Co-sleeping, also referred to as sleep sharing or "the family bed", has been practiced for many years. However, the family bed is a controversial issue. In fact, The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states you shouldn't sleep in the same bed as your baby because of certain risks, namely, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), suffocation, or other sleep-related deaths. But, the AAP did adjust their guidelines in 2016, admitting that co-sleeping does occur, and there are safe ways of going about it.
Bed sharing with baby appears to be particularly prevalent when traveling. A 2018 survey by the top baby gear rental service marketplace, BabyQuip, shows 69 percent of parents admit to sleeping or have slept with their baby in bed while they were traveling, and 39 percent reported doing this often.
Many families prefer co-sleeping in a family bed.
What Is a Family Bed?
Basically, a family bed is a bed, usually of a large size, where you share sleeping space with your family members. Family beds, more specifically, can refer to different super-sized mattresses the mattress industry is just recently starting to come out with. Over-sized family beds are designed for accommodating entire families. And, some "family-sized" mattresses could even measure as wide as 144 inches, nearly doubling the width of a king-size bed.
Pros and Cons of a Family Bed
Should you allow your baby to sleep in the same bed as you?
Here are some pros and cons to help you decide.
The practical advantages of co-sleeping are obvious:
- You're close by to respond to your baby if something goes wrong.
- Co-sleeping in a family bed makes it easier for you to breastfeed your baby throughout the night.
- There's an instinctive need for mothers to be closer to their babies.
- Babies who co-sleep fall asleep quicker and stay asleep longer.
- Mothers often report feeling better rested when they co-sleep.
- Some research shows babies that who co-sleep have a stronger emotional relationship with their parents and others.
- Advocates of co-sleeping point to research suggesting when parents take precautions for sleep safety, it decreases the risk of SIDS.
Co-sleeping in a family bed could eventually become problematic for various reasons:
- Your children could develop a sleep crutch — always requiring you to be around when it's time for bed due to "sleep onset association," or a sleep crutch — something they can't fall asleep without.
- Not everyone has the same bedtime. Kids of different ages require different amounts of sleep, so their bedtimes differ.
- Children may display anxious behaviors. Along with developing a sleep crutch, some kids could come to expect things like patting, back rubbing, or being held to fall asleep. Doctors might misdiagnose them as being anxious. Since they find it difficult to fall asleep without a parent close by, they sometimes show anxious behaviors when trying to convince their parents to stay close by at bedtime.
- The quality of your sleep might suffer. Kids are notoriously active, and restless sleepers. They could disrupt your sleep by thrashing around, or kicking.
- Your relationship with your spouse or partner could suffer. Evenings, for many couples, are the only time they can have some alone time. When you share a bed with your children, it could literally separate you from your partner.
A Personal Choice
If you do decide to sleep with your baby, you can rest assured it isn't some new thing. Actually, a relatively new concept is sleeping apart from a baby. In industrialized countries, most babies, until around 100 years ago, slept with their parents, and the practice never stopped in many traditional cultures.
But, if you do choose to co-sleep with your child, make sure your desired "togetherness" is to address the needs of your child, and not just your own. For instance, if your spouse is away from home often, or if you're a single parent, you shouldn't allow your child to share a bed with you just to cure your own loneliness.
Family Bed Guidelines
There are some sleep guidelines you can follow for safe co-sleeping. These include:
- Making sure the mattress is firm.
- Putting the mattress on the floor so your baby can't fall.
- Making sure your baby is still sleeping on their back to help decrease the possibility of SIDS.
- Avoiding drugs and alcohol, including medicines that could affect your sleep.
- Avoiding co-sleep if you have a sleep disorder.
- Avoiding co-sleeping in a soft bed or waterbed. Preferably, use a firm king-sized or family-sized mattress.
- Avoiding co-sleeping with your baby if you're extremely obese.
Many parents and some pediatricians believe co-sleeping helps to form a close bond that helps children to grow up feeling more secure and confident.
Deciding on whether or not you want to co-sleep with your baby in a family bed is a personal choice. There's no right or wrong here, as long as it is done safely. If you do choose to co-sleep with your child, formulate a bedtime arrangement that will work for you, and follow the safe sleep guidelines above.