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Kids in Your Bed: Yes or No?

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Pediatrician and momlogic contributor Dr. Cara Natterson puts the issue of co-sleeping with kids to rest: from infant to big kid.


Whether your kids pile into the bed or your slumber spot is solely for grownups, one thing is certain--there are some strong opinions on the subject. After we volleyed the topic around in our momlogic meeting, we turned to contributor and pediatrician Dr. Cara Natterson to put the issue to rest, once and for all. 

Dr. Cara says: The "family bed" is another term for parents sleeping with one or more children. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has officially recommended against the family bed, and the proponents of attachment parenting adamantly disagree. The AAP recommendation is based upon infant safety issues. Here are three reasons why:

Tossing and turning: There is a risk that a parent could roll on top of a baby, potentially injuring or suffocating him or her. While this is uncommon, it is possible.

Down will come baby: Unless a baby is in the middle of the bed between two adults, it is easy for him or her to squirm or roll off the bed. Surrounding a baby with pillows or other bolsters is neither safe nor effective.

This bed's too soft: Parents tend to sleep in beds with soft mattresses and heavy comforters. It is safer for a baby to sleep in a bed with a slightly harder mattress with lighter covers or none at all.

As children get older, the family bed debate focuses much more on parenting and much less on safety. Some older toddlers and preschool-aged children share a bed with their parents, or they get out of their own beds in the middle of the night and join their parents. The issues here have to do mostly with privacy and limit-setting. Critics argue that adults need privacy in their bedroom and that children need to learn how to feel safe and comfortable in their own space.

Some parents whose children unwittingly join them in the middle of the night also complain that it is impossible to get a good night sleep if their child is tossing and turning in a cramped bed. But often parents who choose to share their beds with older children describe enjoying it--it is the one time in the day that they can cuddle with their child. In my practice, I often suggest if a child stays in her own bed while the sun is down, then she can come into her parents' room when the sun comes up. This allows for good quality overnight sleep for everyone and some nice cuddle time in the morning.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. Most parents sleep with their children during illnesses. This is practical--if your child is sick and having a fitful night sleep, your presence may make a big difference. But toddlers, especially, see a window of opportunity after an illness. If you get right back into good habits when your child is healthy, it tends to be a pretty easy transition to everyone returning to a good night's sleep.

When it comes to my own family, no one ever sleeps well when we are all in the same bed. When my kids were newborns, they would invariably end up in our bed for an hour or two. But the sleep was always light and fitful because there was this tiny, noisy, remarkably squirmy baby in the bed. I was always relieved to wake up and harness enough energy to walk the baby back to the bassinet. Now that my kids are older, they go through stages when they call out to us in the middle of the night wanting a cuddle. It is a very sweet time, usually lasting only a few minutes, and my husband or I always concede. But we have made a habit of going to them instead of bringing them to us, mostly because we know that we will wake up after a few minutes and walk back into our own room.

Tell us: Do your kids sleep in your bed?

Dr. Cara Natterson, author of Your Toddler: Head To Toe is a pediatrician and mother of 2. To buy a copy of her book, click here.

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23 comments so far | Post a comment now
Kristen June 25, 2008, 1:36 PM

From every parent that I’ve spoken with, it’s more frustrating than anything to co-sleep. The only ones who don’t seem to mind it as much are single. Personally, I frown upon it b/c they have their own beds and mine is crowded enough. My son sleeps behind your back when you’re in bed together and I always squish him when rolling at night. He’s 2. It always wakes me up, lol and is just frustrating. I really don’t like going somewhere where he can’t have his own sleeping area, but it happens.

Nicole J. June 25, 2008, 2:51 PM

I think that co-sleeping is a safe and wonderful practice, as long as everyone involved is happy and getting rest. Our son was in our bed till about 8 months. We moved him to his crib in our room then, because none of us were getting much sleep. And over the course of several months we transitioned him to his crib in his room.

For any future kids, we’ll probably do the same. Co-sleeping and breastfeeding just go so well together. It really helped preserve my sanity when the boy was up several times a night.

