Motherhood

How Safe Is Co-Sleeping?

Team Peanutabout 2 months ago13 min read

Are you Team Co-Sleeping or keen on independent sleeping?

Let’s dive into this controversial topic…

co sleeping

Is co-sleeping bad? What are the benefits of co-sleeping? At what age is co-sleeping safe? How will I know when to stop co-sleeping with my child? What is co-sleeping??

We get it: is a topic a lot of parents disagree on, but what are the facts?

Everyone seems to have an opinion on co-sleeping (or co sleeping) with your baby or toddler.

Naturally, you want your baby to sleep through the night, to make those night-time feedings as few as possible ‒ after all, you need your rest, too!

So we’re doing a deep-dive into all you need to know about co-sleeping, so you can decide whether it’s right for you and your little peanut.

In this article 📝

  • What is considered co-sleeping?
  • Is co-sleeping okay?
  • At what age is co-sleeping safe?
  • Is co-sleeping good for baby?
  • How to start co-sleeping safely

What is considered co-sleeping?

So what is co-sleeping?

In a nutshell, co-sleeping means sleeping near or next to your child.

There are four different types of co-sleeping:

1. Same-room co-sleeping
Having your newborn or toddler sleeping in the same bedroom as you and/or your partner, in a different bed or crib.

2. Bed-sharing co-sleeping
(Or bedsharing) Sharing a bed with your baby and you and/or your partner while you sleep.

3. Sidecar co-sleeping
Attaching a crib or sidecar bed (securely) to your bed. Similar to a normal crib or bassinet, but with one of the sides dropped to attach to your bed.

4. Part-time co-sleeping
For older children or toddlers with their own bedrooms, when your child can sleep in your bed when they want. Usually, it’s when they have a nightmare or wake themselves up partway through the night. Then they wake you up…

Is co-sleeping okay?

So, let’s get into the nitty-gritty: is co-sleeping okay?

Yes and no.

There have been a fair amount of co-sleeping research studies that have highlighted the benefits and negative effects of co-sleeping.

Here are the pros and cons of co-sleeping with your baby or toddler:

Pros of co-sleeping

When done right, you could find that co-sleeping with baby benefits both of you.

Here are the benefits of co-sleeping:

  • Breastfeeding is much easier. You won’t have to get up and go to a different room to feed baby ‒ co-sleep can make it much easier ‒ simply shift to the side, and voila!

  • You and baby will influence each other. As you’re sleeping closer to each other (within sensory reach, as James J. McKenna, Professor of Biological Anthology at the University of Notre Dame says), you and baby will be more in sync with each other. According to one of his co-sleeping research studies, your heart rates, brain waves, sleep states, temperatures, oxygen levels, and breathing can all become in tune.

  • Baby will be less stressed. According to a small study in 2011, while babies went to sleep quicker after sleeping further away from their mothers, their stress levels (thanks to the stress hormone, cortisol), remained high. So baby might fall asleep faster if they’re in a separate room, but it could cause them some stress.

  • You’ll get more sleep. Overall, it seems that both you and baby will sleep for longer when you’re co-sleeping. Baby won’t have to cry for food (as much), and you won’t have to get out of bed (or at least travel far from bed) to feed them.

  • Reduces the risk of postpartum depression. Sleep deprivation can increase the chance of postpartum depression. Since you may sleep better with co-sleeping, that could help reduce the risks of postpartum depression.

  • It’s how we used to sleep. Jumping back 40,000 years ago, our Neanderthal ancestors used to sleep close to their babies, feeding them before they could cry. After all, they had to contend with prehistoric lions, tigers, and bears (oh my!), so they couldn’t take the risk of a crying baby.

  • Co-sleep is becoming more common. You’re not alone in co-sleeping, according to a study by the CDC. 61% of parents in the US have at least tried bed-sharing or co-sleeping with their baby.

  • The risk of SIDS can be reduced. SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) is defined as the “unexplained death, usually during sleep” of some babies. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, sleeping in the same room as your baby can reduce the risk of SIDS.

  • You and baby can bond more. Baby can feel more safe and secure, and you can feel more connected to them.

Cons of co-sleeping

If you’re wondering, so is co-sleeping bad?, our answer is sometimes.

