Monday, July 30, 2007

Co-sleeping: A nice bit of nighttime family harmony or a big safety hazard?

A few readings of various Dr. Sears’ books back when I had Will convinced me that if we did it responsibly, a family bed could be a healthy and safe way for us to survive the nights with our fussy baby and bond with him as well. After realizing, though, that helping Will learn to sleep through the night in his own room was incredibly difficult to do after a year in our bed and that sleeping together was no longer peaceful for all of us, we’d decided to limit Owen’s time in our bed to just a few months, at which time I’ve read that it’s still quite easy to shift to the crib, especially if I put him down for naps during the day in his bassinet during these first months.

We borrowed an Arm’s Reach Co-sleeper from a friend and we have a little baby nest bed (The First Years Close & Secure Sleeper) that sits on our bed, but somehow in the middle of the night it becomes difficult for Owen to go back to sleep once I move him back to the co-sleeper or the nest bed. So he had been right next to me in our bed, with the secure sleeper dividing him from Rob, who is a heavier sleeper and who is the one we’ve worried about in terms of the dangers of baby suffocation. Side by side, Owen and I seemed to sleep in more harmony (just as Will and I did in that first year) and I’m a light enough sleeper that I’ve always felt in tune with his presence and his needs. (Go to to read Dr. Sears’ arguments about how mothers act as breathing pacemakers for their babies, how mothers and baby’s develop “sleep harmony” side by side and how co-sleeping may reduce the risk of SIDS).

But a visit to our pediatrician, Dr. Mansfield, for Owen’s two-week well visit on Friday got me rethinking things again. He told me about a story he heard on NPR discussing the suffocation deaths of five infants (ages 27 days to 3 months) over the past week in Detroit due to various co-sleeping scenarios which weren’t laid out in detail (one incident occurred when the infant was co-sleeping with a sibling). You can hear the story, which aired July 26 and was entitled “Infant Smothering Deaths Spike in Detroit,” at Now for the past couple nights I’ve been forcing myself to put Owen back into the arms-reach co-sleeper after nursing, even though it may mean a slightly less peaceful night for all of us.

I know all the arguments by co-sleeping advocates that if you’re not overweight, not consuming alcohol, not smoking and especially if you’re the mother of the infant (and biologically tuned in to his every peep), then co-sleeping is safe and provides emotional benefits to baby and parents. But just the remote possibility of losing little Owen to some sort of bed-related accident frightens the heck out of me. So Friday and Saturday night I made myself put Owen back in the co-sleeper even though he couldn't settle into it easily and we lost some sleep as a result. But last night a few gentle pats was enough to reassure him and we slept more soundly and a bit longer than we have since his first sleepy week of his life. He may have just been exhausted, but hopefully I've arrived at a good compromise: with Owen safe but still nearly next to me and maybe less likely to develop a years-long co-sleeping addiction.

If you have any thoughts on co-sleeping and why you did or didn’t go down that road with your own children – or how you did it safely, please share.


Lindsay said...

The danger concerns of co-sleeping are by far number one negative part of co-sleeping. I found however that the fear of co-sleeping was all in my head. There are many websites and books that describe the "rules" for co-sleeping that make it a safe situation for Mom, Dad, and Baby. My husband and I have both enjoyed co-sleeping with our son now 11 months old and plan on co-sleeping with # 2 due Oct. 23. We have become so bonded with Cannon and we have not had those sleepless nights that so many new parents talk about. Our son knows that going to sleep is a good part of his day. Mom and Dad are right there if he has a bad dream or if he just needs us for whatever reason.
Now my son has transitioned to a big boy bed with little to no problems. I can't stress how much co-sleeping has been a wonderful experience for my family and has been safer than sleeping.
Here are the websites that explain co-sleeping:

Of course the are many more but here is a good start.

Lindsay C.



I totally agree with you that for nursing moms who do their research and make responsible choices, co-sleeping is a very safe option. I'm glad it's working so well for your family. It really felt like the one thing that made our first year with Will survivable because he wasn't a good sleeper from the start. I'm hoping the arm's reach co-sleeper option will still provide that same sort of wonderful bonding with Owen while allowing Rob and I a little bit more sleep and a little bit easier time transitioning away from co-sleeping before Owen gets so big that I find myself wide awake much of the night while he's kicking around next to me (that was the Will experience).