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Co-Sleeping Benefits and Risks: Safety Tips and More

by SleePare

By Dustin Morgan | 5 minutes Minute Read

If you’re expecting or the baby is already here you may be considering co-sleeping. Co-sleeping, also known as sleep sharing, is the practice of sleeping in close proximity to your child, rather than in separate bedrooms. For many, the idea of co-sleeping is controversial, this is because many parents feel it is a safety risk for infants. 

Studies show that when practiced unsafely, co-sleeping can increase the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). However, in many cases, it was later revealed that the parents were either under the influence of drugs and alcohol or did not practice co-sleeping properly. 

The mistakes of those who have not participated in co-sleeping correctly have given the practice, which can have many benefits, a bad name. If you’d like to know more about co-sleeping the correct way, read on. 

Co-Sleeping vs. Bed Sharing

Icon illustrations that represents the three different ways to co-sleep

There are many ways to co-sleep. While the mental picture that most people get when thinking about co-sleeping is actually the family bed arrangement, there are other ways to do it. The other two most popular forms of co-sleeping are the sidecar arrangement and the shared room.

Ways to Co-Sleep

To make an informed decision about co-sleeping, it is best that you fully understand the various options available to you. 

The three most common forms of co-sleeping are the family bed, sidecar arrangement, and room sharing. Each of these methods has their own benefits and problems that you should be aware of.

baby and mother sleeping in bedFamily Bed:

The family bed arrangement is often what people picture when they think about co-sleeping. In this arrangement, the parents can create a safe space free from hazards in the bed. This is where the baby will sleep.  

This form of co-sleeping is generally only recommended if you have older children or are breastfeeding. Because the family bed can be dangerous for young children, it should only be practiced with extreme caution. 

Sidecar Arrangement sleeping, baby and mom

Sidecar Arrangement:

For families who wish to practice co-sleeping in the same bed, but are wary of the family bed method, the sidecar arrangement can be a good middle ground.

Under this form of co-sleeping, the baby remains in the bed with the parents, but in a modified crib or commercially purchased co-sleeper that is placed off to the side.

For modified cribs, parents remove one side and attach the open side to the bed. This arrangement allows the baby to be within arm’s length of parents but in their own space.

The extra space of the open-crib allows the baby to be safe from being suffocated by the various hazards in the parents’ bed, like blankets and pillows. 

The biggest drawback of this method is the possibility of parents not setting up the co-sleeper correctly. Therefore, parents should ensure they are following directions closely and ask for assistance if they are not confident the bed is assembled correctly.

bed and crib in the same room

Shared Room:

Room sharing is the practice of bringing the baby into your bedroom, but not necessarily bringing them into the bed. With room sharing, you don’t have to be worried about if the co-sleeper is set up next to the bed correctly or worry about pillows and blankets being a hazard for your child. 

In this arrangement, you keep the baby in their own bed but you share the same bedroom. This arrangement helps with nighttime feedings and helps to improve intimacy with the baby. While this method does help to reduce SIDS, many parents feel that it reduces marital intimacy.

Is Bed Sharing Safe for Babies?

While generally cautioned against, bed-sharing is often used for breastfed babies, for formula-fed babies another co-sleeping option is recommended. 

When bed-sharing, many precautions need to be taken to ensure your baby’s safety and there are certain situations where bed-sharing is not safe for your baby. 

baby and mom in the bed

Most pediatric experts agree that the biggest argument against bed sharing is the risk of SIDS related deaths. Many of the situations that can contribute to SIDS when bed-sharing include:

  • If your baby was born prematurely
  • If your baby has any developmental or health issues
  • If the parents or anyone else in the household smokes
  • If the mother smoked while pregnant
  • If the parents or anyone in the household uses drugs or marijuana
  • When the parents are under the influence of alcohol or any substance that makes them less aware

These situations can lead to very serious consequences, so if any of the above are true for you or your baby you should consider a shared room, but not a shared bed sleeping arrangement. 