Co-sleeping is common and everyday practice in so much of the world. I don’t understand why we are so uptight about it.

laura June 25, 2008, 3:07 PM

I just like my own space. If the kids want to crawl in bed with me on Sunday morning that’s fine, but that’s it!

Kimberly Coleman June 25, 2008, 3:08 PM

My husband and I have co-slept with both of our sons with no major issues. (I simply found it worked better since I was breastfeeding.)

When we were tired of having our older son in our bed/by the time he was two, he transitioned to his own bed without much of a struggle and sleeps there consistently. Hopefully, the same will happen with our younger son. (My husband has given him until the end of the summer!)

I understand the recommendations and think that it’s important to be as safe as possible. At the end of the day though, I think that each family should do what works best for them.

Amber June 25, 2008, 3:46 PM

I co-slept with my youngest for 14 months. The only problem I had was it was that I didn’t sleep! Every time he moved I woke up. But I was still breastfeeding and right after he was born by c-section I was too sore to get out of bed and get him to feed him so that started him sleeping with me. The only reason I kicked him out of my bed at 14 months was I was tired of him getting up every 3 hours still to nurse at night.
Even now my older two come and sleep in my bed if they have a bad dream or if they get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. I’d rather they come to my bed because if they wake up in the middle of the night instead of going back to sleep they’ll wake up the other.
My kids are only 4 and 2 so it doesn’t bother me yet.
I really don’t like it when one of my twins ends up in my bed because he’s abusive in his sleep! Haha

Jill C June 25, 2008, 4:11 PM

I have been co-sleeping on and off with my daughter for almost 5 years and it has worked wonderfully for us. She sleeps with me a few nights a week and in her own bed a few nights a week and all I can say is that I feel like it brings us closer and it is definitely not any kind of intrusion for us since we are all deeply in love. She does not give us a hard time about sleeping in her own bed and understands that sometimes Mommy and Daddy want to sleep alone, no questions asked. They way I see it the time will come soon enough where she will not want to be with us all that much so I want to savor every moment with her that I can!

Erin Ely June 25, 2008, 4:17 PM

Cosleeping/cofamily sleeping is done all over the world. Many places in the world the family sleeps in the same room, because they do not have large houses with several bedrooms, it’s a more a necessity I would guess.

I did several iterations of family bed/cosleeping it took some trial and error to get it figured out. My first was more difficult because I was not experienced. My second was so much easier, I used the “side car” so I could still have my space but easily rollover during the night and nurse.

I’m glad I did it that way. Your kids grow up so quickly, you will miss them.

My kids are 14 and 18 now.

It’s personal preference I think.

Elisa June 25, 2008, 4:36 PM

Please, this is hardly “putting the issue to rest”. It’s just another doctors opinion against co-sleeping. this issue will always have two sides, like a lot of parenting issues.

Anonymous June 25, 2008, 4:43 PM

We did co-sleeping for a couple of weeks right after birth and then moved our little one to a crib on the opposite side of the room from us. After he was about 6 months, we moved him to his big crib and in his own room. He did fine and slept better on his own! What ever works for you is what is best!

Lela June 25, 2008, 8:43 PM

I don’t see how this is an issue a pediatrician should decide. It’s a personal, family issue. Most people in most of the world sleep with their babies, especially if they breastfeed. Why should there be a debate about it? Whose business is it how families make sleeping arrangements? Would anyone judge parents who say their kids should share a room or who decide that each kid needs his own room? Why judge families that want to be close to their infants?

Erika June 25, 2008, 9:36 PM

It doesn’t seem terribly momlogical to merely give the “opinion” of a physician who must toe the AAP line in order to remain a member in good standing, while not outlining in any serious manner the opposing view. This is merely a reiteration of the talking points that mysteriously seem to be floating around the web. Could it be that crib manufacturers are feeling the pinch on their bottom line with the rising tide of co-sleeping families? Check out the JPMA if you want to know who they are and how far they reach.

Anon June 25, 2008, 9:57 PM

Kids should sleep in their own beds.

