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Is Co-Sleeping With My Baby Dangerous?

06/26/2015 12:43 pm ET | Updated Jun 26, 2016

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Few topics can fire up tempers, ruin friendships and lead to irreparable rifts like childcare. Much like religion and politics, child-rearing should be off-limits at dinner parties. And yet, bickering with other parents about nap times, pacifiers and time-out strategies is America’s new favorite pastime — at least in some neighborhoods.

Of the many topics that can turn mild-mannered moms and dads into fist-waving zealots, co-sleeping is among the most contentious.

What exactly is co-sleeping?

Depending on whom you ask, “co-sleeping” can mean infants sleeping in their parents’ bed, or it may simply mean keeping the bassinet in the room (which some call “room-sharing”). For our purposes, “co-sleeping” is synonymous with “bed-sharing” — newborns and infants regularly sleeping in their parents’ bed.

Putting health issues to the side for the moment (more on that below), the decision to co-sleep is largely a philosophical one. Either it’s for you, or it’s not for you.

Proponents point to the bonding benefits, noting that newborns typically sleep 16 hours every day until they’re three-months-old. If a human baby’s first three months are, indeed, more akin to a fourth trimester, developmentally speaking, newborns can only benefit from round-the-clock proximity to parents. Or so say the proponents.

You’re saying I should turn over my marital bed to my baby?

Exactly. Such closeness comes with a price. For households with two parents, even just having a baby in the bedroom — not to mention the actual bed — can reduce intimacy. Not that many new parents are frisky like honeymooners, but having quiet time alone is important to most relationships. What’s more, there’s already a tendency for new parents to begin seeing one another as “mom” or “dad,” and less as romantic partners. Why exacerbate that?

On the other hand, parent-child bonding can actually increase intimacy between some couples. For them, there is no greater expression of their love than their child.

What if I roll over during the night?

Love and tenderness aside, there are serious concerns when it comes to co-sleeping. We are, after all, talking about fragile creatures with skulls softer than ripe cantaloupes. Until the six-month mark or thereabouts, babies are unable to roll over on their own. Even when not swaddled, they’re unable to react to problems such as blocked airways and over- or under-heating. As adults, we quite naturally toss and turn throughout the night — undeniably putting babies at risk of being crushed or smothered.

That’s why a number of well-regarded organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and quite a few independent agencies, urge against the practice. In 2012, after studying nearly 1,500 cases of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, the London-based BMJ Open journal concluded, “A substantial reduction of SIDS rates could be achieved if parents avoided bed sharing.”

That’s not to say you’ll crush your baby during the night. (Though you might, and you may face criminal charges if you were aware of the risks.)

At the very least, you will probably be worried about these risks, which may interfere with your own sleeping. And as every parent will eagerly explain, you need as much sleep as possible.

-- Jeff Koyen

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