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Co-sleeping is a controversial topic among both parents and health care professionals. Major organizations have spoken out against co-sleeping — I think we all remember how Consumer Reports bashed co-sleeping and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is also opposed to co-sleeping. While the AAP doesn’t come right out and say, “We strongly frown upon co-sleeping” their recommendations regarding baby sleep are clearly very supportive of crib sleeping over co-sleeping. This said, there are some very positive reasons to give co-sleeping a whirl. Dr Margot Sunderland, director of education and training at The Centre for Child Mental Health in London, is one expert that believes co-sleeping helps children grow up to be calm, healthy adults, and she explains her study-based opinion in her book The Science of Parenting. She points out that children who sleep with their parents may experience less stress than children who sleep alone.
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In her book based on 800 scientific studies, Sunderland notes that co-sleeping is healthier than sleeping alone since separation from parents may increase a child’s flow of cortisol, a stress hormone. In fact, a neurological study showed that the brain activity of being separated from a parent was similar to being in physical pain. Sunderland examined many studies that have used scans to see how kids’ brains react in specific situations. Sunderland maintains that long-term co-sleeping – up until the age of five years – is healthy for children. Other studies also support co-sleeping as a safe and healthy choice. For example, research by James J. McKenna Ph.D. notes that co-sleeping may actually help reduce the risks of SIDS. Another co-sleeping supporter, Meredith F. Small, points out that when a baby and mother co-sleep the baby learns how to regulate his heart rate, muscle movements, breathing and brain wave activity. The same studies showed that while babies who sleep alone do not regulate body functions as well, fuss more and breathe more sporadically.

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Keep in mind that co-sleeping is also eco-friendly because you don’t need to buy the crib and all that extra bedding. Bed-sharing can also save you money and make it easier to breastfeed in the middle of the night. As healthy as co-sleeping may be, there are still important bed-sharing safety precautions to remember:

  • Always place your baby on his back to sleep, no matter if co-sleeping or in a crib.
  • Do not share a bed with your child if you drink heavily, smoke in your room, or if you take heavy prescription medications or street drugs.
  • If you’re heavily overweight, co-sleeping can pose a danger to your baby.
  • Don’t allow your baby to sleep in a big bed alone.
  • Your baby should not sleep on the edge of the bed because he might take a steep dive off the bed or get caught between the wall and the mattress.

+ The Science of Parenting $10.20

+ The Centre for Child Mental Health