Benefits of Co-Sleeping and Room Sharing

parents holding a sleeping baby

Co-sleeping is appealing to many new parents, simply because of convenience. There are a number of benefits that can be seen in co-sleeping and room sharing.

1. Encourages Breastfeeding

safety tip to Encourages Breastfeeding

If breastfeeding your baby is important to you, co-sleeping may be a good way to encourage the practice. In a study of 870 women, researchers found that those that co-slept had stronger and longer breastfeeding patterns, showing a close relation to the two practices. 

As breastfeeding has multiple benefits to both the baby and mother, anything that can strengthen this practice is beneficial to new moms.

2. Makes Nighttime Feeding More Convenient

Infographic image with safety tip from Makes Nighttime Feeding

By co-sleeping with your baby, you make nighttime feedings more convenient. When you co-sleep your infant is in close proximity to you and this will allow you to have fewer barriers to feeding. 

When the baby is hungry, it is as simple as picking your baby up and feeding him or her. For those that formula feed, you may need to add a minifridge and bottle warmer to your room to further increase convenience.

3. Leads to More Nighttime Sleep For Babies

Infographic image with safety tip from Leads to More Nighttime Sleep For Babies

Typically babies will awaken at night because they are hungry and need to nurse. When you are co-sleeping you are in close proximity to your child, which makes it less likely that they will fully awaken when it’s time to feed. 

This practice can lead to reduced nighttime crying, which allows both parents and the child to get more sleep.

4. Increases a Sense of Intimacy with Your Baby

Infographic image with safety tip from Increases a Sense of Intimacy with Your Baby

A number of studies have examined the perceived sense of intimacy that parents gain from co-sleeping. 

Some participants have stated that co-sleeping with their children gives them the ability to “reconnect with their child.” If you spend a lot of time away from the home and your child, you may find that by co-sleeping you feel greater attachment and bonding. 

5. Reduces SIDS Risk

Infographic image with safety tip from Reduces SIDS Risk

If you practice room-sharing correctly, you can reduce SIDS by 50 percent. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, room sharing can reduce SIDS by increasing the feeding, comforting and monitoring of your baby. 

These experts recommend that your child remains in the same room as you until their first birthday.

6.  Increases Emotional Health 

Infographic image with safety tip from Increases Emotional Health

According to the Australian College of Midwives, co-sleeping can give your child better overall emotional health. In their policy position, they cite a number of studies that have found that shared sleeping arrangements lead to being better able to adapt and respond to stressors in the child’s daily life. 

Furthermore, as adults, co-sleeping children not only have better social skills but higher self-esteem. 

How to Co-Sleep Safely

family together

Should you decide that co-sleeping is right for your family, you will need to make sure that you do it correctly. It is important to continue to follow all of the safety precautions recommended for your baby’s sleep time. 

While there are many safety tips for sleeping babies, the ones you need to be extra sure of when sleep sharing are as follows.

Move the Mattress Away From Walls

text: “Don’t leave space for your baby to roll off the bed and into danger.

You will want to ensure the safety of your baby, so when co-sleeping it is best to move your mattress away from walls and the frame. This is a necessary step because the baby can roll over during the night and become trapped in these areas. 

By moving your mattress away from these hazards, you create a safer co-sleeping environment.

Use a Firm Mattress

text: Firm mattresses are advised to reduce SIDS risk.

To reduce the risk of SIDS, it is important that you use a firm mattress with a fitted sheet. This is because soft bedding like plush, bouncy mattresses, comforters and even flat sheets can become bunched up and create a suffocation or strangulation hazard for your infant. 

Use a Co-Sleeper Properly

text: “Follow manufacturer installation instructions properly.

If using a commercial co-sleeper it is important that you follow the manufacturer’s installation instructions properly. One consequence of not following the manufacturer’s recommended installation guidelines can be a malfunction of your co-sleeper. This can cause injury and even death to your child.

