Is Co-Sleeping or Bed Sharing with Your Child a Good Idea?

Sleeping FamilyIs it OK to allow a child to sleep with his or her parents? This is a hot-button and controversial topic. Some believe there is nothing wrong with parents sharing a bed with their child as long as the parents set aside time for their own intimacy. Others believe that parents who share a bed with their child are setting themselves and the child up for future frustration and failure when it comes time to transition the child to his or her own bed. When the child knows that the parents want him or her to transition but can’t make it happen, he or she may experience guilt and believe he or she is disappointing the parents. Even parents who have difficulty transitioning a child into his or her own bed sometimes have separation issues.

Some people see the terms “co-sleeping” and “bed sharing” as synonymous. They’re not. Co-sleeping is the act of a child sleeping in the same room as the parents, perhaps in a sleeper that attaches to the bed, while bed sharing is sleeping on the same surface.

In many cultures, children have shared a bed with their parents going back centuries. However, co-sleeping and bed sharing have a negative rap in the Unites States.

As with most things, there are pros and cons. For nursing mothers, bed sharing is often easier and can be done safely. Often, though, there is concern around bed sharing with infants due to the possibility of suffocation.

Some parents struggle with the idea of having an infant sleep apart from them in a separate bed and room. Some believe bed sharing provides the best opportunity for secure attachment. Others disagree.

For parents, the decision to co-sleep or bed-share with a child is a personal one.

There is concern among some that bed sharing does not provide an opportunity for infants to learn how to self-soothe, that it encourages over-reliance on parents when the infant is upset. Another concern is that infants may not learn to fall asleep on their own.

For parents, the decision to co-sleep or bed-share with a child is a personal one. Parents must decide what works best for their family’s needs and structure. Having said that, parents should not have a child sleep with them in order to get their own emotional needs met, or as a solution to an infant’s inability to go to sleep.

Transitioning the Child to His or Her Own Bed

Close connection between parents and their child is crucial to the child’s healthy emotional development. Such a connection helps to facilitate the transition from the family bed to the child’s own. Some suggestions for parents to transition their child back to his or her bed while staying close emotionally include:

  • Parents need to remember that weaning a child from the family bed may be upsetting to the child—and that is OK. The child may experience feelings of fear and grief. Parents should help the child work through those feelings. Through the process of providing support and opportunity for the child to express his or her emotions, the child can be expected to become more confident.
  • When a child has strong feelings to dissolve, parents can help by allowing him or her to cry or scream. Parents should remind the child that there is no presence of danger. When this happens, the child may be more likely to release his or her feelings and reach a calm state of mind.
  • When a child is sad or scared, parents should stay close and listen, which typically helps the child greatly. This allows the parent to stay in close proximity to the child while expressing love and attention as the child expresses his or her feelings. Parents should allow the child to fully engage in the feelings while holding the child close until he or she feels emotionally safe and confident that the parents are watching over him or her.
  • Having a bedtime ritual can be helpful for the child in the transition from the family bed to his or her own. It may be helpful if parents can conceptualize the process of the child going from the family bed to his or her own as one with many steps. Each child will need varying amounts of time for this process to come full circle. When parents provide love and caring through this process, the child may slowly release stored feelings of grief and fear. This will allow for the child to cooperate and, eventually, to sleep independently.
  • Parents should tell their child they are going to help him or her feel safe enough to sleep in his or her own bed. Saying this shows respect for the child’s intelligence, as children often understand more than parents assume.

When parents help their child feel safe in his or her own bed, at his or her pace, while listening to any feelings expressed along the way, they will typically see the child shed any lingering concerns and successfully transition.

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  • 23 comments
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  • Margie

    Margie

    May 21st, 2015 at 2:23 PM

    How is a child ever supposed to learn to self soothe when the parents are always the ones doing it? As you can see I am not an advocate for co sleeping, I think that it is lazy on the part of the parents, not wanting to do the hard stuff to teach the child some independence.

  • Christina

    Christina

    May 24th, 2015 at 1:52 AM

    Margie
    As a single parent 24/7. I find your odd handed comment about being lazy offensive. I was open to reading this commentary from both perspectives- find our last comment wipes any credibility your other post may have held

  • Sierra

    Sierra

    May 21st, 2015 at 4:06 PM

    I read something about this just a few days ago, that we are one of the only countries where co sleeping is something that is taboo instead of being the norm. In other countries all over the world it is definitely the thing that is done, and we are the ones who seem crazy for sending our children off to their own rooms alone at night to sleep!

  • Heather

    Heather

    May 22nd, 2015 at 5:43 AM

    Margie, independence during infancy?? Practicioner of co-sleeping my daughter transitioned into her own room and can self soothe no “ill” effect. I think that is one of the most common misconception that I hear that kids that co sleep aren’t independent and can’t regulate.

