A family together in a bed
A family together in a bed

Co-sleeping is a practice in which babies and young children sleep close to one or both parents, as opposed to in a separate room. Co-sleeping individuals sleep in sensory proximity to one another, where the individual senses the presence of others.[1] This sensory proximity can either be triggered by touch, smell, taste, or noise. Therefore, the individuals can be a few centimeters away or on the other side of the room and still have an effect on the other.[1] It is standard practice in many parts of the world, and is practiced by a significant minority in countries where cribs are also used.

Bed-sharing, a practice in which babies and young children sleep in the same bed with one or both parents, is a subset of co-sleeping. Co-bedding refers to infants (typically twins or higher-order multiples) sharing the same bed.[2]

The American Academy of Pediatrics does encourage room-sharing (sleeping in the same room but on separate surfaces) in its policy statement regarding SIDS prevention, but it recommends against bed-sharing with infants.[3][4]

Recent legal rulings suggest that bed-sharing has been attributed as a factor of unintentional infant suffocation. For instance, parents under the influence of drugs or alcohol and whose children died while bed-sharing have been charged and, at times, prosecuted with manslaughter[5] in several US states (including Minnesota,[6] Michigan,[7] Georgia,[8] Pennsylvania,[9] Texas,[10] Wisconsin[11] and Utah[5]).


Bed-sharing is standard practice in many parts of the world outside of North America, Europe and Australia, and even in the latter areas a significant minority of children have shared a bed with their parents at some point in childhood. One 2006 study of children age 3–10 in India reported 93% of children bed-sharing[12] while a 2006 study of children in Kentucky in the United States reported 15% of infants and toddlers 2 weeks to 2 years engage in bed-sharing.[13]

Bed-sharing was widely practiced in all areas up to the 19th century, until the advent of giving the child his or her own room and the crib. In many parts of the world, bed-sharing simply has the practical benefit of keeping the child warm at night. Bed-sharing has been relatively recently re-introduced into Western culture by practitioners of attachment parenting. Proponents hold that bed-sharing saves babies' lives (especially in conjunction with nursing), [14][15] promotes bonding, enables the parents to get more sleep and facilitates breastfeeding. Older babies can breastfeed during the night without waking their mother. Opponents argue that co-sleeping is stressful for the child when they are not co-sleeping.[16] They also cite concerns that a parent may smother the child[17] or promote an unhealthy dependence of the child on the parent(s). In addition, they contend that this practice may interfere with the parents' own relationship, by reducing both communication and sexual intercourse at bedtime, and argue that modern-day bedding is not safe for co-bedding.[clarification needed]

Because children become accustomed to behaviors learned in early experiences, bed-sharing in infancy will also increase the likelihood of these children to crawl into their parent's bed in ages past infancy.[18]

Health and safety

Health care professionals disagree about bed-sharing techniques, effectiveness and ethics.[19] The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission[17] and the American Academy of Pediatrics[3][4] strongly discourage bed-sharing because of the risk of suffocation or strangulation, but some pediatricians and breast-feeding advocates have opposed this position.[20]

Known risks

There are certain dangerous behaviors that increase SIDS and should be avoided whether placing a baby in a crib or co-sleeping: infants should always sleep on their backs on a firm surface (not waterbeds, pillows, recliners, or couches), mattresses should intersect the bedframe tightly, there should be no stuffed animals or soft toys near the baby, blankets should be light, a baby's head should never be covered, and other SIDS risk factors should be avoided.[21] In addition some parents pose threats to infants due to their behaviors and conditions, such as smoking or drinking heavily, taking drugs, a history of skin infections, obesity, or any other specific risk-increasing traits.[19][22]

Co-sleeping also increases the risks of suffocation and strangulation. The soft quality of the mattresses, comforters, and pillows may suffocate the infants.[18] Some experts, then, recommend that the bed should be firm, and should not be a waterbed or couch; and that heavy quilts, comforters, and pillows should not be used. Another common advice given to prevent suffocation is to keep a baby on its back, not its stomach.[22] Parents who roll over during their sleep could inadvertently crush and/or suffocate their child, especially if they are heavy sleepers, over-tired or over-exhausted and/or obese.[22] There is also the risk of the baby falling to a hard floor, or getting wedged between the bed and the wall or headboard. A proposed solution to these problems is the bedside bassinet, in which, rather than bed-sharing, the baby's bed is placed next to the parent's bed.[18]

