Cosleeping, also known as bed sharing or family bed, is a somewhat controversial issue in parenting today. To start, there are numerous studies that indicate that cosleeping can support successful breastfeeding, and because of that, I am an advocate of cosleeping. However, in recent years, there are also numerous articles that publish regularly in print and online publications that decry cosleeping as unsafe for infants. So, should you cosleep with your breastfeeding baby?
I have to admit, that before I had kids, I thought cosleeping was ridiculous, and went so far as to give my own brother and sister-in-law a hard time about it – an act for which I have apologized and am mortally embarrassed about in retrospect. When I had my first daughter, we put the portable crib with the bassinet insert in our bedroom next to the bed, thinking that cosleeping was a "bad habit" we didn't want to start. Finally at about 4 months, in a state of sheer exhaustion, she came into bed with us for most of the night. Cosleeping has sometimes been described as every parent's "dirty little secret" – we all do it, but only recently, with the support of noted doctors and pediatricians, are some starting to admit and even advocate it.
That said, we have not been committed cosleepers with either of our girls like many of the friends I know, because it just hasn't worked for our family longer term. Simply, none of us sleep well together after that first few months, especially the baby! I think the trick with cosleeping is to consider whether it meets the needs of your baby and your family, but based on your own experiences with your infant, as opposed to some preconceived or societal notion of it being "good" or "bad."
But what about the safety issue? Obviously, when the chips are down, we all have to take personal responsibility for the safety of our children. However, given the litigious state in America today, you are not going to find anyone that will tell you that cosleeping is perfectly safe. You also aren't going to find hardly any baby products that are designed to contain children that don't contain a warning that you shouldn't take your eyes off of them for two seconds when they should presumably be safely buckled in. As we all know, ever since the McDonald's coffee incident, warnings and recommendations in this country are more often based on potential liability concerns than actual reality.
Now I'm not saying to ignore claims that cosleeping can be unsafe….sure it can. There are certainly safe cosleeping and unsafe cosleeping choices. However, behavioral sleep experts and pediatricians like The Sears Family of pediatricians and James McKenna indicate numerous ways that cosleeping is *safer* for your baby. I have included some links below to some of my favorite articles on what defines safe and unsafe situations. However, when looking at articles and studies claiming that co-sleeping is unsafe, there are a couple things I have observed.
First, many articles, like one that was recently published in the Los Angeles Times like to say things along the lines of "nearly half" of babies who died unexpectedly in their sleep were co-sleeping. It strikes me as an odd journalistic choice seeing as how that means in my mind that it is *safer,* since *more* than half were sleeping alone! Also, included in these statistics are situations that no cosleeping advocate would consider cosleeping, like (mentioned in the same article) a father falling asleep on a recliner and the baby falling to the side and suffocating in the arm of the chair. Cosleeping is an active choice to sleep with your baby, not just falling asleep some random place with your baby. Further included in these statistics are situations that cosleeping advocates specifically forbid, such as sleeping with your baby if you are intoxicated, if you smoke in the room or if you are obese. Finally, it is important to know *why* these articles pop up in the media in the first place, as they are rarely in response to a specific cosleeping death. Cosleeping advocates claim that they are being pitched to the media by the JPMA, the Juvenile Products Manufacturing Association, which is a certifying and trade organization for cribs and other baby products – hardly an impartial source! (Kind of like formula companies commissioning studies of the "truth" of the benefits of breastfeeding.)
Personally, I believe that when done safely, cosleeping can be an invaluable tool to facilitate healthy establishment of breastfeeding and a solution to sleep deprivation for many families. However evaluating the sleep patterns and needs in your own family will help you decide whether cosleeping is good for you. There is no "right" or "wrong" answer. Check out my article "Cosleeping and Breastfeeding -- A Family Choice" for some considerations for determining if cosleeping with your breastfed baby is right for you.
• “Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame” -- Sleep expert James McKenna's site on Cosleeping. Includes guidelines, risks, advantages and more.
• “Sleeping Safely With Your Baby” from AskDrSears.com
Books on Cosleeping:
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