  • Christine

    Christine

    May 22nd, 2015 at 9:53 AM

    I have co slept with all four of my kids. One is now 14, the other is 4, and am currently co sleeping with my 8month old twin boys. I think of a parent can trust their instincts that they won’t hurt their child, co sleeping is an amazing thing! I breastfed all of them and have maintained my sanity by not having to get up to make bottles for my twins. I lay next to one and feed him back to sleep and do that whenever they wake up. At 8minths old, they can feel my presence and stopped waking up to be soothed. They wake up, see me there and go to sleep again. My older two girls it was the same thing. I’d have them nap In their own beds all day and by the time they were 2 they could be out to bed I. Their rooms no problem. It has to be done strategically. They have no dependency issues at all and have actually been given so much comfort and nurturing as babies that they are at ease and don’t have “seek” comfort. Co sleeping can be done safely and for the well being of all family members not just the kids.

  • margie

    margie

    May 22nd, 2015 at 10:35 AM

    I disagree. Not independence in the sense that we experience it as an adult, but able to soothe themselves to sleep. Don’t you think that those things are the things that will come in handy a little later in life… or would you rather have your marriage crumble because there is always a child wedged between the two of you in bed?

  • Christine

    Christine

    May 22nd, 2015 at 12:29 PM

    It’s not for everyone Margie. Some people really can’t handle it and can’t make it work. For others, such as myself, they find that you and your spouse get MORE sleep and therefore are less irritable and can function better this helping their marriage. Lack of sleep causes anxiety depression and tons of things that ruin a marriage. As for intimacy, there are a million ways to share intimacy without a bed being in the picture. (Lots of fun ways! And sorry for TMI but we didn’t need a bed to conceive our babies :) It’s just a matter of how committed a husband and wife are to keep that intimacy alive. My children, the older two who have slept in their own rooms since they were a year old, show increased independence (research the benefits of co sleeping and how it actually makes babies become more independent) and never came crawling back to our bed unless they were sick. The thing is, if it works for the best in some families or doesn’t work for others, parents should be supported in their choice and be educated on how to go about it safely. :) To each his own

  • Eva

    Eva

    May 22nd, 2015 at 1:57 PM

    You have to come to what is the right decision for your own family and if you don’t wish to be judged for it then that is something that you should most likely keep as a family issue. People are always going to judge whether they think that something is right or wrong, but if it works for you then who really cares what someone else may think about it?

  • Susan

    Susan

    May 22nd, 2015 at 4:54 PM

    I recently read an article stating that infants/babies are not capable of self-soothing; that they can learn to adapt to a lack of parental soothing when it is not forthcoming. However, when this is the case it is a l

  • Susan

    Susan

    May 22nd, 2015 at 5:01 PM

    Cont’d: …when this is the case, it is a loss them. This made sense to me, and possibly we are misguided to expect this if our young ones. I don’t recall the age that young children are reportedly capable of beginning to successfully settle their emotional/attachment situations with decreased parental involvement.

  • Elaine

    Elaine

    May 22nd, 2015 at 5:16 PM

    margie,
    How do you suppose that infants learn to self-soothe? How infants and children learn to manage and regulate uncomfortable affect states?
    Without a parent to help regulate and soothe a child, they can resort to dissociating or simply feeling traumatized, leaving them to sort that out with a mental health provider at a later date.
    It also very much depends on the child, family, and parents. A child who is more sensitive runs the risk of developing Borderline Personality Disorder if born to parents who refuse on principle to attend to that infants needs, or simply don’t know how to help a kid manage what feel like very big feelings to them.
    Keep in mind that this idea of “independence” is a very Western idea. All over the world, infants are strapped to their mothers in slings all day while working. The entire family may share a bed, much less a room. In the more Westernized world we buy all kinds of contraptions (jumpers, strollers, play pens, cribs) to separate us from our babies. Human infants are extremely vulnerable and helpless both physically and emotionally. The more they experience distress, which is inevitable, and then experience the validation, regulation, and soothing a parent has to offer, the more they internalize affect regulation and can adapt themselves to self-soothing later in life.
    Infants are regulated physically and emotionally by being physically close to their parents. Again, every child is different. Every family as well. I urge you to consider that styles of parenting that seem “alternative” in the Western world, are not when you consider the world at large.
    Please take a look at the books:
    “Our Babies, Our Selves” and
    “Family Bed” Sorry I don’t have the authors names as I’ve left my office for the day.
    Hope you’ll keep an open mind-

  • El

    El

    May 23rd, 2015 at 5:10 AM

    @ Margie, I think you have some valid points regarding children needing their caregivers help to them successfully transition through their developmental phases while learning life long skills. Where your points get lost is in your assertion that your time table for teaching the self soothing skill as being the only correct one, that “wedging” a baby between oneself & their partner is a “death sentence” to the relationship, and accusing people of being lazy because they choose differently than for what you advocate. Balance your statements a little more by maybe not inserting your own personal issues and you may find a more fruitful conversation regarding your points. And guess what, self soothing (and attention to self-care) is a life long endeavor that does not need to be perfected by age one :)

