Updated: Nov 8, 2022
If you have been following me on social media for any length of time its clear that we are lovers of the family bed set-up. For us sharing a bed from birth with our little ones means less interruptions and more sleep all round. But is it safe Kitty? If your baby is sleeping in your bed some or all of the time, you’re not alone. In many cultures, bed-sharing with infants and children is the norm. It’s biologically normal for infants and caregivers,
especially breastfeeding/chestfeeding caregivers, to sleep together. Bed-sharing can facilitate breastfeeding and can help optimize sleep for caregivers and infants.
Even if full-time bed-sharing is not for you, preparing to bed-share in the safest way possible is safer than accidentally falling asleep together. It is always safer to prepare the sleep environment to plan for those times when you may fall asleep, and make them as safe as possible.
Globally, bed-sharing is a lot more prevalent than you would expect! In a study of 186 nonindustrial cultures, anthropologist John Whiting found that 67 percent of children slept in the company of others. Bed-sharing is actually more common in American families than you might think. CDC data estimates that around 44% of babies from 2-9 months old in the US are sleeping in an adult bed at any given time. However, if you live in a Western culture, bed-sharing may not be the norm and you may be hearing the message that you shouldn’t do it.
As parent to your child, you have the autonomy and responsibility to make the decisions that feel best for your family. In order to support you to do that, we want to offer you guidelines for safe bed-sharing so that, if you choose to bed-share, you are doing it with intention and as safely as you can.
Infant should not be exposed to smoke during pregnancy or after birth
Any adult in bed with the infant should be aware the baby is there and should have agreed to bed-sharing
Any adult in the bed should be sober
Bed-sharing is safer for breastfeeding/chestfeeding babies
Infant should be placed on their back to sleep
Infant should be lightly dressed in breathable cotton layers and NOT swaddled
The mattress should be firm
Strangulation hazards should be removed (no cords, long hair tied back)
No gaps between the mattress and walls/headboard/footboard (ideally a mattress on the floor without a bed frame placed in the center of the room)
No covers over infant’s head
Minimal blankets and pillows on the bed
Infant should be full-term and healthy - If your baby was born before 37 weeks; or if your baby has arousal, cardiorespiratory or brainstem problems; or if they have been hospitalized with a respiratory infection, then bed-sharing is a higher risk.
Co-sleeping vs. bed-sharing
The difference is co-sleeping is a blanket term meaning sleeping in close proximity to baby. This can mean sleeping in the same bed or sleeping in the same room. Is is generally recommended to room-share with baby for at least the first 6 months of life. Sleeping in close proximity to your baby helps regulate sleep patterns, attend to your baby easily and help both parents and babies feel safe and secure.
Bed-sharing is sleeping on the same sleep surface as baby and this is what has become quite controversial in some parts of the world while it is viewed as the cultural norm in many other parts of the world. There can be an increased risk of SIDS with bed-sharing as most adults end up accidentally bed-sharing without ensuring their sleep space is set up for safety. That said, it can often be that baby and mom sleep better curled up together and many parents wind up sleeping this way just out of a need for sleep.
Resources & Research on Bed-Sharing:
James McKenna Co-Sleeping and Biological Imperatives: Why Human Babies do not and should not sleep alone: https://neuroanthropology.net/2008/12/21/cosleeping-and-biological-imperatives-why-human-babies-do-not-and-should-not-sleep-alone/
Journal of Community Health: A Comparison of Infant Sleep Safety Guidelines in Nine Industrialized Countries: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10900-018-0556-3
UNICEF: Compilation of latest Bed Sharing Research: https://www.unicef.org.uk/babyfriendly/news-and-research/baby-friendly-research/infant-health-research/infant-health-research-bed-sharing-infant-sleep-and-sids
Research analysis on bed sharing and safety: https://www.parentingscience.com/bed-sharing.html
Cultural comparison and co-sleeping around the world: https://www.fatherly.com/health-science/bed-sharing-co-sleeping-different-cultures/
Research-based analysis on the safety of bed sharing: https://evolutionaryparenting.com/bedsharing-and-sids-the-whole-truth/
Research-based analysis on extended bed-sharing and childhood independence: https://evolutionaryparenting.com/bedsharing-beyond-infancy-the-question-of-independence/