Co-Sleeping: Is a Family Bed Worth the Safety Concerns?

Filed under: Childcare, Expert Advice: Family Time, Sleep

samantha van vleet cosleeping with baby picture

Samantha Van Vleet cuddles with her 6-week-old baby, Averly. Credit: Samantha Van Vleet

Sleeping is a group activity for the Van Vleet family -- all five of them.

Nothing can match the sense of security children Madison,4, Daniel, 2, and 6-week-old Averly feel when they cuddle with Mom, Dad and each other all night, every night, mom Samantha Van Vleet tells ParentDish.

"It places less stress on the baby because I'm able to hear her stir and wake up and can feed her before she cries," Van Vleet of Sterling, Alaska, says.

Van Vleet says Madison and Daniel now have their own beds, but most nights they only start there and race to the family bed, or often to each other's.

The Van Vleets are among a growing number of families aligning themselves on the family bed side of a heated controversy over whether young kids should sleep with Mom and Dad or in their own beds or cribs.

Those who support babies sleeping separately believe sleep is a regimen that needs to be taught to kids on the other side of the bedroom wall, maintaining that kids need to learn to soothe themselves to sleep. Family bed parents, meanwhile, feel co-sleeping will engender a sense of security in the child.

Co-sleeping has gotten a bad rap these days, due, in part, to the number of infants who have been injured or killed when a parent rolls over on them or they become entrapped or suffocated. Major organizations have spoken out against co-sleeping, including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which says in a warning to parents that the practice should be avoided to reduce the number of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) cases.

"We strongly frown upon co-sleeping," the group states, recommending babies sleep in cribs.

And many experts say the risks surrounding co-sleeping far outweigh any emotional benefits.

"Co-sleeping is not recommended," Candace Smith-King, a pediatrician at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital in Grand Rapids, Mich., tells ParentDish."There are multiple risks and reasons it's not a safe practice. Many advocates for co-sleeping say it increases and supports breast-feeding. While breast-feeding is beneficial, co-sleeping is not a way to promote breast-feeding. Mothers are likely to fall asleep while feeding their baby and roll over on the newborn. It's just not worth the convenience."

Still, many parents and health care experts continue to support co-sleeping.

Children who sleep with their parents may experience less stress, Dr, Margot Sunderland, director of education and training at the Centre for Child Mental Health in London, states in her book "The Science of Parenting." She recommends kids sleep with their parents until they are 5.

Yvonne Quiones Syto co-slept with both of her children -- now 3 and 5, until they were 1, and credits co-sleeping for breast-feeding success and helping her get more sleep while she was nursing.

"I slept better when they were nursing than when they were weaned," Syto tells ParentDish. "My children now sleep in their own beds without any difficulty and have good, quality sleep, yet know they can come to us if needed."

Family therapist Barbara Chamberlin warns, however, that co-sleeping can have prolonged negative effects on a child's ability to soothe himself to sleep.

"While it can be a great bonding experience for parent and infant, I see many moms in my practice who cannot get their 9- and 10-year-olds out of their beds," Chamberlin tells ParentDish. "For these parents, every bedtime is a prolonged nightmare with kids refusing to go to bed without Mom or Dad lying down with them."

Denaye Barahona, a clinical psychologist, tells ParentDish although it is vital to provide a significant amount of interaction, touch and attention to your baby, it's by no means necessary to do so via co-sleeping.

"Parents often become consumed with the idea that they need to have a child in their arms every minute of the day to have a healthy bond, and this simply is not true," she says. "I caution parents to reflect on whether they are satisfying a need of their child, or satisfying their own needs and anxieties by co-sleeping."

Barahona also cautions that co-sleeping can cause issues in a marriage.

"I have seen many cases where a couple is experiencing marital strife, and placing a child in the bed creates an avenue to avoid intimacy and facing current issues," she tells ParentDish.

For those who really want to give co-sleeping a try, however, tips to minimize the risks include:

  • Using an arms-reach co-sleeper or bassinet placed next to the bed
  • Keeping the baby in a bed with just a light sheet, no pillows and a firm top mattress
  • Abstaining from drugs, sleeping pills or alcohol before retiring with baby
  • Not allowing other adults to sleep next to the baby
  • Keeping other children and pets out of the bed
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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.