For the first six months, most experts agree babies are safest in their own bassinet, whether in the nursery or in the parents’ bedroom. Once your baby is relatively mobile, it can be tempting to let them crawl in bed with you. In some cultures, this is the norm. In the U.S., co-sleeping and crib sleeping are quite the debate. There’s no “right” answer, but if you can’t decide what to do, it’s important to understand how the two differ, and what benefits and potential negative effects each can have.
What is Crib Sleeping?
Crib sleeping is just what it sounds like: a baby sleeps in a crib, in a nursery, and learns to sleep through the night on their own, without having their parents a wriggle away when they wake up. Most parents set up an intercom system, so that if the baby wakes up enough to need something, mom or dad hears right away.
Most fans of crib sleeping argue co-sleeping can increase dependence in little ones, which, by contrast, suggests that crib sleeping encourages independence (although there’s no scientific evidence to support either theory). Some infants have no problem with crib sleeping, while others may wake up fifteen times in a night when alone and sleep straight through when co-sleeping.
What is Co-Sleeping?
Co-sleeping is, traditionally, a form of sleeping in which the child sleeps in the bed with the parent(s) for the first few years of life. On average, most kids move to their own bed by three or four -- although some leave earlier and others stick around until closer to kindergarten. There are definitely some pros and cons to consider before you let your baby take up residence in your bed.
While co-sleeping is generally considered as having your baby literally in your bed with you (bed sharing), a less militant version of co-sleeping just involves a bassinet set up right beside your bed -- in the same room, still within arm’s reach, but away from fluffy, suffocating pillows and big, sleeping bodies. Plus, it still gives you and your partner the space you need to keep intimacy alive.
The American Academy of Pediatrics is very against bed sharing -- but they don’t have any objection to co-sleeping. In fact, AAP recommends co-sleeping (not bed sharing) for the first six to twelve months of a baby’s life. Research suggests having your little one in the room may reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Ultimately, there’s no one answer -- co-sleeping may reduce SIDS, but it might have the opposite effect. It all depends on the circumstances and exactly how your family is co-sleeping.
Co-sleeping, in either form, tends to make the baby sleep better, but many parents are less lucky. While your baby’s nervous system is developing, changing stages of sleep can actually be startling, making it difficult for your young to stay asleep. Your baby’s frequent waking can lead to less sleep for you, but, as far as your child goes, a nearby parental presence can ease the accompanying tension.
For mother specifically, those first six, bassinette months can seem like heaven after carrying your baby for nine months. Even the soundest, best sleeping baby is likely to flip around and wind up with their neck where their knees started out. If they’re in the middle, both parents are likely to have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, and getting quality sleep. Crib sleeping generally gives parents more opportunities to get good sleep, as well as more opportunities to rediscover their intimacy life that often gets lost in the first months of new parenthood.
Speaking of quality sleep, co-sleeping can make it much, much easier for breastfeeding moms during those 1AM wake up calls. Some studies find that co-sleeping means neither party has to wake up as fully, and falls back asleep more easily. Additionally, co-sleeping can increase nightly feedings, which means your baby is getting more antibodies -- which can reduce their and number and severity of sickness. Because of the ease co-sleeping breastfeeding affords, many moms choose to nurse longer than they might otherwise. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends breastfeeding until your baby’s second birthday, but it can start to feel a little strange to breastfeed a burgeoning toddler in public.
While your baby may be getting more antibodies, some experts become concerned at the prospect of night feedings that go on longer than they normally should. For the first few months, yes, it’s absolutely essential for most babies to get at least one if not two meals throughout the night. But, once your child starts to reach a year old, those nighttime feedings should stop.
Neither option is “better” when it comes to where and how your baby should sleep. While it’s important to follow safety guidelines, especially when it comes to SIDS, whether or not your child sleeps with you, and for how long, is up to you and your partner. Do what works best for you -- what lets you maintain a close bond with child and significant other, what lets you get enough, good sleep, and what just feels right.