Co-Sleeping with Your Child: Risk or Benefit?

As a parent, having a new baby is an exciting time. However, with conflicting information on best practices, often times it can be hard to determine what is best for child. Find out the risks and benefits and tips to end co-sleeping in this article.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reports parents who share a bed with an infant can impose an increased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

On the opposite end, Dr. William Sears, a pediatrician famous for starting the parenting style “Attachment Parenting,” completely supports the bed-sharing concept and states on his website it reduces the risk of SIDS. This leaves parents wondering which resource they should trust.

As a Sleep Coach, I have found many parents are well aware of the risks reported by the AAP. However, parents choose co-sleeping if it is the right fit for their family, despite any risks. After assessing the individual needs of the family, it was the parents who decided whether co-sleeping was worth the risk or benefit to their household.

When the co-sleeping situation reached a point where it was disruptive to the family, parents sought out my help. Or, parents never intended to co-sleep but were unaware how to end it.

Here is some important information that parents should know about co-sleeping:

What exactly is co-sleeping?

Co-sleeping is a term used synonymously with bed-sharing.

The AAP separates co-sleeping into two categories to better describe where the risk lies:
· Bed-sharing: Sharing the same bed or sleep space with a child. (This imposes the highest SIDS risk according to the AAP)

· Room-Sharing: Sharing the same room but not the same sleep space with a child. (If the child is in an appropriate crib or bassinette by the parent’s bed, this is considered a decreased risk of SIDS)

What are the pros and cons of co-sleeping?

Here are some of the pros and cons that parents who have experienced co-sleeping have reported:

Pros:
1. Convenience: Night-time feeding and soothing are made easier. It is much easier to roll over and feed your baby in the middle of the night, rather than get up to walk to another room. Some parents also report it is easier to get their child back to sleep after a night -waking.

2. Stronger sense of attachment: Many parents chose co-sleeping because they want to be close to their child and foster a secure attachment. Many parents feel co-sleeping has helped promote this.

3. Parents are more easily able to get back to sleep: Some parents report falling asleep more quickly after a night- waking when their child is in their bed and easily comforted.

If you decide to co-sleep with your baby, make sure to reduce the risk with these safety guidelines: http://safebedsharing.org/safetyguidelines.html

Cons:
1. Parent’s schedule and freedom are limited: Many children who co-sleep need their parent to lie down with them for naps and night-time sleep. Parents are then committed to be by their child’s side for those designated hours. Many parents feel they don’t have the freedom to leave their child’s room for safety reasons and because their child will wake up looking for them.

2. Decreased couple time: Bed-sharing literally brings another person between a couple. Couples have reported difficulty finding quality time with their partner.

3. More disrupted sleep: Many parents report their child gets up frequently trying to engage the parents. Parents have reported that their child is more tempted to nurse frequently even when the nutritional need is outgrown. Parents also have trouble getting quality sleep due to being poked and jabbed while bed-sharing with their child.

Tips to end co-sleeping:

A major area where many parents feel frustrated with co-sleeping is the lack of knowledge of how to end it appropriately. It can feel very abrupt for children and parents to move from such close proximity for an extended period of time to completely separate rooms. Please note, if the ending of co-sleeping is left child- directed, co-sleeping can continue into elementary school. Here are some quick tips to make the transition from co-sleeping to separate sleep spaces less intense:

1. Pick a time period of two consecutive weeks that will be basically free of any major life changes. Use this time to start weaning your child from co-sleeping.

2. If you are bed-sharing, and you want to keep your child in the same room, transition her to a safe crib within in the same room. Stay by your child’s side until she falls asleep at bed-time and during naps. About every three days, move yourself farther away from the crib at bedtime until you are no longer in the room.

3. If you are moving your child to his own room, co-sleep in the room while your child is in his crib or bed. At bedtime, move farther away from the crib or bed every three days until you are out of the room.

Stay consistent and expect changes to take several weeks.

Do you currently co-sleep with your baby? Are you planning to stop but don’t know how? Contact me for further information.

References:

American Academy of Pediatrics report:
http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/128/5/e1341.full?sid=bd9574fb-4575-4d35-a46e-a63394e68331

Dr. William Sears:
http://www.askdrsears.com/topics/health-concerns/sleep-problems/sids-latest-research-how-sleeping-your-baby-safe

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