The presence of the child in the parent's bedroom also raises the concern of a lack of privacy between the parents and the child. The lack of privacy may result in increased tension and reduced intimacy between a couple.[18]

Another precaution recommended by experts is that young children should never sleep next to babies under nine months of age.[23]

A 2008 report explored the relationship between ad hoc parental behaviors similar to traditional co-sleeping methodology, though the study's subjects typically utilized cribs and other paraphernalia counter to co-sleeping models. While babies who had been exposed to behaviors reminiscent of co-sleeping had significant problems with sleep later in life, the study concluded that the parental behaviors were a reaction to already-present sleep difficulties. Most relationships between parental behavior and sleeping trouble were not statistically significant when controlled for those preexisting conditions. Further, typical co-sleeping parental behavior, like maternal presence at onset of sleep, were found to be protective factors against sleep problems.[24]

Association with sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)

Co-sleeping can often be regarded as an unnecessary practice that can be associated with issues such as sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).[25][26] However, research shows that opinions vary in the association between SIDS and co-sleeping.[1][27] The most controversial issue regarding SIDS is whether bed sharing is a main cause, and whether it should be avoided or encouraged.[1]

Research indicates that co-sleeping, particularly bed sharing should be avoided as it increases the risk of SIDS.[25][26] Controversially, research shows that if co-sleeping practices are done in an appropriate and safe manner it can be very beneficial and reduce risk of SIDS occurring.[1][27] The Pacific Islands Families study, conducted in New Zealand, showed that the adoption of safe bed-sharing and room-sharing practices were saving infant lives and that there was no infant that died from SIDS.[27]

Arguments In favor

One study reported mothers getting more sleep and breast-feeding by co-sleeping than other arrangements.[28] Parents also experience less exhaustion with such ease in feeding and comforting their child by simply reaching over to the child. As a result, co-sleeping also increases the responsiveness of parents to their child's needs.[18]

It has been argued that co-sleeping evolved over five million years, that it alters the infant's sleep experience and the number of maternal inspections of the infant, and that it provides a beginning point for considering possibly unconventional ways of helping reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).[14][15][29]

Stress hormones are lower in mothers and babies who co-sleep, specifically the balance of the stress hormone cortisol, the control of which is essential for a baby's healthy growth.[30][31][32] In studies with animals, infants who stayed close to their mothers had higher levels of growth hormones and enzymes necessary for brain and heart growth.[33][34] Also, the physiology of co-sleeping babies is more stable, including more stable temperatures, more regular heart rhythms, and fewer long pauses in breathing than babies who sleep alone.[35][36]

Besides physical developmental advantages, co-sleeping may also promote long-term emotional health. In long-term follow-up studies of infants who slept with their parents and those who slept alone, the children who co-slept were happier, less anxious, had higher self-esteem, were less likely to be afraid of sleep, had fewer behavioral problems, tended to be more comfortable with intimacy, and were generally more independent as adults.[37][38][39][40]

Products for infants

There are several products that claim they can be used to facilitate safe co-sleeping with an infant however these claims are not evidence based:


A study of a small population in Northeast England showed a variety of nighttime parenting strategies and that 65% of the sample had bed-shared, 95% of them having done so with both parents. The study reported that some of the parents found bedsharing effective, yet were covert in their practices, fearing disapproval of health professionals and relatives.[43] A National Center for Health Statistics survey from 1991 to 1999 found that 25% of American families always, or almost always, slept with their baby in bed, 42% slept with their baby sometimes, and 32% never bed-shared with their baby.[44]


Socioeconomic factors

Initial assumptions on co-sleeping may place it in a context of income and socioeconomic status. Generally, families of low socioeconomic status will be unable to afford a separate room for a child while those of high socioeconomic status can more easily afford a home with a sufficient number of rooms.[18] However, statistical data shows the prevalence of co-sleeping in wealthy Japanese families and the ability of poor Western families to still find a separate space for their child, suggests that the acceptance of co-sleeping is a result of culture.[45]

