Co-sleeping and Bed-sharing: Are they Safe For Your Baby?

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You take care of the baby throughout the day. The moment they cry or move in their crib, you run to attend to them, and can’t imagine leaving the baby alone when they need you. That’s how a parent is.

But when it comes to sleeping in the night, some parents believe in making their babies sleep separately, while some others like to co-sleep. Co-sleeping means sharing the sleeping space with the baby.

But is that a good way to ensure the baby’s safety? Or should babies have their own sleeping space? In this post, MomJunction tells you if you should co-sleep with the baby, and safe ways for the baby to sleep.

What Is Co-Sleeping?

Co-sleeping is the practice of the infant sleeping near the mother, by sharing the sleep space (1). In other words, babies have physical proximity with the mother when they share the sleeping space.

Parents often confuse co-sleeping with bed-sharing.

Is Co-Sleeping The Same As Bed-sharing?

No. Bed-sharing is not the same as co-sleeping. In bed-sharing, the mother and infant share the same bed but sleep at a distance from one another. Unlike co-sleeping there is no physical contact in bed-sharing, so the mother cannot feel the presence of the infant with her eyes closed.

Co-sleeping and bed-sharing have both been a common practice.

Why Do Parents Choose Co-sleeping?

Some parents believe that co-sleeping has advantages for both the mother and the baby, but there is lack of evidence to back these benefits. The common reasons for co-sleeping include (2):

  1. Greater adoption of breastfeeding: Infants who co-sleep have easy access to the breast for feeding. It can encourage the mother to breastfeed too.
  1. Less stress: A baby can be relaxed when sleeping with the mother. It may reduce their crankiness.
  1. Better sleep: After a session of breastfeeding, a baby who co-sleeps is more likely to go back to sleep when compared to an infant who sleeps away from the mother.
  1. Less use of transitional object: A transitional object is something like a ‘security toy’ that the baby may use for comfort. Babies who co-sleep do not have separation anxiety and are less likely to turn to an inanimate object for comfort.
  1. Maternal satisfaction: Co-sleeping allows the mother to cater to the baby’s demands as they arise. It can eventually lead to elevated maternal satisfaction levels.

Despite its advantages, experts feel that the research on co-sleeping is “lacking, contradictory, and confusing” (3). Most recommendations in favor of co-sleeping are based on societal norms and cultural practices rather than research. Such ambiguity leads to confusion among parents, which leads us to the main question.

Is It Recommended To Co-Sleep With A Baby?

It is a good practice to make your baby sleep in a separate sleeping space such as a crib. Pediatricians do not recommend co-sleeping and bed-sharing. While there is no substantial evidence to support its benefits (4), the risks of co-sleeping are well-documented.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, bed-sharing is the greatest factor for sleep-related deaths among infants (5). A study on infants’ deaths in the US across eight years found that about 70% were bed-sharing at the time of their death (6). In 2017, the US State of Arizona documented 83 sleep-related infant deaths out of which 60% were due to co-sleeping/bed-sharing (7).

Co-sleeping risks outweigh the benefits. But what makes something as simple as co-sleeping dangerous for an infant?

What Are The Risks Of Co-Sleeping?

Co-sleeping poses several hidden hazards that may not be evident initially. The following are the risks of co-sleeping and bed-sharing:

  1. Suffocation: Infants should not sleep with any bedding, blankets or pillows around them (8). But a standard adult bed has all these items. The bedding can rollover the baby’s face and may cause suffocation. Another risk can be accidental rolling over of an adult on the baby. It is most likely when the baby is sharing a bed with an adult who has medicines for sleep or is intoxicated with alcohol.

While the baby sleeps with mother, there may be a chance of baby’s face being trapped beneath the breast, as the mother falls asleep. This may lead to suffocation.

  1. Strangulation: The baby’s neck may get stuck in the rails of an adult bed, which can lead to strangulation. In a rare yet plausible event, a baby may strangulate around open hair of the mother.
  1. Entrapment: The space between the edge of the bed and the mattress can pose a risk of entrapment for a baby. It can lead to some grievous injuries.
  1. Accidental fall: There are no guard rails in an adult bed. A baby may crawl to the edge of the bed in the darkness and fall.

Co-sleeping may cause sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). In the next section, we acquaint you with the best practices to keep the baby safe during sleep.

What Is The Safe Way For A Baby To Sleep?

Sleeping in a crib that is placed beside the parent’s bed is the safest way for an infant to sleep. Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend room-sharing over bed-sharing (9). Room-sharing with the baby can reduce the risk of SIDS by 50% (10).

Below are five tips to keep your baby safe during sleep:

  1. The baby should sleep on a firm surface. Choose a firm mattress for the baby’s crib. The mattress must not have gaps between the rims and should fit snugly into the crib.
  1. Have only the baby in the crib. Do not place pillows, blankets, bumper pads, and soft toys on the crib surface. If it is cold, then dress your baby in a warm onesie. Adult beds should never be used for baby’s sleep (11).
  1. Place the baby on their back. Infants must only sleep on their backs, whether it is at nighttime or daytime when they nap, until their first birthday.
  1. Breastfeed and place back in the crib. You can bring the baby to your bed to breastfeed and comfort them. Once the baby is calm, put them back in their crib.
  1. Room-sharing but no bed-sharing. Place the crib right next to your bed such that the baby stays within line of sight. Room-sharing with the baby should be practiced for the first six months or ideally for the first year of the baby’s life.

Sleep is essential for the healthy development of the baby’s mind and body. Babies sleep more than adults, and parents should always ensure the safety of the sleeping baby. Room-sharing is an ideal way to fulfill these requirements without the risks of co-sleeping. The baby’s sleep time should also be a time when the mother can relax while keeping an ear open to hear the baby’s cries or coos.

What is your opinion on co-sleeping with the baby? Do share your experience with us in the comments section below.


MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. Thoman EB, Co-sleeping, an ancient practice: issues of the past and present, and possibilities for the future; National Center for Biotechnology Information
2. The Family Bed: The Benefits of Bed Sharing; Cornell University
3. AAM Co-Sleeping article accepted for Publishing September 2017; University of Huddersfield Repository
4. Is Co-Sleeping Safe? Do You Do It?; Seattle Children’s Hospital
5. SIDS and Other Sleep-Related Infant Deaths: Updated 2016 Recommendations for a Safe Infant Sleeping Environment; AAP
6. Is Co-Sleeping Safe for Your Baby?; Children’s Hospital Colorado
7. DCS Safe Sleep Campaign; Arizona Department of Child Safety
8. Safe Sleep for Babies; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
9. Sleep-related Death Statistics; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
10. How to Keep Your Sleeping Baby Safe: AAP Policy Explained; American Academy of Pediatrics
11. CPSC Press Release; US Consumer Protection Safety Commission