Skip to main content

Co-sleeping: Is it a comfort for mom and baby, or a danger?

Baby smiling under a blanket
For a lot of people and a lot of reasons, parenting can be a sensitive subject. When it comes to babies, few subjects are as important as sleep. When it comes to this subject, few areas are as controversial as co-sleeping.

At a glance, bringing your infant into your bed at night can seem like a cute and cuddly practice with no real downside – especially if you’re looking for sleep training alternatives and you just cannot find the best method. But a close look at the science shows it can carry serious risks. The decision you make on co-sleeping depends not only on your own preference but in how you define the term and evaluate the potential dangers — which can be life-threatening to your baby.

Will co-sleeping work for you and your child? Is it bad to sleep with your toddler? What are the potential advantages of co-sleeping? Here, we’ve described the practice and summarized its pros and cons, so you can make the best decision for you and your child.

What is co-sleeping?

Co-sleeping is a term coined to describe the practice of parents and their children (typically meaning babies, toddlers, and young children) sleeping in the same bed.

However, in recent years the definition has changed a bit to mean sleeping in close proximity to your baby — in other words, in the same room as opposed to in the same bed, with bed-sharing now being the preferred term for the former practice.

Because different recommendations apply to different definitions, we’ll use both terms here.

Baby under a blanket sleeping in a crib
Peter Oslanec/Unsplash

The pros of co-sleeping

The most obvious benefit of bed-sharing with your baby is the extra bonding time afforded by the practice.

It’s hard to say no to a baby who’s calling out for his or her parents — or to resist that naturally warm feeling you get when your little one is snuggled up beside you. And if it helps keep your baby from crying or waking up in the middle of the night, which leads to a more restful night’s sleep for all involved, well, so much the better.

Proponents also point to the ease of breastfeeding when both mother and baby are lying next to each other in bed — a potential benefit that makes sense, at least on its face value, given the close proximity.

The benefits of co-sleeping – i.e., sleeping in the same room but not the same bed – are clearer. When a crib or bassinet is near the bed, it allows parents to better control the feeding schedule and respond more quickly to their baby than if the crib were in another room.

The cons of co-sleeping

Unfortunately, medical research shows that while co-sleeping can be safe and beneficial, bed-sharing is far from it.

The flip side of such close proximity is that children can come to rely on this comfort and think of your bed as their primary sleeping space. This means that as babies get older and turn into toddlers, bed-sharing can become an increasingly difficult habit to break, even after it has lost its charm. (And if you think that’s impossible, wait until your 4-year-old wakes you up with an inadvertent kick to the face.)

But there’s an even scarier risk to bed-sharing that you may not be aware of: It increases the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and other sleep-related fatalities.

A 2014 study found that nearly 70% of children under 1 year of age who died as a result of sleep-related causes were bed-sharing at the time of death. This sobering statistic will likely give pause to anyone considering bed-sharing with their young children.

However, in the first six months of your baby’s life, co-sleeping (but not bed-sharing) can actually reduce the risk of sleep-related death.

So, what should you do?

Baby sleeping in crib with Teddy bear
Tatyana Soares/Shutterstock

What do the experts recommend?

There can be a lot of cross-talk on the topic, but fortunately it is one that is well-studied in the medical community. With approximately 3,500 infants dying on average each year in the United States from sleep-related causes, it’s certainly a topic that doctors and scientists take very seriously. Although an occasional night of bed-sharing probably isn’t exceedingly dangerous, making it a nightly practice is not advised.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has established several recommendations that can reduce risks while maximizing closeness and bonding between you and your infant.

Those recommendations include:

  • Infants should sleep in the parents’ room, but not in the same bed. This means the baby’s crib, pack-and-play, or bassinet should be in the parent(s)’ or guardian(s)’ bedroom for at least six months.
  • If you feel you may fall asleep during a feeding or any other time, try to do it in a sitting position on a sofa or armchair.
  • If you inadvertently fall asleep while feeding your baby in bed, return the baby to his or her sleeping area as soon as possible upon waking.

Bed-sharing is dangerous and not advised by medical professionals. However, sleeping in the same room with your baby until the baby is about a year old is recommended to help establish feeding rhythms and quick response to potential problems.

Editors' Recommendations

Scott Harris
Scott Harris is a freelance writer based near Washington, DC, with more than a decade of experience covering health…
The ultimate nursery checklist of everything you need (and nothing you don’t)
The nursery must-haves baby can't do without
White nursery

Having a baby is such an exciting time, and so is getting their nursery ready. Planning what your little one's nursery will look like and shopping for all those new baby necessities is such a fine time for an expectant parent. What color will the nursery be? Will it have a certain theme?

Preparing for the arrival of your baby is a lot of fun but it can also be overwhelming. It can be hard to know what essentials you need to have in the nursery, especially if this is your first baby. Before outfitting your baby's nursery, it's helpful to have a nursery checklist. Doing so will help ensure you have everything you need when your baby comes home.

Read more
Is white noise bad for babies? It actually can be harmful
Find out if white noise is bad or if it's the helper you need for a good night's sleep
A white nose machine in a baby's bedroom.

Babies and not sleeping go together like peanut butter and jelly. Or like a zombie parent and a baby that won’t sleep. If your child just won’t go down without a fight, you've probably been told to try white noise by someone trying to help everyone get their rest. So, what is white noise exactly? And, more importantly, is white noise bad for baby's sensitive ears?

While not all bedtime noises are created equal, there are benefits from introducing white noise to your baby’s bedtime routine. Let's go over the basic information on this soothing sound of life and see if it could help your baby fall asleep easier.

Read more
The 5 most popular lullabies every parent should know
These popular lullabies need to be in your bedtime lineup
A mother singing to her little baby.

Nothing is more calming and serene than singing your baby a sweet lullaby to help them fall asleep. The soothing sound of your voice singing a familiar tune can help gently lull your little one to sleep and help them feel safe and secure at the same time. Even though you may not love the sound of your singing voice, it will be music to your little one's ears.

Lullabies are for anyone to sing and they have simple lyrics that are easy to remember. However, just in case you've forgotten some of the most popular lullabies that have been around since you were a kid, let's go over five lullabies all parents should have in their back pocket for bedtime.

Read more