Myths About Co-Sleeping
James McKenna, a professor of anthropology at the University of Notre Dame and director of the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory, says co-sleeping can be a good choice for some families. We asked him to give us the real deal on some of the most common co-sleeping myths we've heard.
Myth #1: Co-sleeping is always dangerous.
It's common to be fearful of co-sleeping, especially because reputable organizations, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, say letting baby sleep in your bed is a SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) risk. But there are ways to safely co-sleep (see right).
Definitions of co-sleeping vary — it doesn't always mean bedsharing. "Having baby in the room with you or in an attached bedside sleeper (also known as separate-surface co-sleeping) are both considered co-sleeping," says McKenna. And while the AAP advises against letting a baby under the age of one sleep in your bed, it does recommend having baby sleep in a safe crib or bassinet within your arms' reach as a way to reduce baby's risk of SIDS.
McKenna agrees that being with your baby all night can actually help protect him. "Infants and babies give off cues and signals that caregivers need to react and respond to," McKenna says. "By sleeping next to baby, the mother is able to promote baby's breathing stability.... There is no scientific validation that says co-sleeping is bad. Accidents, of course, happen, and there are risk factors, as with everything."
Myth #2: None of your friends are doing it.
McKenna says that more than 80 percent of breastfeeding mothers co-sleep with their children and that the majority of parents do it at some point or another. If your child sleeps in your bed, yours isn't the only one.
Myth #3: Babies who co-sleep are spoiled.
Sleeping next to mama isn't about being spoiled or not, says McKenna. It's about biology. "Babies settle when they are next to their mother, whether the mother is co-sleeping or just holding baby," he says. "Babies are designed to do this, and it is important to their development. They depend on the mother."
Myth #4: Baby will never learn independence if he co-sleeps.
"Studies have revealed that co-sleeping babies often grow to be less fearful and more independent than their non-co-sleeping counterparts," McKenna says. "From an early age, we're arming infants, babies and children with the support they need to be independent. Co-sleeping with the mother or caregiver supports the baby. He responds to the noises, motions and reactions of the mother or caregiver."
Myth #5: Co-sleeping will kill the romance between you and your partner.
McKenna says this is "ridiculous." "Where you decide to let your baby sleep isn't the sole reason for the dissolution of your marriage or the reason you and your partner are no longer intimate," he says. "Anyone who blames the failings of a marriage on their child being in bed with them is not dealing with the bigger issues. There is also no data to support the idea that baby co-sleeping will do this. Co-sleeping is an agreement you make before baby comes." And hey, we know some parents who say having their child sleep with them just forces them to get creative about where and when they have sex — and that makes it kind of fun.
Myth #6: A child needs to sleep alone at night.
Actually, a still, quiet room might not promote good sleep. "Babies need sensory distinctions," says McKenna. "They need to hear, listen and react based on their caregiver, mother or father. It is normal and primitive. To put baby alone in a room and close the door does not help baby learn, grow and develop those sensory distinctions. When baby first enters the world, she is building a relationship with her mother, father or caregiver. She depends on these people to help teach her to react."
Myth #7: Co-sleeping parents are irresponsible.
"Society and people assume that it's okay to judge co-sleeping, separate-surface co-sleeping and bed sharing," says McKenna. "Parents have the right to decide what is right for them, what's safe for them, what works best for them and baby, and what is the best practice they will follow." If you feel comfortable doing it — and you've made as many safety precautions as you can — trust your intuition that this is the right sleeping arrangement for your family.
Truths About Co-Sleeping
Parents share why they chose to co-sleep and why it's worked for them:
"I kept trying to not co-sleep with my baby out of fear, but we all sleep so _much better when we co-sleep.... It's easier to breastfeed and go back to sleep!" _— Elizabeth O.
"I had a c-section and was breastfeeding, so the choice was already made for me. I stopped when my daughter started to crawl." — Tammy
"I didn't choose co-sleeping; it chose me." — Mary Beth Q.
"My husband was deployed when our first child was eight weeks old. It made me feel safer to have him in bed with me and was an incredible bonding experience." — Armywife654
"Baby spends nine months close to mommy. It's harsh to rip that child away." — Heather H.
"We decided to do it because it works. I breastfeed and am too tired with kids that eat like friggin' monsters to get completely up every time they're hungry...they are content and we all get better sleep." — Teddy B.
"I have seven kids and chose to co-sleep with all. It meant more sleep for both of us, and it was a great way to bond. I have the cot beside me against my bed, so there's no chance of rolling on top or overheating." — Martha S.
"I love snuggle sleeping with my boy...I feel much safer with him in bed with us...I'm always aware of him and his breathing and such. I always know what's going on with him." — Jacqueline D.
"I always said I never would, but I do now because it's the only way I get any sleep. And I love it! I did research on safe co-sleeping and I feel that it's natural. People have been doing it since the beginning of time...SIDS can occur in any sleep environment." — Tiffany H.
"Our daughter sleeps in our room but in her Rock 'n Play...we have a co-sleeper too, but she doesn't like to sleep in that. I love having her in our room.... As soon as we get a crib, I will see if she will sleep in there." — Sienna D.
"As long as you take the necessary precautions, co-sleeping reduces the risk of SIDS. I co-slept with my son the first eight weeks because we all slept better that way. After that, I moved him to his own cradle right next to the bed so I could go back to cuddling with my husband." — Margaret B.
"My daughter was 18 months old when we started to co-sleep. It makes my husband and I feel safer, knowing that she's okay in case there's a fire or a break-in. Plus, those extra hours that we get to spend with her in the morning or at night mean so much to us because we both have very hectic schedules. It's also makes the intimacy between my husband and I more interesting because we have to be more creative." — Priea
The decision to co-sleep doesn't work for everyone, but it seems there are many reasons parents choose it. And there's one unifying trait that unites all the benefits: bonding with baby.
*Some names have been changed.
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