep is in a crib that meets current standards and has no soft bedding.
If you've been cosleeping with your little one and would like to stop, talk to your doctor about making a plan for when your baby will sleep in a crib. Transitioning to the crib by 6 months is usually easier — for both parents and baby — before the cosleeping habit is ingrained and other developmental issues (such as separation anxiety) come into play.
Eventually, though, the cosleeping routine will be broken at some point, either naturally because the child wants to or by the parents' choice.
You can still keep your little one close by, just not in your bed. You could:
Of course, where your child sleeps — whether it's in your bed or a crib — is a personal decision. As you're weighing the pros and cons, talk to your child's doctor about the risks, possible personal benefits, and your family's preferred arrangements.
Reviewed by: Yamini Durani, MD
Date reviewed: October 2011
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