Safe Sleep FAQ
Will cosleeping get in the way of my child’s ability to be independent?
Ultimately, absolutely not, but it may delay your baby’s willingness to be alone when she sleeps. Sometimes parents are under the mistaken impression that if they don’t train their babies to sleep by them- selves, somehow some developmental or social skill later in life will be kept from them, or they worry that their babies will never exhibit good sleep patterns as adults. In reality, there has never been a scientific study anywhere that has shown any benefit whatsoever to sleeping through the night at young ages, or even sleeping through the night as adults.
Will we be able to get a good night’s rest if we bring our baby into our bed?
The answer to this question depends in part on exactly how parents define a “good night’s sleep,” and whether bedsharing is a choice made by the parents or a situation they feel was imposed on them by their child’s inability to sleep alone. But remember that the reason that many families unexpectedly decide to bedshare is that it permits the family to get more sleep. It is more accurate to say that some parents, while still happy with their decision to bedshare for emotional reasons, are not able to get as much uninterrupted sleep.
My pediatrician says I will create a “bad habit” that will be hard to break if I bedshare. Is this true?
This ubiquitous warning is based on subjective, perceived values, not science. One family’s “bad habit” is another family’s most treasured time together. And for most (though maybe not all), bedsharing feels pretty darn good, and for all the right reasons. Like adults, infants and children will be reluctant to give up something that feels right to them. That said, any human habit can be broken and the way new sleeping arrangements are introduced depends on who the parents and children are and the special characteristics of the family.
What about naptimes?
Most babies do not mind sleeping alone during naps during the day—it is the darkness of nighttime that is intimidating. But it is ideal to not isolate babies even for naps.
If I have twins or multiples, should we cosleep?
As with any aspect of caring for twins, there are added challenges to bedsharing, especially without the proactive involvement of your partner or spouse. My general recommendation is to place at least one twin back in the crib or bassinet after feeding and sleeping with one twin or multiple at a time, to place both or all infants back in the same crib or bassinet to cobed with each other (see the next chapter), or to place two or more bassinets next to each other.
What is cobedding? Does it serve the same purpose as bedsharing?
From a scientific point of view, this is an area that is little investigated. The term for cosleeping twins is “cobedding.” Cobedding is another form of cosleeping, and is very different from what the majority of this book has been concerned with. Cobedding takes the form of two bodies of equal size and weight in the same crib. How cobedding functions, and its role in infant development and safety, is very different from other forms of cosleeping. Since twins and multiples in general (for reasons still unknown) are associated with a higher risk for SIDS, questions pertaining to what kind of sleep environment might best protect them or put them at increased risk is especially critical. Questions pertaining to cobedding emerge against the larger background of trying to understand why premature births occur, as many twins are born premature. Prematurity is the leading cause of hospitalization during the neonatal period, and is responsible for up to 75% of neonatal illness and deaths, so this is an area in need of much further exploration.
Is there anything different about cosleeping with an adopted baby?
Depending on their ages and experiences, adopted infants and children may have heightened needs for affection and contact, but, if older, they may not be used to intimacy. Watch care- fully how your child reacts to you and respond accordingly. It is also helpful, where possible, to know your child’s history of experiences and assess what special needs or processes may be required to integrate the child into your family and to establish secure, safe and trustworthy new relationships.
What should a cosleeping family know about traveling together?
During the first few years of life, you will find your infant or child will feel especially reassured sleeping in your company when away from home. Many parents permit cosleeping while traveling who do not ordinarily practice it.
Will my child be different, in any negative sense, if I choose to cosleep or bedshare?
NO! Sleeping arrangements never, by themselves, create any specific kind of relationship that has not already been shaped by what occurs during the day. Sleeping arrangements only reflect the nature of the relationship a parent and child already share before they come to bed. In other words, sleeping arrangements generally reflect and sometimes strengthen, contribute to, or exaggerate the nature of the relationship that already exists, whether good or bad. Sleeping arrangements do not create a relationship: if the nature of a relationship is very, very good during the day, cosleeping simply makes whatever is already good just as good or even better at night.
How long should I cosleep with my child?
However long you want to! In fact, how long an infant or child sleeps in proximity to her parents has never been a concern throughout all of the evolution of our species. As long as cosleeping is enjoyed by everyone involved and the relationship it reflects is healthy during the day, cosleeping in some form or another never has to stop...but, of course, it will. There is no specific cut-off after which suddenly, or even gradually, the family cosleeping arrangement becomes harmful, unless some- one in the arrangement is no longer pleased or at some point the situation has became socially, psychologically or physically unhealthy or undesired by a participating member of the family. Cosleeping (whether bedsharing or roomsharing) could never be best if all participants do not feel comfortable with the practice, and this is always the best time to stop. If anyone involved does not wish to cosleep, then cosleeping should never be forced.
