Is it OK to share bed with my child?
This is one of those heated parenting topics that causes holy wars, pointing fingers, and falling out of friendship. Each side has strong arguments to support their point.
✔ PROPONENTS of bed sharing claim physical and emotional health benefits. They argue that it’s the most natural thing to do and solitary sleep is a modern Western invention.
X OPPONENTS of bed sharing claim that it is dangerous, increases the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome), causes behavioral and sleep problems in children, as well as mental health issues in parents.
Surely scientists know who is right? They’ve studied the question, haven’t they?
Indeed, several hundred studies on the subject! This article provides a review of all those studies.
In summary, the existing studies cannot either prove or disprove with 100% certainty any of the purported benefits or risks* of sharing bed with your child. If you want to know why not, bear with me for a couple more paragraphs, otherwise jump to the last.
A bit of technical information on why it is so hard to prove anything...
Let’s consider an example. A study finds that parents who share bed with children are more likely to report frequent night awakenings in their children. Does this mean that sleeping in parents' bed impairs children’s sleep? Maybe. But it could also mean, for example, that:
Parents who share bed with children are more likely to notice children’s awakenings.
Parents who share bed with children have been told that this practice is problematic, so their perception is biased.
Children slept alone to start with, but were waking up too many times. Parents took them to their own bed so as not to get up too many times.
In order to establish that bed sharing causes or solves any problems, one would need to conduct an experiment. We would have to recruit many families, ideally right after birth, and split them into two groups, randomly. In one group, we would tell parents to never share bed with children. In the other group, we would tell the parents to always share bed with their children. Then we would have to wait for some months or maybe years, assuming that all parents are following the instructions, and measure what we are interested in: child’s behavior, sleep quality, emotional attachment to parents, etc. If we found differences between the two groups on any of these parameters, then and only then could we conclude with certainty that bed sharing is either problematic or beneficial. For obvious reasons, such an experiment is not possible.
❗️ So where should your child sleep? Your child, as well as yourself, should sleep where everyone is sleeping best, as long as reasonable safety precautions are observed*. Try what works for YOU. It is YOUR child and YOUR sleep. This is as science-based as it gets...
=============================================== *One of the risks that bed sharing is claimed to have is SIDS. SIDS is such a serious issue that it deserves a separate mention. Bottom line: If you have a baby younger than six months and want to be on the safe side, the best way to practice co-sleeping is to arrange for a separate sleep surface for the baby (for instance, side car or a separate mattress next to yours).
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) occurs in infants younger than six months (peaks at 2-4 months). What causes it is unclear. Bed sharing has been listed as a risk factor for SIDS in public health recommendations. A link between SIDS and bed sharing has been found in some, even though not all, studies. From those studies, we cannot establish with certainty that bed sharing causes SIDS. Several methodological issues raise questions about the validity of the findings. However, when it comes to matters of life and death, no one wants to take risks. Hence recommendation of pediatricians not to share bed with infants.
Studies cannot prove with certainty that bed sharing is dangerous, nor do they prove that it is safe. Opponents of bed sharing will point out that if the child sleeps in their own bed, there will be less risk that they get suffocated by your blanket or fall off your bed. That is why common sense and careful weighing of pros and cons is necessary in each case and one does need to think about safety.