Cultural factors

Several studies show that the prevalence of co-sleeping is a result of cultural preference. In a study of 19 nations, a trend emerged, depicting a widely accepted practice of co-sleeping in Asian, African, and Latin American countries, while European and North American countries rarely practiced it.[46] This trend resulted mostly from the respective fears of parents: Asian, African, and Latin American parents worried about the separation between the parents and the child, while European and North American parents feared a lack of privacy for both the parents and the child.[18]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e McKenna (speaker), J (2005). "Television and Documentary Videos".
  2. ^ Hoffnung, M. Lifespan development: A chronological approach. Milton, Qld.
  3. ^ a b Task Force on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome; Moon, R. Y. (2011). "SIDS and Other Sleep-Related Infant Deaths: Expansion of Recommendations for a Safe Infant Sleeping Environment". Pediatrics. 128 (5): 1030–1039. doi:10.1542/peds.2011-2284. PMID 22007004. S2CID 9668728. Retrieved 16 November 2011.
  4. ^ a b Kemp, James S. et al. (2000) Unsafe Sleep Practices and an Analysis of Bedsharing Among Infants Dying Suddenly and Unexpectedly: Results of a Four-Year, Population-Based, Death-Scene Investigation Study of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and Related Deaths. PEDIATRICS Vol. 106 No. 3 September 2000, p. e41
  5. ^ a b "Co-sleeping parents charged with murder". 16 January 2012. Retrieved 12 May 2012.
  6. ^ "Charges: 'Drunk' Dad Rolls over, Suffocates Infant Son". 4 March 2014.
  7. ^ "Mich. Mom Charged with Involuntary Manslaughter After Baby Suffocates While Sleeping with Her in Bed". People. Time, Inc. 19 September 2017. Retrieved 20 December 2017.
  8. ^ "Bohannon v. State, 498 SE 2d 316, 230 Ga. App. 829 (1998)". Google Scholar. Retrieved 20 December 2017.
  9. ^ Miller, Barbara (25 May 2017). "'Don't sleep with your kid': DA after mom charged in baby smothering death". PA Media Group. Penn Live. Retrieved 20 December 2017.
  10. ^ "Mom charged with involuntary manslaughter after baby found dead, naked on Christmas Eve". Fox 12 Oregon. 29 December 2015. Retrieved 20 December 2017.
  11. ^ Flynt, Jeff (18 November 2016). "Mom Arrested in Co-Sleeping Death". WTAQ. Retrieved 20 December 2017.
  12. ^ Bharti, B; Malhi, P; Kashyap, S (2006). "Patterns and problems of sleep in school going children". Indian Pediatrics. 43 (1): 35–8. PMID 16465004.
  13. ^ Montgomery-Downs, H. E.; Gozal, D (2006). "Sleep habits and risk factors for sleep-disordered breathing in infants and young toddlers in Louisville, Kentucky". Sleep Medicine. 7 (3): 211–9. doi:10.1016/j.sleep.2005.11.003. PMID 16564742.
  14. ^ a b McKenna, J.; T. McDade (2005). "Why babies should never sleep alone: A review of the co-sleeping controversy in relation to SIDS, bed sharing, and breastfeeding" (PDF). Paediatric Respiratory Reviews. 6 (2): 134–152. doi:10.1016/j.prrv.2005.03.006. PMID 15911459.
  15. ^ a b Sleeping with Baby: ABC TV Catalyst, 21 July 2011
  16. ^ Montgomery-Downs, H. E.; Gozal, D (2006). "Sleep habits and risk factors for sleep-disordered breathing in infants and young toddlers in Louisville, Kentucky". Sleep Medicine. 7 (3): 211–9. doi:10.1016/j.sleep.2005.11.003. PMID 16564742.
  17. ^ a b Consumer Product Safety Commission Archived June 18, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  18. ^ a b c d e f g Berger, Kathleen Stassen (2014). Invitation to the Life Span, Second Edition. New York: Worth Publishers. ISBN 978-1464172052.
  19. ^ a b Mace, S. Where should babies sleep? Community Pract. 2006 Jun; 79(6):180–3.
  20. ^ MedicineNet.com
  21. ^ McKenna, James, "Safe Co-Sleeping Guidelines"
  22. ^ a b c MedicineNet.com IParenting.com Archived 2006-06-23 at the Wayback Machine.
  23. ^ Sears, William MD et al. The Baby Sleep Book, Brown, Little & Company, 2005, p. 131
  24. ^ Simard, V., et al. (2008). The Predictive Role of Maladaptive Parental Behaviors, Early Sleep Problems, and Child/Mother Psychological Factors. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine
