The Real Scoop on the Family Bed
Want to spark a hot debate next time you are hanging out with other parents? Bring up the topic of co-sleeping. Most people have a strong, passionate viewpoint on the issue, from the parents who proudly declare that their children have NEVER slept in their bed, all the way to the parents of the three year old who has never slept alone, and doesn’t have any plans to.
Since sleep is such a huge issue for families with young children, we wanted to get to the bottom of how co-sleeping impacts a family – both good and bad – so that you can decide if it’s right for you.
As part of its “Back to Sleep” campaign to reduce SIDS, the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) has officially recommended against sharing a bed with your infant due to the increased risk of SIDS for babies who share a bed with their parents. Instead, they recommend sharing a room with your infant (which decreases the risk of SIDS), using either a bassinet or a “co-sleeper” that can actually be attached to the parents’ bed (such as this one).
So does that mean that any parent who chooses to sleep with their infant is being negligent? Not quite. In many cases, the arrangement is what keeps mom able to breast feed throughout the night for much longer than would have been possible otherwise. And the increased risk for infants can be dramatically reduced by taking certain precautions, including:
– No bed sharing with people who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
– No bed sharing with siblings.
– Follow the same rules for babies who sleep in cribs: keep baby on his or her back, remove any extra bedding (pillows, sheets, duvets, etc) and keep the temperature cool.
Even more helpful safety tips are available here.
(2) Sleep quality
Beyond the safety concerns, are there other reasons that you might not want to sleep with your children in the same bed? Even though bed sharing frequently takes place as a way for mom to get a bit more sleep at night, according to many experts, the quality of sleep that takes place in a family bed is frequently less than ideal – for kids and parents. We spoke with Dr. Whitney Roban of Sleep-Eez Kidz, which specializes in helping families solve their sleep problems. Dr. Roban is not a proponent of co-sleeping: “Good sleep habits do not take place in bed sharing,” she told us. Specifically, bed sharing prevents your child from developing the sleep associations that we all need to soothe ourselves back to sleep when we wake up – they rely on the parents to provide it.
But if the parents have no plans to end the co-sleeping arrangement, is this really such a bad thing? Perhaps not for the child, but for the parent who is responsible for soothing the child back to sleep during every normal night waking, it’s a huge hurdle to a good night’s sleep. Dr. Roban pointed to the recent study out of Penn State which found that co-sleeping can be HUGELY detrimental to mothers. And as we all know, if mom isn’t getting enough sleep, that’s a problem for EVERYONE.
(3) Parent’s relationship
Another thing to keep in mind is how a co-sleeping arrangement can impact your marriage. First of all, both parents must be on the same page when it comes to the sleeping arrangement, both to protect the children from a parent who may not know they are in the bed and to protect mom and dad’s relationship. Nothing breeds resentment and anger more than being forced into junior’s twin racecar bed at 4 in the morning because he’s taken over your side of the bed!
It’s also important to keep in mind that even if both parents are on board, there can still be complications. After all, it’s hard enough to find times to be, ahem, *alone* with your partner when you have small children; take away the adult bed, and you could go weeks without touching each other. Never a good thing in our book!
Does this mean that you shouldn’t even consider co-sleeping, or if you currently have a family bed that you should immediately change your arrangement? Not so fast… Even Dr. Roban agrees that it could work for some families: “I generally believe that, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. If the children are getting 11 to 12 hours of uninterrupted sleep, and the parents are getting 7 to 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep, then go for it. But I’ve never met a family who’s made it work.” So, if you are one of the lucky ones who can make this arrangement work for your family, and you’re able to do it safely and with no negative impact for mom and dad, then snuggle away! But if it’s a situation that’s developed out of desperation, don’t be afraid to make a change. As Dr. Roban says, “all children, no matter what age, can be taught good sleep habits.”