While your installation instructions may be different than the one we’ve included here, these guidelines are important to follow. 

Research Effectively

text: “Always get your information from credible sources such as .gov, .edu sites and scientific studies.

When researching, be sure you are finding the most accurate information for the topic you are wishing to know about. You can do this by searching for certain keywords. 

For instance, one study found that only 43.5 percent of the 1300 websites they audited provided accurate information. That means that 28.1 percent provided inaccurate information and 28.4 percent were not relevant. 

The search terms “infant sleep position,” and “infant sleep surface” yielded the highest percentage of websites with accurate information. “Pacifier infant,” “infant home monitors,” and “infant co-sleeping” produced the lowest percentage of websites with accurate information. Government websites had the highest rate of accuracy; blogs, the lowest.

Be sure that you are always getting your information from credible sources such as .gov, .edu sites and scientific studies.

Place Your Baby on Their Back

Baby lying on Back

Since 1994, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that babies sleep on their backs. If you are considering co-sleeping it is important to ensure that you practice back sleeping to prevent SIDS related death. 

It has been found that parents who let their babies sleep on their stomachs have increased the chance of SIDS by double. However, since parents have been placing their babies on their backs to sleep more regularly, SIDS instances have fallen by 50 percent. 

Don’t Smoke During or After Pregnancy

text: “If you or someone in your family smokes co-sleeping is not recommended.

While this should be obvious, it’s worth stating. If you smoked while pregnant or someone in your household smokes, it is best to avoid co-sleeping options other than room sharing. 

Research has shown that smoking and co-sleeping can lead to SIDS related death in infants, especially when bed-sharing.

Stay Sober

text: “31 percent of infants that have died while co-sleeping were sleeping with parents who had used recreational drugs or alcohol.

31 percent of infants that have died while co-sleeping was sleeping with parents who had used recreational drugs or alcohol. If you have chosen to bed share or use the sidecar arrangement with your child, it is important to make sure that you only do so while you are completely sober. 

 If you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol you may not wake up as easily and will not be as aware if there is something in bed harming your child. 

On nights where you choose to drink it may be best that your child sleeps in their own bed, to reduce their risk of SIDS related death.

Remove Hazards

text: “Remove soft items to reduce suffocation risks.

When co-sleeping it is important to remove soft items like toys, pillows, bumpers, and blankets from the sleeping area. 

These items, although cute, can cause a suffocation risk for young children. It is also important to keep anything, including your own hair, away from the baby if it is long enough to be a strangulation hazard.

How Long Should You Co-Sleep With Your Child

family sleeping in bed

While you can decide to co-sleep with your child for longer, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends room sharing with your infant for at least six months but prefers the practice to last for up until the baby’s first birthday. 

This is recommended because the practice has been shown to reduce the risk of SIDS in infants. However, many parents do find joy in co-sleeping and some choose to continue the practice well past infancy.

Co-sleeping can be a beneficial practice for both parent and baby provided it is done correctly. For many, co-sleeping can help to foster a feeling of greater intimacy with the child and,  provided it is practiced in a safe manner, it can help to reduce the risk of SIDS for the first year of your baby’s life.

The most important thing you can do when co-sleeping is ensuring your child has a firm mattress, try our mattress comparison tool to find the best mattress for your needs. 

Infographic image with safety tip from Encourages Breastfeeding section

 

 
Dustin Morgan

Dustin Morgan


Dustin is the lead content creator at SleePare. With a degree in Computer Science and extensive experience reviewing mattresses, curating comparisons and advising on "best of" guides, he's truly a mattress technology expert.

Dustin has perfected this method by personally testing over 200 different mattresses, so he's not only able to discern the overall value of a specific bed, but to assign its value to different types of sleepers.

Along with creating honest and straightforward mattress features, Dustin enjoys creating pieces aimed at helping people get their best sleep ever.

When he's not creating helpful content, Dustin enjoys jogging, fishing, hunting and playing video games in and around his Virginia home.