Co-sleeping, also known as bed-sharing, is a controversial subject in the United States. Allowing a young baby to share the parental bed may be done largely out of convenience. However, according to MayoClinic.Com and the American Academy of Pediatrics, your child is already too old to sleep in a parent's bed the day you take him home from the hospital.
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According to the Nemours Foundation, parents and professionals in support of co-sleeping do so because it makes breastfeeding easier, allowing a nursing mother and her infant to fall into the same sleep schedule. Co-sleeping may also help young babies fall asleep easier during their first few months, as well as help them get more sleep during the night. Finally, some parents bring their babies to bed simply to enjoy the parent-child bond and develop a feeling of closeness.
MayoClinic.Com, the AAP and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission discourage the practice of co-sleeping with your baby, saying it poses a safety hazard. The Nemours Foundation cites CPSC data indicating that 515 children under the age of 2 died from sleeping in adult beds from 1990 to 1997, most of which involved children younger than 3 months. One hundred and twenty-one of these deaths were caused when a parent, caregiver or sibling rolled onto the infant during sleep. Letting your baby sleep in your bed with you can increase her risk of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, says MayoClinic.Com. Additionally, the AAP stresses that encouraging your child to learn how to put herself to sleep on her own, in her own crib, is vital to healthy sleeping habits that carry into her toddler years and beyond.
If you let your infant share your bed, get him into his own crib by 6 months of age before he has time to make co-sleeping a habit and developmental issues such as separation anxiety become problematic, advises the Nemours Foundation. According to the National Sleep Foundation secure infants between the ages of 3 and 11 months may have fewer sleeping problems, but they may begin to suffer from separation anxiety at 6 months. These children are more likely to cry out in the middle of the night. The NSF suggests establishing a consistent day and nighttime schedule and sleep-friendly environment for your infant. Put him to bed when he's just about to doze off--not when he's sound asleep. This helps him become a "self soother" who can fall asleep independently.
In March 2007, the New York Times published an article by journalist Penelope Green highlighting the difficulties parents face when children as old as 11 refuse to sleep in their own rooms. Green writes that the co-sleeping movement has been a boon to child-sleep consultants whose practices are busier than ever as they expand to treat parents and older children. Counselor Janice G. Tracht of Hermosa Beach, California, emphasizes maintaining a positive parent-child bond while maintaining a healthy separation between generations that allows parents to maintain an intimate, adult relationship–and this includes keeping the marital bed private and off-limits to your children. "When these boundaries are blurred or crossed (by co-sleeping), the marital relationship suffers," Tracht states. She says older children sharing a bed with an opposite-sex parent may be "confusing to that child's developing sexual identity."
Breaking the Habit
If your older child continues to want to sleep in your bed, Tracht suggests taking her back to her room. Comfort her by tucking her in. Lie on the bed next to the child and assuring her that you won't leave until she's safely asleep. After she falls asleep, go back to your own bed. Use this routine as long as you need to break the co-sleeping habit, Tracht says. Eventually, "Your child will learn that her room is her own special and safe place in both households," she says.