  • Lillie

    Lillie

    May 23rd, 2015 at 12:53 PM

    So let’s assume that sharing a bed with your children is a good thing. There have definitely been days when my kids and i have napped together and there have been nights of storms and bad dreams that they have slept with me. But when all of this hit home for me about how dangerous this actually is is when a high school friend of mine who was CO SLEEPING WITH HER INFANT, in the middle of the night she rolled over on top of him and he suffocated to death in her bed. Now anyone with half a brain knows that it is possible for this to happen to even the most responsible parent but nothing could change the fact that if the baby had not been in her bed he would probably still be alive today.
    So for all of you out there who thinks that this is something that is natural and wonderful and the way things are meant to be, think about that little story the next time you snuggle with your infant in your bed at night. And if you don’t think that this could ever happen to you let me assure you that she never thought that it could happen to her either.

  • Jackie

    Jackie

    May 26th, 2015 at 9:01 PM

    Lillie, I am so sad for your friend’s loss of her baby. 😔 Her experience was the opposite of mine. My one child who slept in a crib died of SIDS, after that we co-slept with our babies. They are all incredibly well adjusted adults now. Each family must make the choices right for them because ultimately each family lives with their choices and the outcome.

  • Dana Anderson, LMFT

    Dana Anderson, LMFT

    May 23rd, 2015 at 1:45 PM

    The American Academy of Pediatrics says that bed sharing increases the risk of infant death. They recommend against it. This is important information to impart to clients and others.

  • Margie

    Margie

    May 25th, 2015 at 6:44 AM

    hmmm glad to know that readers on here are so open minded to different points of view, especially given that someone has clearly posted what the American Academy of Pediatrics has to say about the issue… but to each his own. Thanks for being so willing to see the other side

  • ryanne

    ryanne

    May 26th, 2015 at 7:54 AM

    My kids always slept with us and they turned out ok although there were times that I would have rather that they hadn’t been there.

  • Clay

    Clay

    May 27th, 2015 at 10:49 AM

    My wife and I talked about whether this would be a good choice for us or not, and although we considered both sides of the argument in the end we decided that while we wanted the baby in the room with us for a while that being in the bed was not the right choice for us.
    That’s the part that sometimes gets lost and I get it that this can be a real hot button topic. But couples have to do what the right thing for them to do is and sometimes you just have to ignore what other people have to say or might think.

  • Karen

    Karen

    May 28th, 2015 at 10:38 AM

    Dear Margie
    If a tiny innocent baby born from you and your husband’s love and union can cause your “marriage to crumble”, then I think your marriage has greater issues than whether to have your child “wedged between you”.

  • Margie

    Margie

    May 30th, 2015 at 7:26 AM

    Dear Karen
    Again thanks for being so open minded. I think that this can definitely come between a marriage whether you wish to think that it could or not. who is to say who has a strong marriage and who does not? Sometimes we don’t really even know whether ours has that kind of strength until something like this, or anything, could come along and show you whether what you have is really all that or if it is all smoke and mirrors.

  • Stan

    Stan

    May 31st, 2015 at 5:52 AM

    So this is a decision that a family should make, not us. But there has to be some consideration given to that fact that most medical associations that deal with the overall well being and health of children discourage the behavior.

  • Liz

    Liz

    February 5th, 2018 at 8:43 PM

    People are making too much of a negative deal about cosleeping and bed sharing. Your children will not be 20 and sleeping with you and they will not have issues of being independent due to this. Children naturally make the transition to sleeping on their own and in their own room. My brother and I co-slept with our parents but sometimes we would indepently go sleep on our own as little as 3 yrs old. But here is the big secret! My parents never made sleeping arrangements this big thing or “we are going to teach our children independence by them sleeping by themselves”. We never ever had sleeping issues; no nightmares, scared waking up by ourselves, wetting the bed, etc. These things were never a problem. Guess what we grew up just fine I lived in an apartment by myself for three years after college dorm life, own a house with my husband now, I travel internationally by myself. Guess what my parents never lost sleep having to race to bedrooms because we were crying in our rooms having to sleep by ourselves or deal with some bed or sleep anxiety issue.
    My husband and I are doing the same thing with our kids and guess what we are sleeping just fine including our kids. And now that they are elementary age, it is rare that they want to sleep with us. They are extremely independent sleepers and even taking their sleep time very seriously. We allowed our kids to make the transitions on their own. We have never had to have worried discussions or big plans of where the kids will sleep. Everyone just GOES TO SLEEP!
    If you need intimacy with your spouse, take two seconds of self-control and move to another room or move the child to another room.

  • Jessica

    Jessica

    July 4th, 2018 at 11:00 PM

    Thanks for such an informative article about co-sleeping with us. I have got huge information on this post. I personally think that co-sleeping is one of the best ways to encourage bonding between mother and child. It also helps me to breastfeed my baby at night. Yes, some people disagree with me. But I’m right from my side. Maybe there also right from there side. I’m using a baby bassinet to keeps my baby in nearby me at night. Thanks again for your great effort on this post.

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