Here are our cons of co-sleeping:

  • Baby could take longer to fall asleep. Having you nearby could be too much stimulation for your little peanut, which could mean they have difficulty getting to sleep. - Knowing you’re nearby, they could fuss more for your attention.

  • The risk of SIDS can be increased with bed-sharing. While we don’t want to scare you, it is worth pointing out that the bed-sharing technique of co-sleeping has been linked to an increased risk of SIDS.

  • Suffocation can be a worry. Unfortunately, the risk of parents, blankets, or pillows rolling over onto baby can be increased. Again, this is only applicable to the bed-sharing method of co-sleeping.

  • Weaning baby off co-sleeping can be tricky. Co-sleeping could be a sleep crutch to them ‒ something they need in order to sleep. At some point, baby will need to learn to sleep by themselves.

  • You might wake up more often. As baby moves in the night, your instincts can kick in, so you wake up whenever they move.

  • You lose your ‘alone time’. Sometimes, especially in the early stages of motherhood, the evening is the only time you get to yourself. Whether you want to get intimate or just relax with a movie, co-sleeping can make it a bit trickier.

At what age is co-sleeping safe?

In general, the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) recommends that you can co-sleep with your baby from birth until they’re six months to a year old.

However, they also advise against bed-sharing, instead preferring having a bassinet or crib in your room, nearby to your bed.

But, as we all know, parenting is different for everyone.

Different things can come into play, like your own cultural beliefs, and yours and your baby’s individual needs ‒ like medicine, wellbeing, and emotional support.

You do whatever feels right for you and your family.

At what age should you stop letting your child sleep with you?

Generally speaking, the older your child sharing a room with you, the higher the chances that they could experience some challenges transitioning to their own room.

So with co-sleeping, how long should baby sleep in parents’ room?

There’s no hard-and-fast rule for “when is a child too old to sleep with parents?”, it depends on your family.

If you have a toddler co-sleeping, be it bed-sharing, room-sharing, or part-time co-sleeping, it can be trickier to break that habit ‒ it could develop into a sleeping crutch for them.

Basically, when it comes to a co-sleeping age limit, one year seems to be the best time to transition to sleeping alone, but it’s your choice, mama.

Is co-sleeping good for baby?

Generally speaking, the room-sharing method of co-sleeping can be considerably beneficial to your little peanut.

If you’re keen to try co-sleeping with your baby sleeping in their own bassinet in your room, or in a side-by-side sleeper that hooks onto your bed, but you’re worried about whether it’s natural, don’t fret, mama.

Think of it as the fourth trimester ‒ your baby’s just arrived into the world, they’ve spent the last 9 (ish) months constantly with you, so anything else is going to be strange (and possibly stressful) for them.

Professor McKenna, co-sleeping expert, has studied the effects of co-sleeping on both mama and baby extensively.

His co-sleeping research studies found that, while mama and baby do sleep more lightly and awake more often while sleeping in the same room, they sleep better.

That sounds counterintuitive, but if your little peanut needs feeding every 2-3 hours, you’re going to be waking up at those points regardless, so you could either schlep to another room, or take just a few steps to feed your baby.

Co-sleep will mean that baby won’t have to cry for their feed ‒ is they’re in the same room, you could more easily hear them if they stir awake, rather than them fully waking up (and waking up everyone else).

But as for longer-term effects, on your baby’s social and emotional wellbeing, whether they co-sleep or sleep alone, it seems not to make much of a difference.

Children who bed-shared or slept in the same room as their parents and those who slept in their own room basically turn out the same.

There are so many factors that contribute to your child’s wellbeing, so you do whatever feels right for you and your little peanut.

How to start co-sleeping safely

As there are a few different approaches to co-sleeping, we’ll explore how to begin a safe co-sleeping routine.

How to start room-sharing co-sleeping

Basically, room-sharing co-sleeping is the same process as if baby had their own room ‒ in their own crib (or bassinet), before they get overtired or overstimulated, ideally in the dark.

The hardest part is you fitting into that sleeping routine.

Naturally, baby will be sleeping a considerable amount more than you (albeit in much shorter periods of time).

But it will make night-time feedings a little easier ‒ you won’t have to trek to another room and completely break your own sleep cycle.

