Co-Sleeping With Twins or Multiples

Is a Family Bed Right for Your Family?

Co-sleeping, or sharing a family bed, can be a controversial topic in parenting circles, and it can raise additional concerns for parents of multiples such as twins or triplets. On top of co-sleeping, parents of multiples already have other sleep-related decisions to make, such as whether or not their twins should share a crib, how to effectively put them down at naptime or bedtime, among general safety concerns.

Mom and dad co-sleeping with infant twins
Nino H Photography / Moment / Getty Images

Co-sleeping proponents argue that sleeping with an infant is a time-honored custom practiced in other cultures for centuries and claim many benefits, including healthier self-esteem for children who sleep with their parents as babies. They insist that it promotes breastfeeding by giving mothers easier access to their babies for nighttime feedings and making it easier for her to rest between feedings.

Parents will also find some very persuasive arguments against the practice of co-sleeping, however, including from trusted authorities like the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP).

What about co-sleeping with multiples? Is a family bed simply too crowded when you have twins? Or is co-sleeping the secret solution for actually getting some shut-eye during the exhausting first year with multiples? Like many parenting issues, there is no clear answer. It's a deeply personal decision that each family will have to make for themselves. 

Latest Developments

In October 2016, the AAP revised its recommendations on co-sleeping. These guidelines still encourage parents to put their babies to sleep in a crib or bassinet to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

The AAP recommends having infants sleep in the same room as parents (room-sharing), but not bed-sharing or co-sleeping.

Background

Historically, co-sleeping with infants was a customary practice. Parents shared their bed with young children, and as the children grew, they slept with siblings. In modern times, Western society's parenting priorities emphasized a more independent approach to sleep habits. But a trend toward attachment parenting prompted a return to the family bed. However, some medical and parenting experts frowned upon the practice, citing it as a risk for SIDS and claiming that it could generate sleep problems for children as they grew up.

These mixed messages left parents in a conundrum: Is co-sleeping beneficial or harmful? The issue is even more complicated for parents of twins and multiples. Although their instinct might draw them toward the idea of co-sleeping, the logistics of managing multiples might make it impractical. Co-sleeping appeals to exhausted parents of multiples who are seeking any strategies for getting a few more moments of precious sleep. Yet, with many twins, triplets, and other multiples already at higher risk for SIDS due to the prevalence of prematurity and low birth-weight, would co-sleeping present more danger?

Reasons Not to Co-Sleep

Experts advise against co-sleeping for many reasons, including:

  • Increased Risk of SIDS: The American Association of Pediatrics claims that the safest sleep position for babies is on their backs in a crib environment. In fact, the organization goes as far as to say that because many of the known risk factors for SIDS pose increased risk to multiple-birth infants, separate sleep areas should be provided for them.
  • Sleep Disturbances: For people who don't sleep soundly when they have "visitors," co-sleeping can be destructive to their sleep patterns.
  • Lack of Parental Intimacy: A family bed does not promote marital relations. Parents who are looking to resume their sexual lives after pregnancy won't find the bed a particularly romantic location when their children are in it.
  • Future Sleep Problems: There is little scientific evidence to support this theory, but there is plenty of anecdotal evidence of parents who can't get their children to sleep on their own when they get older. Once established, co-sleeping can become a commitment of many years if children are reluctant to transition out of their parents' bed.

Benefits of Co-Sleeping

On the other hand, proponents of co-sleeping claim many benefits:

  • Promotes Breastfeeding: Breastfeeding offers many benefits for both mothers and babies. Mothers of multiples may find it more challenging to breastfeed twins than a singleton baby, so any advantage that makes the process easier is helpful. Co-sleeping gives mothers easier access to their babies for nighttime feedings.
  • Sense of Security: Sleeping in close proximity to an adult gives babies a sense of security, which is thought to promote a healthy sense of self-esteem.
  • More Sleep for Parents: Nighttime waking is a given when you have infants, especially multiples. But because they don't have to be up and about in the night, parents who co-sleep are able to fall back asleep faster with fewer sleep disturbances.
  • More Sleep for Babies: Evidence suggests that babies who co-sleep with their parents transition more smoothly through night-waking phases of the sleep process, perhaps reassured by the physical presence of their parents. They also spend less time crying, and put more energy into growing and developing, according to the University of Notre Dame professor James J. McKenna, a pediatric sleep specialist.
  • Family Bonding: Parents feel more nurturing and babies feel more nurtured when they share a bed. For parents of multiples, the additional opportunity for family bonding can be a blessing. Working parents who are away from their babies during the day may also find that co-sleeping provides an opportunity for extra bonding.

Where It Stands

Ultimately, the right decision is one that works best for your family. While you should discuss your desired plan and any concerns with a pediatrician or a medical professional, here are some thoughts and recommendations to help you guide your decision.

  • Both parents should agree on the arrangement; discuss the issue with your partner before your babies are born.
  • Smokers should not co-sleep with infants. Similarly, parents whose alertness may be impaired by alcohol or the use of certain medications should not co-sleep with infants either.
  • If you or your partner are extremely obese, you should not consider co-sleeping.
  • Some experts discourage parents from co-sleeping with their babies if they are overly exhausted.
  • As an alternative, consider a co-sleeper double bassinet, which you may find to be the best co-sleeping solution for multiples. This can provide a safe environment for the babies within close proximity to the parents' sleeping environment.

How to Create a Safer Co-Sleeping Environment

  • Remove any overly fluffy or weighty bedding.
  • Avoid the use of electric blankets.
  • Never co-sleep on a waterbed, sofa, or in a chair.
  • Position the bed to minimize any possibility that the babies could get wedged between the bed and wall or other furniture.
  • Don't allow siblings or pets in the bed.
  • Never co-sleep if you have consumed drugs or alcohol.
  • Make co-sleeping part of your routine, not an occasional event. Most accidents occur when parents and babies are not accustomed to sleeping together.

A Word From Verywell

While experts may not agree when it comes to generally recommending co-sleeping or not, it's important to be informed of the risks and best practices associated with it if you plan to try it, especially with multiples. Communicate your plans and any concerns with your pediatrician so you can provide a safe and happy environment for both you and your babies.

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Article Sources
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  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. SIDS and other sleep-related infant deaths: Updated 2016 recommendations for a safe infant sleeping environment. Pediatrics. 2016;138(5). doi:10.1542/peds.2016-2938

  2. The Natural Child Project. Cosleeping.

  3. Damato EG, Haas MC, Czeck P, Dowling DA, Barsman SG. Safe sleep infant care practices reported by mothers of twins. Adv Neonatal Care. 2016;16(6):E3-E14. doi:10.1097/ANC.0000000000000332

  4. Damato EG, Brubaker JA, Burant C. Sleeping arrangements in families with twins. Newborn Infant Nurs Rev. 2012;12(3):171-178. doi:10.1053/j.nainr.2012.06.001

  5. University of Notre Dame College of Arts and Letters. Mother-baby behavioral sleep laboratory, safe cosleeping guidelines.

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