Princesspeachfan2008 June 26, 2008, 6:59 AM

Co-sleeping is safe. What if your child sleeps in her own room and gets nabbed in the middle of the night, is that what you call safe? What if your house is in a flat and you only have one room, you need to co-sleep otherwise your child gets nabbed and if you live in a studio unit condo and you have a child, you need to co-sleep unless you want your child to be nabbed. Ok, if you want your child to be nabbed, go, send them to their rooms wait for a ransom and be sad that your child died for not paying the ransom. It is suggested that kids should sleep in their own rooms during their pre-teens, not when they are still pre-schoolers

Anonymously June 26, 2008, 11:04 AM

Princesspeachfan: Your post doesn’t make any sense at all.

cg June 28, 2008, 8:12 AM

my 4 yr. old insist on getting in our bed in the wee hours of the morning. although we’ve got a queen-sized bed it’s still uncomfortable. my husband seems to think it’s cute. the thing is she has’nt breastfed since she was 18 mo. but she still wants to hold on to one of my breast while she’s sleep, which is of course uncomfortable for me. most of the time if i put her right back in her own bed she’ll come back then i wind up sleeping in her bed.

Barron's Mom August 12, 2008, 2:40 PM

We co-slept until my son was 10mos old. Coincedentally, that was how long we breast-fed too. Maybe that is what made the diferrence. It was a wonderful experiance that we wouldn’t trade for anything.

a mom to 3 kids September 5, 2008, 10:57 AM

Once our children could get out of bed by themselves it was never an issue. Our children are 14, 12, and 3. All three kids were different. our oldest never came into our bed. the middle child only when she was not feeling well. and now our 3 year old for about the last year if he wakes up he comes into our bed and if not he sleeps all night in his own bed. they grow up so fast why not enjoy the age that they are at.

Nic September 6, 2008, 9:35 AM

When my daughter was a baby she had to sleep in another room, because she breathed so loud i could not sleep. The only time she would sleep with me is when she was sick. Now she is four yrs old and i put her to bed in my bed, then move her to her own bed at my bedtime. She will stay there until 630am on the weekends then come to my bed. It works out great. I have pretty strongly stuck to my rule of baby sleeps in babies bed. She can put herself to sleep and stay there. Yahh!!!

jaimelyn September 15, 2008, 3:17 AM

I have co-slept with my son for 2 and a half years, and although I dont get the soundest sleep, i think it was best for us. The first 3 nights he was home from the hospital, my husband and I didnt sleep a wink. Yes, he is our first. We constantly wondered what he was doing, if he was ok, the noises that came out of his bassinett would startle us, and he was sleeping right next to our bed. I picked him up one night and layed him on my chest, fell asleep, and woke up in the morning in the exact same position. Maybe I didnt sleep as deeply as I could have, but trust me, it was better then the night before. Now my son sleeps in the middle of us, we say our goodnights, and sleep just fine. Well, he does anyways. I get an occasional foot to the back or arm across the face, but hearing him first thing in the morning saying goodmorning makes it all worth it. Plus, his dad just started working graveyard, so he is my little companion. We have been contemplating getting him his own toddler bed, but I think it’ll be for decoration because I love when I cant sleep and I can just roll over and watch him laying there, calm and peaceful, and I can hold his hand and count his toes whenever i want. He will never want me as much as he does right now, so I better suck it up while I can!!!

Mum of 2 September 24, 2008, 12:24 AM

I have been on both sides of the fence so to speak. With my first born, he slept with me until he was about 2 years old and then we transitioned him into his own bed. With my daughter (she’s now 2) she slept with me and in a “co sleeper” type bed that was beside me. So she could be beside me while not actually being in the bed. My son who is now 6 occasionally will pop into our bed ( usually if he’s not feeling well, or if he’s had a bad dream) for the most part he sleeps in his own bed. Since she was about 10 months old, my daughter has slept on her own. I’m kinda sad that I didn’t get to share the same type of experience as I did with my son, however, she’s seems completely happy with the set up. On the few occasions I have tried to tuck her in with me and the hubby, she just won’t fall asleep! A couple of nights ago, she was a bit under the weather so she actually fell asleep with us for a couple of hours (in my arms which was pure heaven!). She then woke up and got me to put her back into her crib…i’m assuming so she could get a proper nights sleep! I feel every child is different, and every parent is different. This is not a case of black and white. I feel as long as all the parties involved are happy, then to each their own!

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