So to start room-sharing co-sleeping, you simply need to move baby’s crib into your bedroom.

Then put baby to sleep as you would normally ‒ typically on their back, wrapped up like an adorable burrito in a swaddling cloth, at between 68-72℉ (the optimum sleep temperature for babies).

You can start room-sharing from birth, but be prepared for your little peanut to do a lot of sleeping for the first few months!

How to start bed-sharing co-sleeping

Bed-sharing requires a little more preparation, as it can be the method of co-sleeping with the highest level of risk.

You’ll want to make sure your bedding is reasonably firm and that your sheets are fitted tightly to your mattress.

Check that there are no loose pillows, blankets, or cuddly toys around baby’s head, nor any space between your bed and the wall, so baby doesn’t roll and get stuck between them.

Generally speaking, sleeping with babies in bed is not recommended if:

  • You are a smoker
  • You are drinking alcohol
  • You have taken any substances that can affect your concentration or perception
  • Your baby is a preemie or has a low birth weight
  • You’re feeling very tired
  • You’re feeling ill
  • You sleep on a waterbed

There are a few other key things to note before sharing a bed:

  • It’s best for your baby not to bed-share with older children
  • Swaddling baby while sharing a bed can lead to overheating
  • If you have very long hair, tie it up to keep it away from baby
  • Adult beds aren’t made for babies, so you’ll have to tweak how you sleep to best suit baby
  • Consider getting a bed bumper for co-sleeping or different baby protector for co-sleeping ‒ a small barrier between you and baby
  • Don’t put baby in a bed with an adult who doesn’t know they’re there ‒ if they’re already asleep, or are too tired to remember baby’s there, it’s best not to bed-share.

Sleeping with babies in bed is the most controversial and risky method of co-sleeping, and is not advised by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

So before you give bed-sharing a try, why not try the room-sharing method?

How to start sidecar co-sleeping

Sidecar co-sleeping can be a happy medium between bed-sharing and room-sharing.

There are lots of options for a co-sleeper that hooks to bed, side-by-side sleepers, and a newborn bed that attaches to parents’ bed.

If you’re looking for baby beds for the side of your bed or you want to try your hand at building a co-sleeper crib, here are our top things to consider:

  • Check the height of your bed, especially if it’s particularly high or low compared to ‘standard’ beds. It might be tricky to find a side-by-side sleeper that fits ‒ even the adjustable ones!
  • Do you want a drop-down side? Getting a co-sleeper bed rail for your baby’s crib can make things a bit safer for baby.
  • Is it easy to put together and take apart? If you’re traveling with baby, or you need to take your side-by-side sleeper apart to clean it (leaky nappies and spit-up can get into all the nooks and crannies), a co-sleeper that’s easy to dismantle can make all the difference.
  • A good sidecar bed for your baby will have a firm mattress ‒ babies sleep best on a firm mattress (not a soft one), and it’s generally considered safer for them.
  • Would you prefer a standalone crib with a drop-down side that you can put next to your bed, or a co-sleeper that hooks to your bed?

Sidecar co-sleeping is a great option for newborns, and transitioning from co-sleeper to crib can be easier, especially if you have a standalone co-sleeper crib ‒ simply move the crib further away from your bed each night!

Starting sidecar co-sleeping is just the same as room-sharing: aside from buying (or making) baby’s crib, there’s not much more prep-work to be done!

Plus, you can do your midnight (and beyond) feeds much quicker and easier!

That’s our complete guide to safe co-sleeping for you and your little peanut.

In the end, it’s totally up to you whether you think co-sleeping with baby benefits you and your family.

Sleep well, mama. 💤

😴 More on baby sleep from The 411:
How Much Do Newborns Sleep? A Rough Guide
5 Things I Wish I Knew About Baby Sleep as a First-Time Mama
5 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Blame for Bad Baby Sleep
How to Get Babies to Nap Longer: The Ultimate Guide
Baby Sleep Training 101
Is White Noise for a Baby Good?
Babies Waking Up Too Early: What to do
Managing The 4-Month Sleep Regression: Your Expert Guide
How to Dress Baby For Sleep
How to Get Your Baby to Sleep in a Crib
When Do Kids Stop Taking Naps?
Bassinet vs Crib: What to Know