Philadelphia-based sleep expert and Confident Parenting founder Erica Desper tackles an often controversial topic: Co-Sleeping.
As a new Mother, I was drawn to the concept of sharing sleep with my baby and did so, first successfully and then— not so successfully. As a Sleep Consultant, I have helped families make both room-sharing and bed-sharing work and helped them to wean away from it when it no longer does. There is certainly no shortage of information, opinion, and judgement surrounding where and how your baby sleeps. As with most things parenting related, it is very much a personal decision. I am not here to tell you if co-sleeping is right or wrong, but to offer some food for thought so you can make an informed decision on what is right for you and your family.
While the AAP encourages parents to share a room with their baby for the first year, they do advise against sharing a bed. Regardless of that recommendation, it is estimated that as many as 70% of new parents are bed sharing at least occasionally, even when they did not intend to do so prenatally. Like it or not, co-sleeping, for many families, is sometimes the only alternative to not sleeping at all: “no sleeping”.
In stark contrast to the AAP stance, renowned mother-baby sleep researcher Dr. James McKenna offers loads of research and argument in support of bed-sharing (with certain caveats). And certainly, from a breastfeeding perspective, the close proximity promotes the ease and frequency of feeding, and often the duration of the breastfeeding relationship.
So, how can you, as a parent, reconcile such conflicting information? The best you can do is to learn all sides of the argument and make your own informed decision. Along with that, give some thought to these questions:
- Am I an intentional cosleeper or a reactive cosleeper? Intentional bed sharing occurs when you are drawn to the philosophy and make an informed, intentional decision to do it. You are familiar with and are following the safety guidelines and both you and your partner expect baby to regularly be in the bed. Reactive bed sharing is done in the moment with little to no intention or forethought, and often as a last resort. Reactive bed sharing lends itself to being a less safe option.
- Is this working for everyone? Bed sharing can be a successful arrangement when it helps everyone in the family get the best quality and quantity of sleep. If, for example, it is working for your baby but you are wide awake with anxiety over the arrangement, that is a different scenario. If you are in love with the arrangement but Dad is not and is sleeping resentfully in another room, that is also a different scenario. Or, as in my own experience, baby begins waking every 45 minutes and partying for two hours on repeat, not so much!
- Am I doing this because I want to and I enjoy it or for another reason? Many families are bedsharing simply out of a lack of other options. Or well beyond the time they intended to transition out of it for fear of a dramatic transition. There are many ways to help your little one be a sound sleeper even in their own space. And there are gentle ways to wean away from bedsharing if it is no longer the right arrangement for you and your family.
Only you can decide what is right or wrong for your family in any given moment. I simply suggest that you grow as informed as possible and be open to reevaluating your arrangement based on new information or when your family or baby reaches a new age or stage.
Erica Desper is a certified child and infant sleep consultant who has worked with hundreds of parents in and around the Philadelphia area and internationally to improve their family’s sleep. Having struggled with colic, feeding issues and over a year of massive sleep deprivation with her own son, Erica launched her business Confident Parenting in 2012 with the goal of helping other parents better understand and survive their baby’s developmental stages and sleep patterns while maintaining their sanity. Erica works with parents to understand the science of sleep, set the stage for healthy sleep habits and to remove common obstacles that interfere with sleep. Her philosophy is that there is no one size fits all solution or method but, rather, the right one for you and your family. She offers a range of options so you can address sleep with a plan and timeline that feels comfortable for you and follows you through the process of implementing the plan through phone and email support. She also teaches several group classes including Why Won’t My Child Sleep, Newborn Sleep 101, Introduction to Infant Massage and Fussy Baby Solutions. To learn more about the options for one on one support or to see what parents are saying about their experience, visit BeAConfidentParent.com.