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Hot Topic: Co-Sleeping

Is it safe to share? Ever since Dr. Spock, the debate over co-sleeping and the family bed has been raging. But what's truly best for baby? Read as our experts battle it out, then post your own opinion.

Plus:
Myths and Truths About Co-Sleeping
How to Help Baby Sleep Better
Tack Baby's Sleep

No Babies In the Bed

Dr. Rachel Moon, MD
Pediatrician at Children's National Medical Center

Make Room for More

Dr. Lamport Commons, PhD
Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical Center

“The problem is, there are no safety standards for adult beds. We recommend something very firm without soft bedding for babies, and I would challenge you to find an adult mattress that’s firm enough to meet crib safety standards.

“Co-sleeping greatly reduces the stress that infants are exposed to when they sleep alone. When a parent is sleeping down the hall and responds slowly or not at all when their baby cries, the baby’s brain releases stress hormones. And, there’s increasing evidence that this changes how the baby will handle stress for the rest of his life -- it actually damages the brain.

SIDS and suffocation

“There are a lot more SIDS risk factors that occur during bed sharing. Babies who sleep share with parents who smoke have a very high risk of death. There’s also overheating -- the more bodies in a bed, the warmer it gets. Or, there’s suffocation -- it can happen on bedding, or it could be a parent or sibling that rolls onto the baby, or an arm could flop over and land on the baby’s face. Entrapment is another risk. A baby could fall between the mattress and the bed frame or wall.

SIDS safety

“Yes, there’s evidence that SIDS and suffocation can happen during co-sleeping, but there’s a simple remedy -- don’t put the infant unelevated between you. Put him on a hard pillow, raise him up, and you can’t roll onto him. These problems are so, so rare anyways, and tend to happen when a parent is obese or having alcohol problems. And actually, in the case of SIDS, there is in fact research that shows sleeping next to an adult helps babies breathe better. So while the risk of getting rolled onto may be increased, risk of SIDS in fact decreases with co-sleeping.

Uncontrolled environment

“There’s just so much that can happen in an adult bed -- it’s not a controlled environment. Bed sharing itself is not the issue, but it’s all the things that make it unsafe. We don’t know how to make it safe. No one does. Even if the baby is sleeping in the parents’ bed with no pillows and no blankets and the parents aren’t smoking, while the risk of death is decreased it’s still higher than if the baby is in a crib.

Stress reliever

“Infants are born helpless, and they’re not able to do anything other than cry for the first three or four months. So, when you’re co-sleeping, you can respond to the crying immediately. And you don’t have to wake up -- you can feed and do all sorts of things while you’re half asleep. The parents sleep better and are less stressed, and when parents are less stressed, so is their baby. In most non-modern cultures, people aren’t so stressed out about the whole thing.

Co-Sleeping vs. bed sharing

“Now, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is not against co-sleeping. Co-sleeping means parents being in the same room as their baby, within sight and sound of each other. Our concern is when the baby and parent are actually on the same surface. A lot of people confuse the issue, and think the AAP is against bonding and breastfeeding, which we are not.

Human nature

“Humans evolved like most mammals -- the infants sleep with the parents. We develop such elaborate routines to try and get babies to sleep at night in their own beds. They can go on for hours and hours, and often don’t work -- the babies don’t go to sleep easily, and are much more wakeful than if they were securely next to a parent. And, you see that around age two, they climb out of their crib and get in with their parents. And that’s just what they should do!

Safer snuggling

“The AAP recommends a different form of co-sleeping, putting the crib or bassinet next to the bed. Study after study has shown that the safest place for a baby is in the parents' room, on a different sleep surface. Bring the baby into the bed for cuddling and bonding and breastfeeding, but when the baby is asleep, put him back into the crib. I breastfed both babies, and it was really easy -- the separation didn’t interfere at all. You can co-sleep, you can be in the same room, but you just don’t have to be on the same surface.”

Sex and sleep deprivation

“People are worried about the kids viewing sex, but there’s really no evidence that it has any effect on children. Honestly, most babies will sleep through it. They’re like cats and dogs -- they don’t care. There’s no evidence that if a baby wakes up he’d be disturbed, but most babies won’t even wake up in a place they feel comfortable. If you co-sleep, you’ll sleep better, your baby will sleep better, and if you’re less tired, you’re less cranky and are better at interacting with the baby during the day. People complain all the time about how they’re exhausted. And why are they so tired? Because they’re not sleeping with their kids!"

Dr. Rachel Moon, MD, is a pediatrician and SIDS researcher at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. She is also one of five physicians on the American Academy of Pediatrics Task Force on Infant Sleep Position and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

Dr. Michael Lamport Collins, Ph.D. is an assistant clinical professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Patrice Marie Miller, Ed.D. is a clinical instructor in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and a professor in the Department of Psychology at Salem State College.