Every night millions of mothers and babies the world over sleep close to each other, and the babies wake up just fine. Instead of alarming conscientious parents, like the recent shocking and insensitive ad campaign in Milwaukee did, as reported in the Journal Sentinel, sleep advisors should be teaching parents how to co-sleep safely.
Since I’m a show-me-the-science doctor, consider the following:
Cultures who traditionally practice safe co-sleeping, such as Asians, enjoy the lowest incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
Trusted research by Dr. James McKenna, Director of the Mother-Baby Sleep Laboratory of the University of Notre Dame, showed that mothers and babies who sleep close to each other enjoy similar protective sleep patterns. Mothers enjoy a heightened awareness of their baby’s presence, what I call a “nighttime sleep harmony,” that protects baby. The co-sleeping mother is more aware if her baby’s well-being is in danger.
Babies who sleep close to their mothers enjoy “protective arousal,” a state of sleep that enables them to more easily awaken if their health is in danger, such as breathing difficulties.
Co-sleeping makes breastfeeding easier, which provides many health benefits for mother and baby.
More infant deaths occur in unsafe cribs than in parents' bed.
Co-sleeping tragedies that have occurred have nearly always been associated with dangerous practices, such as unsafe beds, or parents under the influence of substances that dampen their awareness of baby.
Research shows that co-sleeping infants cry less during the night, compared to solo sleepers who startle repeatedly throughout the night and spend 4 times the number of minutes crying. Startling and crying releases adrenaline, which can interfere with restful sleep and leads to long term sleep anxiety.
Infants who sleep near to parents have more stable temperatures, regular heart rhythms, and fewer long pauses in breathing compared to babies who sleep alone. This means baby sleeps physiologically safer.
A recent large study concluded that bed sharing did NOT increase the risk of SIDS, unless the mom was a smoker or abused alcohol.
See this article for all the research references supporting the above statements.
Parents often ask me, “Where should my baby sleep?” I respond, “Wherever you and your baby enjoy the best night’s sleep.” For most parents, this will be sleeping close enough to enjoy easy access to their baby for feeding and comforting.
For safe co-sleeping:
We recommend using a bassinet that attaches safely and securely to parents’ bed, which allows both mother and baby to have their own sleeping space, while baby still enjoys sleeping close to mommy for easier feeding and comforting.
If bed-sharing, practice these safe precautions:
Place babies to sleep on their backs.
Be sure there are no crevices between the mattress and guardrail or headboard that allows baby’s head to sink into.
Do not allow anyone but mother to sleep next to the baby, since only mothers have that protective awareness of baby. Place baby between mother and a guardrail, not between mother and father. Father should sleep on the other side of mother.
Don’t fall asleep with baby on a cushy surface, such as a beanbag, couch, or wavy waterbed.
Don’t bed-share if you smoke or are under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or medications that affect your sleep.
We have enjoyed sleeping close to our own babies. I have promoted safe co-sleeping in our pediatric practice for nearly 40 years and have witnessed only positive outcomes, such as: babies sleep and grow better; promotes better bonding; breastfeeding is easier; and infants grow up with a healthy sleep attitude, regarding sleep as a pleasant state to enter and a fearless state to remain in.
Finally, I would like to clarify some nighttime parenting terms: “Co-sleeping” means sleeping close enough to baby for easy comforting, such as in a bedside cosleeper. “Bed-sharing” means mother and baby sleep side-by-side in an adult bed. If bed-sharing makes you uncomfortable in any way, I recommend the use of an Arm’s Reach Co-sleeper® Bassinet so you can continue to co-sleep confidently.
Because I highly value safe sleeping arrangements, I have thoroughly researched this subject. If you wish to read my research references that go into co-sleeping and bed-sharing in scientific detail, as well as more practical and safe nighttime parenting practices, consult the following:
Scientific Benefits of Co-Sleeping
Safe Co-sleeping Habits
7 Benefits of Sleeping Close to Your Baby
Co-Sleeping: Yes, No, Sometimes?
As well as our books, which can be ordered here:
The Baby Sleep Book: The Complete Guide to a Good Night's Rest for the Whole Family, by William Sears, Martha Sears, James Sears, and Robert Sears, Little Brown, 2005
The Baby Book: Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby From Birth to Age Two, William Sears, Martha Sears, James Sears, Robert Sears, Little Brown, Revised Edition 2013.
SIDS: A Parent’s Guide to Understanding and Preventing Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, William Sears, Little Brown, 1995.
From our family to your family, we wish you a safe and comfortable night’s sleep!
Dr. Bill and Martha Sears