The bed-sharing debate: To co-sleep or not to co-sleep

Short-Term Comfort May Not Be Worth The Risk Of Letting Your Child Climb Into Bed With You

From the time my daughter was a month old, she was happy to sleep in her own bed. And almost a year and half later, she still prefers to be an independent sleeper, instead of a nighttime cuddler.

At first I believed I was starting my baby out on the right foot. But after talking to other mothers who had nightly bed buddies and shared a close bond with their little ones, I started to wonder if I was missing out on something.

East vs. West

According to a study (pdf) in the journal Pediatrics, co-sleeping is a common practice in eastern countries and unaccompanied sleep is really just a western practice that comes from our belief that children should develop a sense of independence.

Here in the U.S., the prevalence of infant bed-sharing was found to be 27.9 percent among Blacks, 20.9 percent among Asian families and only 7.9 percent among White families. While in China, elementary students were still sharing a bed with their parents at a rate of 18.2 percent.

So, how do you know what’s right for your family?

Safety First


Vice Chair of the department of Pediatrics and Scott & White pediatrician, Robert E. Burke, MD, PhD, said parents should keep safety in mind when making the decision to share their bed.

“The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants sleep in their own bed in their parents’ room with a pacifier,” he said. “That will decrease the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). Whereas co-sleeping will increase the risk because you may rollover on [the child] in the middle of the night and suffocate them.”

Dr. Burke said that although children will probably not suffer any irreparable emotional or psychological harm from sleeping in their parents’ bed, the pediatrician said the benefits may not be worth the trouble it could cause in the future.

“In the short-term, the child will feel more secure. But there may be more difficulty when the parent moves them to their own room”

“In the short-term, the child will feel more secure,” he said. “But there may be more difficulty when the parent moves them to their own room because they don’t have any self-quieting skills to get themselves to sleep.”

If the child is dependent on a parent or someone to help them get to sleep, they may have a harder time making the transition from sleeping with their parents to sleeping by themselves.

The Family Room

The doctor admits that some families don’t have a choice about their living arrangements, and must sleep in the same room.

In fact, the study reported that American families with an income of less than $20,000 a year were 1.5 times more likely to co-sleep with their child.

“If the parents and child must share a room, then the child should be in their own bed or crib,” Dr. Burke said.

Choosing whether to co-sleep with your child is a family preference, the pediatrician said, and parents should consider the benefits and the risks before letting their infant or toddler climb into bed with them.

“The most important thing is that you want to help prevent SIDS,” Dr. Burke said. “The safest position really is for the baby to be in their own little bassinet with a Binky.”

No Kids Allowed

And if you’ve been sharing your bed with a squirming bundle of joy and you’re ready to sleep solo again, Dr. Burke suggests doing it before your child is a toddler who is aware of the separation.

Here are a few other tips to help transition your child back to his or her own bed:

  • If they are old enough to understand, explain why you’re moving them into their own bedroom.
  • Make a big deal about the child sleeping in their new room. Make them feel like they’re getting a reward for being a big boy or girl.
  • Have the child help get the new bed ready. If they’re involved, then they will already have some familiarity with the space.
  • Try giving the child a transitional object, like a night light or favorite toy, to help soothe their fear of separation.
  • If the child has a fear of the room, conduct a “monster check,” making sure there are no monsters under the bed or in the closet.

For more information about co-sleeping or transitioning your child to his own bed, please visit aap.org.

What is your stance on bed-sharing? How old is too old? When should a child sleep by themselves?

About the author

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Jessa McClure holds a degree in journalism and mass communication from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, TX, where she is currently an adviser for student publications. She has been a writer in the health care field since 2009.

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The bed-sharing debate: To co-sleep or not to co-sleep