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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.

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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
Cam and Taylors mom October 29, 2008, 10:06 PM

My husband and I have a King size bed and we sometimes allow our 6 and 4 yr old to crawl in bed with us on the weekends or on especially cold nights. I would fall asleep in my single mothers bed until I was an adult and we’ve always maintained an emotional bond a lot of my friends never had with their parents. I feel like it keeps us all closer, although I’d hate it to be an every night thing.

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