Cosleeping with Baby – Is it Good or Bad?

cosleeping with baby

Parenting can be described as one of the hardest challenges faced nowadays; there are more than enough parenting guides out there from “experts” who claim their way is best. Millions have tried to explain how you’re supposed to raise children, but there are millions more who disagree with them on parenting styles and best practices for raising a child. Some parents can get lost down these rabbit holes due to their conflicting opinions when it comes time for decisions about what methods they’ll use while treating their child based off different perspectives from others out there.

One such subject is bedtime: laying down with your child or letting them self-soothe and going to sleep by themselves? Comfort them or cry-it-out?

According to James J. McKenna Ph.D. and Edmund P. Joyce C.S.C. Chair in Anthropology Director, Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at The University of Notre Dame and author of Sleeping with Your Baby: A Parent’s Guide to Cosleeping, babies should not sleep alone.

“[There is] irrepressible (ancient) neurologically-based infant responses to maternal smells, movements and touch altogether reduce infant crying while positively regulating infant breathing, body temperature, absorption of calories, stress hormone levels, immune status, and oxygenation. In short, and as mentioned above, cosleeping (whether on the same surface or not) facilitates positive clinical changes including more infant sleep and seems to make, well, babies happy. In other words, unless practiced dangerously, sleeping next to mother is good for infants. The reason why it occurs is because… it is supposed to.”

Susan Krauss Whitbourne, a professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, agrees.

“When you separate the popular exaggerations of AP [attachment parenting] from the more objectively oriented scientific studies, it’s a sensible approach that fosters physical and psychological health in children…We do know from extensive research … that securely attached adults have happier and less conflict-ridden lives. There’s even research to suggest they may be better parents themselves.”

McKenna and Joyce continue:

“Recall that despite dramatic cultural and technological changes in the industrialized west, human infants are still born the most neurologically immature primate of all, with only 25% of their brain volume. This represents a uniquely human characteristic that could only develop biologically (indeed, is only possible) alongside mother’s continuous contact and proximity—as mother’s body proves still to be the only environment to which the infant is truly adapted, for which even modern western technology has yet to produce a substitute…

Even here in whatever-city-USA, nothing a baby can or cannot do makes sense except in light of the mother’s body, a biological reality apparently dismissed by those that argue against any and all bedsharing and what they call cosleeping, but which likely explains why most crib-using parents at some point feel the need to bring their babies to bed with them —findings that our mother-baby sleep laboratory here at Notre Dame has helped document scientifically. Given a choice, it seems human babies strongly prefer their mother’s body to solitary contact with inert cotton-lined mattresses. In turn, mothers seem to notice and succumb to their infant’s preferences.”

Opponents of AP and co-sleeping argue that children sleeping separately from their parents encourage greater independence in the child later on. But as was researched at the Notre Dame Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory, the satisfaction of infants’ and children’s need for attachment, attention and human contact, such as occurs in co-sleeping, establishes greater confidence and esteem in children. They also found that babies who cry due to separation from their parents release more of the stress hormone, cortisol, during their distress. Chronic exposure to cortisol adversely affects immune functioning.

We come, though, from a lot of programming about child-rearing, with past advice from people like physician William Whitty Hall, author of a popular 19th century sleep hygiene book, where he says individuals in co-sleeping societies were like “wolves, hogs and vermin” who “huddle together,” whereas in the civilized West, “each child, as it grows up, has a separate apartment.” As an article in the LA Times explains:

Ensuring privacy at night was not just a health concern; it was also a matter of defining proper “whiteness” or “Europeanness.” While reformers endorsed solitary sleep as healthful and moral, they noted that “savages” slept collectively — and this practice was somehow to blame for underdevelopment [sic] of the non-Western world.

So it seems that the roots of sleeping stems maybe not from the parental desire for independence, but actually from white superiority.

Which maybe knowing this could make it easier for some parents to move beyond the fears that are thrown at them when it comes to cosleeping (ranging anywhere from dependant, clingy children to death) to a place where their instincts of having their children close to them in bed are honored. Especially since all the proof is there.

-A study of English school children found that children who never slept with their parents were more fearful than children who always slept with their parents and school children who slept alone were less adept at handling stress, were more difficult to handle and were less independent than children who slept with their parents.

-A multi-ethnic study of 1,400 adults found that those who co-slept as a child reported greater satisfaction with life

McKenna, in his research article Cosleeping Around the World, states, “Most cultures that routinely practice cosleeping, in any form, have very rare instances of SIDS. SIDS occurrences are among the lowest in the world in Hong Kong, where cosleeping is extremely common.”

According to McKenna, a majority of Japanese children co-sleep with their parents through the early school years, and half co-sleep with their parents until the mid-teens. “Japanese parents (or grandparents) often sleep in proximity with their children until they are teenagers, referring to this arrangement as a river – the mother is one bank, the father another, and the child sleeping between them is the water. Most of the present world cultures practice forms of cosleeping and there are very few cultures in the world for which it would ever even be thought acceptable or desirable to have babies sleeping alone.”