  25. ^ a b Mitchell, A (2009). "SIDS: Past, present and future". Acta Paediatr. 98 (11): 1712–9. doi:10.1111/j.1651-2227.2009.01503.x. PMID 19807704. S2CID 1566087.
  26. ^ a b Alm, B (2007). "To co-sleep or not to sleep". Acta Paediatrica. 96 (10): 1385–1386. doi:10.1111/j.1651-2227.2007.00524.x. PMID 17880409. S2CID 5118428.
  27. ^ a b c Schluter, Paterson, Percival (2007). "Infant care practices associated with sudden infant death syndrome: Findings from the pacific islands families study". Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health. 43 (5): 388–393. doi:10.1111/j.1440-1754.2007.01085.x. PMID 17489830. S2CID 12817483.((cite journal)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  28. ^ Quillin, S.I. Interaction between feeding method and co-sleeping on maternal-newborn sleep. J Obstet Gynecol Neonatal Nurs. 2004 Sep–Oct; 33(5):580–8.
  29. ^ McKenna, J. Experimental studies of infant-parent co-sleeping: mutual physiological and behavioral influences and their relevance to SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). Early Hum Dev. 1994 Sep 15; 38(3):187–201.
  30. ^ Hofer, M. "The mother-infant interactionas a regulator of infant physiology and behavior", Sympiosis in Parent-Offspring Interactions, New York: Plenum, 1983
  31. ^ Hofer, M. "Some thoughts on the tranduction of experience from a developmental perspective". Psychosomatic Medicine. 44 (19): 1982.
  32. ^ Hofer M, Shair H (1982). "Control of sleep-wake states in the infant rat, by features of the mother-infant relationship". Developmental Psychobiology. 15 (3): 229–243. doi:10.1002/dev.420150307. PMID 7095289.
  33. ^ Butler, S.R.; Suskind, M.; Schanberg, S.; et al. (1978). "Maternal behavior as a regulator of polyamine biosynthesis in brain and heart of developing rat pups". Science. 199 (4327): 445–447. doi:10.1126/science.202031. PMID 202031.
  34. ^ Kuhn, C.M.; Butler; Schanberg, S.; et al. (1978). "Selective depression of serum growth hormone during maternal deprivation in rat pups". Science. 201 (4360): 1035–1036. Bibcode:1978Sci...201.1034K. doi:10.1126/science.684424. PMID 684424.
  35. ^ Field, T. Touch in early development, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum and Assoc., 1995
  36. ^ Reite, M. and J.P. Capitanio. "On the nature of social separation and social attachment", The psychobiology of attachment and separation, New York: Academic Press, 1985, p. 228–238
  37. ^ Crawford, M. "Parenting practices in the Basque Country: Implications of infant and child-hood sleeping location for personality development", Ethos, 1994, 22, 1: 42–82.
  38. ^ Forbes, J.F.; et al. "The cosleeping habits of military children". Military Medicine. 1992: 196–200.
  39. ^ Heron, P. "Non-reactive cosleeping and child behavior: Getting a good night's sleep all night, every night", Master's thesis, Department of Psychology, University of Bristol, 1994
  40. ^ Keller, M.A.; W.A. Goldberg (2004). "Co-sleeping: Help or hindrance for young children's independence?". Infant and Child Development. 13 (December): 369–388. doi:10.1002/icd.365.
  41. ^ Thoman, E.B. (2006). "Co-sleeping, an ancient practice: issues of the past and present, and possibilities for the future". Sleep Med. Rev. 10 (6): 407–17. doi:10.1016/j.smrv.2005.12.001. PMID 17112752.
  42. ^ "Researcher sure pepi pods save lives". 9 July 2016.
  43. ^ Hooker, F. Sleeping like a baby: attitudes and experiences of bedsharing in northeast England. Med Anthropol. 2001; 19(3):203–22.
  44. ^ Sears, William MD et al. ibid, p. 107
  45. ^ Kohyama, Jun; Mindell, Jodi; Sadeh, Avi (2011). "Sleep characteristics of young children in Japan: Internet study and comparison with other Asian countries". Pediatrics International. 53 (5): 649–655. doi:10.1111/j.1442-200X.2010.03318.x. PMID 21199167. S2CID 20305276.
  46. ^ Mindell, Jodi A.; Sadeh, Avi (2010). "Cross-cultural differences in infant and toddler sleep". Sleep Medicine. 11 (3): 274–280. doi:10.1016/j.sleep.2009.04.012. PMID 20138578.

Further reading