If you are a nursing mom, odds are good that you have coslept with your baby at one time or another. Whether you routinely sleep with your little one nearby, or you occasionally fall asleep in the middle of a late night nursing session, you have engaged in the heavily debated practice of cosleeping.

One reason that cosleeping has been subject a topic of debate is because people are unsure if it is considered a safe way for babies to sleep. However, that question cannot be easily addressed until the term “cosleeping” is more clearly defined. At present, cosleeping refers to all forms of sleeping with your baby in the same room. This could mean that you little one is in your bed with you, that the baby is in a cosleeper or bassinet nearby, or that you and your baby have fallen asleep on the couch. Clearly these situations would come with different concerns and levels of safety for the infant.

When considering the safety of your baby’s sleeping arrangement, many of the guidelines used for crib safety also apply to other sleeping arrangements. Babies should be placed on their backs on firm surfaces without pillows or heavy blankets that could cover their heads. Babies should never sleep on a couch or a water bed, as they can fall into cracks and suffocate. These forms of cosleeping are not considered safe and give the false impression that parents cannot safely sleep with their little ones.

Done correctly, cosleeping can be beneficial for mothers and babies, especially if they are breastfeeding. When a breastfeeding mother and baby cosleep the baby is likely to cry less, both may sleep more, and the frequency of nighttime feedings will be beneficial for the mother’s milk supply. Mothers and babies are very attuned to one another physiologically and cosleeping helps babies regulate temperature, heart rate, breathing, and other bodily processes.

Some parents worry that cosleeping will lead to a lifetime of sharing their bedrooms with their children and that their children will not become independent. However, many studies have shown that children who were raised in cosleeping households are more confident and more secure of themselves than children who never coslept with their parents. The ease of communication, both verbally and nonverbally, between the parents and children who cosleep fosters the growth of a mutually attached relationship, which leads to a secure base from which children can explore their worlds.

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