Cosleeping has received widespread attention in the media over the last several months. One source of attention has been the ads in Milwaukee that show a baby sleeping in an adult bed with a knife or gun (See the Huffington Post article: Milwaukee Co-Sleeping Ad of Baby With Knife Aims to Warn Parents of Dangers, Causes Controversy).
Another source drawing attention to cosleeping is the Attachment Parenting trend. Dr. Sears is one of the leading advocates for attachment parenting (What AP is: 7 Baby B’s). While I do not want to take a stance against or for attachment parenting or cosleeping, I do want to discuss the importance of why cosleeping is a hot topic and the dangers of cosleeping if not done safely.
When I was in Vietnam to help train their future school psychologists, I discussed cosleeping with them. I knew that cosleeping is the norm in Vietnam, along with most Asian cultures. I learned a couple of things from them. One, they cosleep until the child is in 6th grade! I am sure even the advocates of cosleeping would gasp at this (as I did). However, their definition of cosleeping is different than what most people traditionally think of. By cosleeping, they mean the child sleeps in the parents’ room. However, the child has their own bed near the parents’ bed. Also, they agreed that part of the reason cosleeping is a tradition in their culture is due to economical factors – there is not enough room for the children to have their own rooms.
The reason for the ads against cosleeping are important. Cosleeping can be dangerous and can lead to SIDS. As tragic as it is, overtired parents can also suffocate the infant by accidentally rolling over on him/her. I know you are thinking – I would NEVER do this, I would definitely notice, but this happened to a parent I know. An excellent parent (educated, middle class) who was just simply exhausted. The connection with cosleeping and SIDS is due to the blankets and pillows in the parents’ bed that lead to suffocation. Adults sleep with blankets and pillows, and sometimes a fluffy down mattress pad, that are all dangerous for an infant. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that an infant sleep in a bed with only a tightly fitted sheet (no blankets, pillows, bumpers, etc.) to prevent SIDS. The solution to this is a crib/bed directly next to the parents’ bed that is safe for your baby.
There are a couple of other factors to consider that lead me to be cautious about cosleeping. One, the entire family does not sleep as well when all sleeping together. With the movement of a little one in the bed, parents do not get as good of sleep. Also, the infant does not sleep as well with parents moving around in the bed. This leads to everyone not being as well rested. Also, the child is not learning to sleep independently – a major developmental milestone, similar to learning to walk alone. Lastly, an infant/child in the bed takes away from intimate time between the parents (physically speaking and emotionally – “pillow talk”).
Different sleep arrangements work best for each family – in the end what matters the most is that all are getting enough sleep and are well rested!