Hot Topic: Bed-sharing

Is it safe to sleep with your baby? Pediatrician Michel Cohen, M.D., talks about a new policy on bed-sharing from the American Academy of Pediatrics.


In November, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) came out with a new policy statement on bed-sharing and pacifiers and their relationship to the risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and suffocation. The policy statement noted, among other things, "the hazards of adults sleeping with an infant in the same bed," as well as the fact that SIDS risk is reduced when babies sleep in the same room as adults and use a pacifier. We asked pediatrician Michel Cohen, M.D., a contributing expert to our sister publication, Mom & Baby, what the AAP's policy means for new parents considering bed-sharing with their infants.

There is no "right" answer to the questions surrounding bed-sharing. Whether you do it or not depends on your desire to have your baby close to you at night. From your baby's point of view, there's no doubt she'll be happy if you invite her into your bed. If you don't, however, she won't take it too personally, and she'll simply get used to sleeping in her bassinet. So, the choice is yours.

Extensive research on bed-sharing's long-term benefits, such as increased intelligence and emotional well-being, has failed to yield conclusive results so far. Based on my personal observations as a doctor, whether you bed-share or not doesn't make a difference. In the long run, the babies who slept in bassinets are just as intelligent and emotionally well-developed as those who shared their parents' bed for the first few years.

One of the big advantages of sharing your bed with your baby is that you'll be able to get some rest while nursing. When the baby is hungry, all you'll have to do is roll over on your side and nurse--no need to get out of bed to fetch her. The alternative is exhausting: You wake up, retrieve her from the crib, feed her in a rocking chair, rub her back for a few minutes, then put her back to bed. Repeat that routine a few times a night, and just watch those circles darken under your eyes.

In terms of safety, sharing a bed is controversial. The AAP's recent recommendations advised pediatricians to discourage parents from bed-sharing based on studies that showed an associated potential increased risk of SIDS and suffocation. That said, mammals have slept with their babies since the dawn of evolution. As a father, I remember being keenly aware of that little presence when our kids slept with us in their early months. My feeling is that bed-sharing is perfectly safe and enjoyable, barring such extenuating circumstances as alcohol and drug use, extremely heavy sleep, or anything else that would impair your ability to sense a newborn. If you can't decide on one arrangement over the other, consider using a co-sleeper, which is a small mattress that fits alongside yours. That way, you can have your cake and eat it, too: Your baby will stay close to you for easy feedings, and you can roll her back onto her own little bed when she's done. The AAP supports the use of co-sleepers; I'm just not sure the organization should come down so hard on all parents' decision to bed-share--it's very individual.

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