Sharing Sleep With Your Baby

Mother and baby sleeping in bed

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What is Co-Sleeping?

Co-sleeping is called by many names: family bed, sharing sleep, bed-sharing. It generally means that a baby or child sleeps with their parents in a parent's bed or in a co-sleeper attached to the parent's bed. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend against co-sleeping with children under 12 months old, because it increases the risk of sleep-related deaths, including suffocations, strangulations, asphyxiations, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

The AAP guidelines for safe sleep are that babies under 1 year old should follow the ABC's for sleep:

  • A is for Alone: Babies should not share a sleep surface with any other people or pets, or with bumpers, toys, blankets, pillows, etc. There should be nothing else in the sleep environment.
  • B is for on their Backs: Babies should sleep on their backs, not their stomachs or sides.
  • C is for in a Crib: Babies should sleep in a crib, or a play yard or bassinet that is safe for sleeping.

While the AAP does not recommend co-sleeping, it does recommend room sharing for at least the baby's first 6 months of life. Room sharing is when the baby sleeps in the same room as their caregiver, but the baby has their own separate crib, play yard, or bassinet.

It's important to note that when a baby is in a co-sleeper that attaches to the side of an adult's bed, or an in-bed co-sleeper, such as the DockATot or Snuggle Nest, they are still co-sleeping. Even though the baby has their own defined space, this is not a safe sleeping environment and these products should never be used when a baby is sleeping—whether they are on a bed, a couch, or the floor.

The Risks of Co-Sleeping

While doctors don't fully understand what causes sudden unexplained infant death (SUID), they do know that following the ABC's of safe sleep reduces the chance that a baby will die in their sleep. But there are other dangers of co-sleeping beyond the risk of SUID. An adult bed is dangerous for a baby because of the risk of:

  • Suffocation from a soft sleeping surface, such as a soft or memory foam mattress or a waterbed; or loose or soft bedding
  • Entrapment, being trapped or wedged between a mattress and headboard, wall, or other object, which can lead to suffocation
  • Strangulation from dangling cords, or a bed frame that allows the baby's body to pass through an area while trapping the baby's head

Co-sleeping is even more risky if a parent or caregiver:

  • Has been drinking alcohol 
  • Has been taking drugs, pain medication, etc.
  • Smokes
  • Has other children or pets in the bed
  • Is sleeping on a waterbed
  • Is sleeping on a couch
  • Is sleeping on a chair or recliner
  • Is overtired

Why Co-Sleep?

Proponents of the family bed say that they sleep longer and better when they sleep with their babies. Mothers who breastfeed say that sharing their bed with their newborn or older baby makes breastfeeding much easier and in turn they get more sleep.

Generally, the benefits of co-sleeping relate to longer-term breastfeeding and more sleep for the parents. But these don't outweigh the risks of sleep-related death. Sleeping is the riskiest thing that babies do, so it should be taken very seriously.

Rules for Co-Sleeping Families

Here are some additional things to remember if you decide to co-sleep. To reduce the risk of sleep-related death:

  • Your baby should be on their back for sleep.
  • The mattress should be firm and clean.
  • An adult should always be able to see the baby.
  • There should be no sheets, blankets, stuffed animals, quilts, or pillows in the bed; make the family bed as much like the crib as possible (a firm mattress with just a fitted sheet and nothing else).
  • Dress your baby in a sleep sack for warmth.

The bottom line is that if you choose to sleep with your baby in your bed for any amount of time, you need to follow safe bedding practices. The first thing is where you sleep. You should never sleep on the couch or on a waterbed with your baby. Your bed mattress should be firm, flat and free of blankets, toys, and pillows.

Pull the mattress away from the wall to prevent your baby from falling between the bed and the wall. Be sure your partner knows that the baby is in your bed. Do not allow pets to share your bed.

A Word From Verywell

Sleeping with your baby is a personal choice. But be aware of the science and the risks. Prioritizing everyone sleeping as much as possible may seem like a good goal, but it can put babies at increased risk of sleep-related death.

All of the SIDS prevention recommendations are actually designed to keep the baby in a less-deep sleep state. That's because with SIDS, it is believed that some babies sleep too deeply to rouse themselves if they are having trouble breathing. And other safe-sleep recommendations help protect against other sleep-related dangers, such as suffocation and strangulation.

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