Sleep like a baby. Actually, sleep near a baby. The benefits of co-sleeping are sometimes far overlooked amid the hyped up fears of lack of privacy, interrupted nights, and dangers of bed-sharing (which is different from co-sleeping and not as dangerous as critics say). I never set out a formal plan with my first child to use attachment parenting techniques, and never envisioned co-sleeping. Then I actually became a parent and the benefits of co-sleeping were too real to ignore.
My daughter was a colicky baby, and truly needed to be near us as she slept, so we backed into co-sleeping as a way to make sure we could all get a decent night’s rest. When she turned 2 and got her big girl bed, she decided that she preferred to sleep in it, in her own room – yes the transition really happened that easily. Then the boys came along.
A sleeping bag at the foot of the bed wrapped my toddler like a cocoon, and a bassinet just a step away from my bed cradled my infant son as he sighed peacefully in his sleep. Occasionally my 4 year-old son would drag his blanket into the room and silently curl up next to his 2 year-old brother on the floor. Not to mention my 6’ tall husband slumbering by my side. Yes – the accommodations were crowded, but the rewards of co-sleeping for my family were numerous, and I believe still evident today. And despite the slight claustrophobia I felt at times, the unorganized assembly of blankets and pillows, and the strange looks and rude comments I received from people, I would use co-sleeping habits again with my children, and recommend it to other parents.
What is co-sleeping?
Co-sleeping has varying definitions depending upon which proponent or critic you hear describe it, but in general it is the close sleeping arrangement between parents and their young children. In co-sleeping there is a close proximity of parents and children, but most often the children and parents sleep on separate surfaces.
Co-sleeping can be
- a bassinet or crib near the parent’s bed
- a mattress or sleeping bag on the parent’s floor for toddlers/preschoolers
- a “side-car” sleeper which is basically a crib with 3 walls, and the 4th side is adjacent to the parent’s bed (without a gap between mattresses)
- children sharing a room for sleeping
Sometimes the term co-sleeping is used when the term family bed is a more appropriate description. Family bed, or bed sharing, is the general practice of children routinely sharing the same bed as their parents, most often directly going to sleep and staying asleep in that same bed.
What are the benefits of co-sleeping?
- If you are a breastfeeding mom, you don’t have to go far to have your infant near your side to feed him or her. Side-car sleepers are great for this as well.
- You can respond to your children’s needs easily and quickly. I could hear my newborn rooting around in his crib, waking for his next feeding, but I didn’t have to wait until he was wide awake and crying to know I needed to attend to his needs. This allowed him to go back to sleep so much easier and faster.
- Studies have shown that when an infant sleeps near his mother that his own breathing is regulated, benefiting his overall heart rate and body functions.
- Studies show that co-sleeping reduces the amounts of cortisol, a stress hormone that is released in an infant’s brain. When infants sleep alone they can face separation anxiety and some neurological studies have even shown that being separated from parents has a similar effect to that of physical pain for the infant.
- Studies have shown that room sharing (co-sleeping) has contributed to a reduced number of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) cases.
- Your awareness of your children’s needs is heightened. When my infant son was sleeping peacefully one night in my room something awakened me – some subtle something. I got out of bed and stepped to his cradle, reached down in the dark, and screamed for my husband to turn on the lights. My brain was not prepared for what my hands touched – something wet and convulsing. My baby boy was lying on his back (the recommended sleep position), but covered in his own vomit and quite quietly choking on it. I was able to clear his mouth and his airway and he immediately started crying, a welcome sound. The aspirated vomit did cause pneumonia, but the experience reaffirmed for me why co-sleeping is a valuable and worthwhile choice for parents to make. Had I not been so near to him, I do not believe that I would have been as aware of his immediate, dire needs.
Now our youngest is 8 and my husband and I have regained full ownership of our bedroom. Since they were toddlers and preschoolers our children have all gone to bed without complaint, look forward to reading before bed and the other nighttime rituals, and sleep well through the night. I know so many other parents who have children in preschool and beyond who still have to cajole their children into bed, struggle as they resist, and struggle throughout the night trying to convince their children to remain in their own beds. Co-sleeping really does offer a gentle and gradual way to teach children how to sleep through the night, but more importantly, to teach them that we as parents are paying attention to their needs.