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The Benefits and Dangers of Co-Sleeping

Posted on 08 May 2018

Co-sleeping with your child; is it a vital bonding experience for parents and their children? Or is it dangerous and to be avoided at all costs?

What is co-sleeping?

Co-sleeping can refer to a number of set-ups including placing a cot alongside your bed (sidecar), sharing a room, or as it is more commonly understood, bed-sharing.

Half of parents will sleep with their babies in their first three months, according to the National Childbirth Trust (NCT). Yet many doctors and childcare charities maintain that it is incredibly dangerous to do this in the baby’s first six months.

The risk of sudden infant death syndrome

Dr Ellie Cannon says that, “no doctor would ever advocate a mother sleeping with a baby under the age of six months because a wealth of evidence shows that it increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). It’s not just that you might roll on the baby – loose bedding is also a big risk.”

The Infant Sleep Information Source site states that, “most bed-sharing deaths happen when an adult sleeping with a baby has been smoking, drinking alcohol, or taking drugs (illegal or over-the-counter medicines) that make them sleep deeply. Sometimes people fall asleep with their babies accidentally or without meaning to. This can be very dangerous, especially if it happens on a sofa where a baby can get wedged or trapped between the adult and the cushions.”

This is particularly the case for babies born prematurely or with a low birth weight as they have a higher risk of SIDS.

The Lullaby Trust maintains that the safest place for your baby in its first six months is on its back in “a separate cot or Moses basket in the same room as you, even during the day.”

Psychological impact

Another concern raised by some child psychologists is that co-sleeping can lead to clinginess and a lack of independence, particularly if bed-sharing is allowed into childhood.

Kate Roberts, a child clinical psychologist, says that, “Young children are being pressured to achieve very early on, so they are clingy at home and parents are compensating at bedtime. Then the problems begin when the kids are eight or older and can’t sleep alone. A child needs to learn independence so they can do normal things – have sleepovers etc.”

However, Dr James McKenna of the University of Notre Dame, who is considered the world’s leading authority on mother-infant co-sleeping, notes that, “It has never been proven, nor shown, nor is it even probable, that sleeping with your baby has any kind of negative long-term effects when the relationships between those involved are healthy. Instead, experts are finding that co-sleeping can help develop positive qualities, such as more comfort with physical affection, more confidence in one’s own sexual gender identity, a more positive and optimistic attitude about life, or more innovativeness as a toddler and an increased ability to be alone.”

Additionally, a number of studies have found that solitary sleepers had higher levels of cortisol (stress hormone) than those who co-slept.

Co-sleeping naturally helps parents bond with their child. “Sleeping close to the parent probably increases oxytocin, the ‘happy hormone’,” says Darcia Narvaez, professor of psychology at the University of Notre Dame. It also reduces night time separation anxiety.

Co-sleeping and breastfeeding

Of course co-sleeping can also make night time breastfeeding easier, the mother can wake, feed, and fall back to sleep with minimal disturbance to her own or her partner’s sleep patterns. In fact a lot of research has shown a strong and consistent link between breastfeeding and a lack of SIDs.

Seek advice

Now we at Parent Hub are not doctors. We cannot be an authority on what is and isn’t safe for you and your child. However charities like the NCT and The Lullaby Trust provide excellent advice on safe-sleeping for you and your child.

Finally, if you, or someone close to you as been affected by SIDS, The Lullaby Trust provide a confidential support helpline, open 7 days a week.