Harvard Scholars Argue in Favor of Bed-Sharing with Your Baby

A recent op-ed in the LA Times presents an argument in favor of bed-sharing between parents and infants. Benefits aside, is sleeping in a bed with your baby actually safe?

Dad sharing a bed with his baby
The bed-sharing debate is nothing new. Despite the fact that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents put their infants to sleep alone in their cribs to reduce their risk of SIDS, plenty of parents (and experts!) argue that infants should sleep right next to their parents. Bed-sharing advocates site easier access to breastfeeding, more sleep for new parents, and increased connection between parents and children as reasons to do it.

Most recently, an op-ed published in the LA Times points out that while many Americans fear co-sleeping, plenty of other countries embrace it—the piece's authors even mention that in many parts of the world, putting an infant to sleep in a separate crib or bedroom seems cruel. "In Japan—a large, rich, modern country—parents universally sleep with their infants, yet their infant mortality rate is one of the lowest in the world—2.8 deaths per 1,000 live births versus 6.2 in the United States—and their rate of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, is roughly half the U.S. rate," the authors write. 

But is this really an accurate association? Sure, American parents are encouraged to put their newborns to sleep alone, but not all of them actually do. A recent study found that 46 percent of its respondents sleep alongside their babies...but don't admit this to their doctors. According to Baby Reference, 13 percent of infants routinely bed-share and 50 percent regularly sleep with their parents for part of the night—and there's certainly the possibly that more parents are co-sleeping with their infants but aren't owning up.

James McKenna, Ph.D., studies bed-sharing at the Mother-Sleep Baby Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame and weighed in for this particular op-ed—he believes that bed-sharing is both safe and beneficial. Dr. McKenna shared his opinion with Fit Pregnancy as well, and according to this expert, it isn't a black-and-white issue. "It’s normal human behavior to have your baby sleeping next to you, and in societies around the world in which bed-sharing is the highest, you’ll find the lowest SIDS rates. The question should be: What are the conditions that transform an otherwise safe arrangement into something dangerous?" Dr. McKenna told Fit Pregnancy.

Baby bed-sharing in parent's bed

There is definitely a point to all this: Factors like alcohol or drug use certainly factor in to the safety of bed-sharing. (It stands to reason that a parent might be more likely to accidentally roll over onto a sleeping infant if she is intoxicated.)

Ultimately, this op-ed raises an important point. It is completely natural for a parent to want to keep her infant close to her even while she is sleeping (and you can't deny how much easier it is to care for a crying baby in the middle of the night when he is nestled right next to you), and we could certainly see how parental instincts alone would keep an adult from rolling onto a sleeping infant. With that being said, SIDS is an incredibly serious and pervasive issue, and there's plenty of research to suggest that many cases of it are tied to unsafe sleep environments

It's a complicated issue, to say the least. While a co-sleeper bassinet, DockATot or these super high-tech maternity beds could be a middle-ground solution for some bed-sharing parents, We don't think the debate will resolve itself any time soon.