Should we cosleep if my partner is not the baby’s father?
There is one study that has shown an increased risk of an infant dying when bedsharing with an unrelated adult male or other adult. However, the group that was studied for the most part had more than one risk factor present when these babies died. My guess is that if an unrelated sleeping partner is committed to an infant, assumes responsibility for her, considers the bedsharing infant his or her responsibility in the same ways the mother doethen the bedsharing should be as safe as it would be if the biological father or an adoptive parent were bedsharing. But the point is worth repeating. Unrelated adults may not care to be responsible for the infant in the same way as a biological or adoptive parent might be, or may choose to disregard their own responsibility for the infant’s safety. In any situation in which this is true, I would recommend against bed- sharing. Instead, place the baby next to the bed on a different surface.
What long-term effects will my baby experience if we cosleep?
It has never been proven, nor shown, nor is it even probable, that sleeping with your baby has any kind of negative long-term effects when the relationships between those involved are healthy. Instead, experts are finding that cosleeping can help develop positive qualities, such as more comfort with physical affection, more confidence in one’s own sexual gender identity, a more positive and optimistic attitude about life, or more innovativeness as a toddler and an increased ability to be alone. One major epidemiological study showed cosleeping school-age children as being under-represented in psychiatric populations. And, while I do not know if you might regard this as a blessing or a curse, a survey of college-age subjects found that males who coslept with their parents between birth and five years of age had significantly higher self-esteem, experienced less guilt and anxiety, and even reported greater frequency of sex! Cosleeping is part of a loving, supportive environment that parents produce for their children, and this, in turn, will give them the confidence to grow into social, happy, loving adults.
Is it possible to reduce night feedings in a cosleeping situation?
It is a difficult and unique process to wean a baby who has slept next to you from birth. The decision to wean is important, and should only be made if you feel it is necessary.
Should I bedshare with my premature or underweight baby?
In almost all of the epidemiological studies of which I am aware, infants who are small for gestational age or premature are disproportionately represented as SIDS victims and as victims of sudden unexpected infant death in bedsharing situations. While the reasons for this are not yet known, and could possibly include in-utero developmental events or assaults to the fetal nervous system (some of which are induced by maternal smoking, which can cause intra-uterine growth retardation), it is probably safer not to bedshare with your underweight or premature infant. Routine bedsharing does not seem to be found to contribute to the survival of these more fragile infants, so it is best avoided. Place your premature or underweight baby right next to your bed on a different surface, but not in bed with you. Skin-to-skin contact while awake, however, is extremely protective, and sensory exchanges with an adult are known to be clinically beneficial to developmentally disadvantaged infants. The more holding, carrying and breastmilk made available for these special babies, and the more physical interactions you have with them, the better.
A charming baby dozes during each of her family's outings.
Wakened by the sounds and smells of the places where they go, Baby opens her eyes and sees a lively detail—a flower, a hoof, a rubber duck—in this beautifully photographed series of books. Help Baby solve the mysteries of this guessing game book filled with beautiful photographs.
Resources for Safe Infant Sleep
Sleeping with your baby has been the norm for almost all cultures through almost all ages. Despite this, few issues in modern parenting generate as much disagreement as whether or not parents and babies should sleep in the same bed. Authorities warn that child should never sleep in an adult bed. Parents who cherish the closeness, warmth and security of cosleeping find their hearts at odds with their brains.
This page provides information about cosleeping, sleep training, crib safety, and overall sleep safety presented in an unbiased and family-friendly way. On this page, you will find resources to supplement your knowledge of safe infant sleeping and to assist in the facilitation of any discussions amongst groups of new parents, parents-to-be, and with your parenting partner. These resources have been carefully compiled to provide you with the most current research and accurate information, so you can make the best decisions regarding safe infant sleeping.
Below you will find:
These questions are excerpted from Sleeping With Your Baby: A Parent's Guide to Cosleeping, written by director of the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame and leading expert in the field Dr. Jim McKenna.
This book, containing all the information parents need to know about cosleeping, is available in many languages, as well as in an abridged pamphlet in both English and Spanish.
Dr. McKenna's newest book, Safe Infant Sleep: Expert Answers to Your Cosleeping Questions (2020), is also available in English and coming soon in Spanish!
Click the screen to download Dia's presentation on the benefits of cosleeping
The Safe Sleep Checklist includes a variety of checklists from expert doctors and professional medical organizations to ensure a safe sleeping environment for an infant.
Some lists address sleep training, cosleeping, and bedsharing, specifically, while others cover general safe sleeping requirements. Following the steps in the checklists will help ensure that an infant has a healthy sleeping environment.