The practical benefits of bed sharing are obvious. Not only are parents close by to respond to the baby if something goes wrong, but co-sleeping makes it easier for the breastfeeding mom to nurse throughout the night. Then, of course, there is the irresistible sweet intimacy of it. “There is an instinctive need for the mother to be close to her baby,” says Cynthia Epps, M.S., a certified lactation educator at the Pump Station in Santa Monica, Calif. Working women who don’t get to see their babies all day may be especially attracted to co-sleeping to make up for the missed contact. “Keeping the baby close, with skin-to-skin contact, calms the baby,” says Epps. “And it can cement the emotional bond between mother and child.”
For the child, the emotional benefits could be long-term, McKenna says. “Studies in England and the United States have shown that babies who have slept apart from their parents have more tantrums and less control of their emotions and eventually receive more negative reports from teachers,” he says.
If the Shoe Doesn’t Fit …
Bed sharing is not for everyone. Some mothers simply feel that their babies are safer in a bassinet nearby or on an extension bed made for babies that fits flush on one side of the adult bed. “I have a queen-size bed and a king-size husband,” says Mary O’Neill, a Los Angeles mother of three young children, who once awoke in time to see her husband, in a deep sleep, almost roll over on their baby. After that, she kept the baby in a bassinet next to the bed.
“The assessment by that mother was appropriate,” McKenna says. “Parents shouldn’t be told what to do. What is right for one household has nothing to do with what’s right in another household.”
Sleeping with a baby can have another drawback: It can deprive busy parents of their own physical closeness. “With three kids, [my husband and I] get little time together,” says Lisa Stone. “When we have a child between us every night, we just don’t get private time.”
And sometimes a child will make her own sleeping choice, defying all your well-thought-out plans. “We had every intention to allow our daughter, Charlotte, to sleep with us as long as she wanted,” says Shannon Branham of Van Nuys, Calif. “But at 18 months, she told us that she wanted her own big bed, and that’s where she’s been ever since.”
Whatever sleeping arrangement you finally choose, remember that it’s bound to change, particularly as your baby grows and starts to develop a mind of her own.