Moms and Dads. Grandmas and Grandpas. Aunts and Uncles. Sisters and Brothers. Please. The research is there. We can look out in our self-driven world and see what generations of pushing children away have given us. Do we really want more of what we have? It seems like most people are in a fight for their lives, stressed out, and maybe looking out for themselves more than others.

Could this be one result of being left to cry it out? Could sleeping alone, away from the comfort and security of the adults in our lives, really leave us more insecure as adults, leading us to the destructive behaviors we experience? Could drug abuse, violence, and addiction stem from this evolutionary need that is not getting met? What if nurturing our children in the simple act of keeping them close could actually create a more loving, confident and secure generation.

I believe so. I have given birth to two children and my instincts as a mother has them in bed with me. With the oldest child in my life, I was warned I’d best let him sleep by himself if I wanted him to be independent sooner. This was at 2 months. How much sooner? He still sleeps with me at 5 and is one of the most independent, intelligent children I know. I am grateful every day for my parents who let me crawl in bed with them nearly every night until around 3rd grade.

Nowhere else in the world experiences life the way the Western and developed world does. According to Jimmy Nelson, in an interview titled, ‘Parenting Lessons from Around the World,’ (in regards to tribes where cosleeping is the norm), “We believe we have to live for happiness. None of these people have the term ‘happiness’, because they don’t worry about the future, or when they’re going to be happy. They just are.” And it seems that cosleeping and AP are far more accepted in these places. Maybe it’s time we let go of what a couple “experts” said and trust our instincts.

Frequently Asked Questions (Faqs)

When to start co-sleeping with your baby?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, parents should share a room with their newborns for at least the first six months of life.
They should ideally continue doing so during the first year of the baby’s life. Your kid’s physiology will be more stabilised after the first six months of life, and you will be able to make an informed choice regarding co-sleeping with your infant.

However, make bed-sharing as safe for your kid as possible. There was no apparent increased risk of SIDS among families that practised bed-sharing and whose parents did not drink or smoke for infants older than 3 months of age. We highly advise avoiding co-sleeping in some situations, such as on a sofa or armchair, if anybody in the bed smokes or has consumed alcohol, or if the infant was preterm or had a low birth weight.

Sleep your infant on their back (never on their tummy). Tie your hair back if you have long hair. Remove anything else that might pose a strangulation hazard, such as jewellery and teething necklaces. Place your kid at your side. Never place your infant between two people or near other youngsters or dogs.

What bedding should I use for my baby when we co-sleep?

Check if the mattress is firm and flat. Do not place a baby to sleep on a waterbed mattress, cushion, beanbag, sheepskin, or any other soft surface. If you’re co-sleeping, never wrap or swaddle your infant. Make certain that your infant cannot slip out of bed. Bedding should be snug to the mattress. The mattress should fit snugly against the headboard and footboard (or sides of the crib). Any loose cushions, plush animals, or soft blankets should be kept away from the baby’s face.

A frequent sleeping arrangement is for mom to be in the centre of the bed, with the baby on one side at an angle and dad on the other. You must choose a sleeping arrangement that works for your family, but you may find yourself involuntarily adopting a protective posture, curled on your side, facing your infant, one arm spread out over him.

Is room sharing safer than bed-sharing?

Room sharing is a safe alternative that keeps newborns close to their parents but not in the same bed. When newborns sleep in the same room but on a separate sleep surface as a parent, sibling, or another caregiver, this is known as room-sharing. The room-sharing arrangement avoids the newborn from being suffocated, entrapped, or strangled if he or she sleeps in an adult bed.

However, sharing a room is not for everyone. While some parents find it easier to sleep with their newborns in the room, others do not. If you are a light sleeper, you may find that room-sharing, co-sleeping, or bed-sharing is too distracting.

Can my baby sleep in a swing or car seat?

When the infant is awake and supervised, using a swing is safe; nevertheless, when the baby falls asleep in the swing, it becomes harmful. When a baby is napping in a swing, their head might slump forward, obstructing their airway—this is known as positional asphyxiation. This danger occurs if your infant is also napping in an elevated bouncer or car seat.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), newborns are put in risk when they sleep in a bouncy seat, baby swing, or carrier during their first year of life. This applies to both naps and nocturnal sleep. Swings, unlike cribs or bassinets, are not meant for sleep. Young infants lack the physical power to keep their heads up, and sleeping in a semi-upright posture (such as in a car seat, swing, or bouncer) with their heads drooping over may result in asphyxia.

A brief snooze in the swing may be OK provided you are there and watching your baby. However, leaving your infant in a swing all night might be hazardous. Babies, particularly those under four months old, have weak neck muscles and may suffocate if they slouch over.


I’m a writer, new mom and foodie. I love sharing what I know while making others feel beautiful. On this blog, I share my healthy lifestyle, simple meals, fitness tips and experiences.

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