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Is Co-Sleeping Safe?

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on June 22, 2022

Because babies are so cute, it's often difficult to resist the urge to cuddle up next to them. Co-sleeping with your toddler can be fun, but it is definitely not safe with an infant. Learn more about the safety of co-sleeping with your child and its potential risks. We’ll also give you some helpful tips to encourage your little one to sleep safely in their own bed.

What Is Co-Sleeping?

 

Co-sleeping is when you and your baby sleep in close physical contact in the same bed. Ideally, both of you will be aware of how close you are to each other. Many parents co-sleep to more easily breastfeed their babies at night. Having the baby close when they wake up wanting breast milk can be a convenience. Some people also believe that co-sleeping can help the baby fall back to sleep faster. Co-sleeping may also help the mother to sync sleep cycles with her baby.

Although some parents see benefits to co-sleeping with their child, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not recommend it. It’s much safer for your infant or toddler to sleep alone in their own bed.

Is Co-Sleeping With an Infant Safe?

It’s not safe to sleep in the same bed with your infant. The AAP suggests that you instead let your infant sleep in a crib, bassinet, or cradle in the same room you sleep in. Make sure that the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has approved your child’s bed.

Sleeping in the same bed with a newborn can cause them harm in many ways. Doing so can heighten the risk of:

  • Smothering
  • Entrapment
  • Suffocation
  • Strangulation
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
  • Delayed development of your infant’s independence
  • Sleep issues

The AAP suggests that your infant sleep:

On a firm, flat, non-inclined surface. Your infant shouldn’t sleep on an inline of more than 10 degrees. This is unsafe.

On their back. You should place your child on their back, called a supine position. You should do this until they turn 1 year old. Side sleeping isn’t safe for your baby.

In your room. Experts recommend that your child sleep in a separate, infant-appropriate bed in your room with you. Their bed should be close to yours. This is ideal for at least the first 6 months.

If you keep your child’s bed close to yours, you’ll be able to breastfeed or help with their other needs more easily.

Without loose materials. Don’t put any weighted blankets, weighted sleepers, weighted swaddles, or any other stuffed animals or lose objects anywhere near your sleeping newborn. To keep your baby warm, it’s a better idea to dress them in layers of clothing or other coverings. It’s important to lessen any risk of their head being covered or their body being trapped by anything in their bed.

When your infant shows signs of wanting to roll over, you should stop swaddling them. This can happen as early as 3 to 4 months old. But your infant may try it earlier. Swaddling your child at this stage can make them more likely to suffocate if they roll onto their belly but can’t roll onto their back.

Is Co-Sleeping With a Toddler Safe?

It’s not safe to share a bed with your toddler, either. The AAP recommends creating a solo sleeping space for your child, which includes: 

  • Putting them in a supine sleeping position (on their back)
  • Placing them on a firm surface like a quality mattress
  • Having their own crib, bassinet, or toddler bed
  • Sharing a room with the parent for comfort

While it can be fun to co-sleep with your toddler, doing so can cause them a lot of harm. You could roll over them and cause injury during deep sleep. It’s also dangerous if your toddler gets trapped between the mattress, headboard, wall, or soft bedding like pillows or blankets. When the baby is in such a position, it could lead to death by suffocation.

Co-sleeping with a child over 1 year old has a little less risk than with one under 12 months. At a toddler's age of 1 to 2 years old, they can roll over and free themselves in case they are trapped in the bed. As a child gets older, it becomes less risky to co-sleep, but it’s still best for them to sleep on their own.

If you toddler has issues with sleeping, your pediatrician can offer ways to help them self-soothe and set healthy sleep patterns.

Why Toddlers Should Sleep Alone

In addition to the dangers it poses to your child, co-sleeping can have various effects on the parents. Babies who share a bed with their parents may start associating sleep with being close to their parents and in their bed. This becomes a problem to the parent when they try to get the child to sleep without them or in a different room.

As children get older and become toddlers, co-sleeping may also cause more disturbances to your rest. Your child may wake you often during the night which could lead to daytime anxiety for you and your partner.

When not to co-sleep. Co-sleeping is not ideal, as it can pose many threats to your baby’s well-being. Here are some more instances when you should definitely never co-sleep with your baby:

  • When you are using drugs (including medication that causes drowsiness) or have drunk alcohol
  • If your baby was born premature (before 37 weeks)
  • If your baby was born with a low birth weight (5 pounds)
  • When you are very tired
  • If you smoke (even if not in the bedroom)
  • When you are on a sofa or armchair

Encouraging Your Toddler to Sleep Without You

Putting a stop to co-sleeping might not be easy on you and your baby. It can provide some comfort to your child and be a warm bonding experience. However, you can use these helpful tips to encourage sleeping independence:

  • Switch to room-sharing: Set up a crib for your child in your bedroom next to your bed.
  • Make the process gradual: Be patient with your child and make small changes gradually.
  • Create a positive bedtime routine: Try and make bedtime a fun experience for your little one.
  • Check with a professional: Seek help from a pediatrician or sleep consultant to help you make the change.

As a parent, it’s important to create the safest and most comfortable environment for your child. Sleep is crucial for a healthy life, so each family member in your home should have their own space to curl up in each night.

Are There Benefits to Co-Sleeping?

While it’s unsafe to share a bed with your child, room-sharing can be safe. This is when you co-sleep with your baby in the same room but without sharing a bed.

Studies show that if your child sleeps in the same room, on a separate surface close to your bed, their risk of SIDS goes down by as much as 50%.

Doing so also reduces their risk of strangulation, suffocation, and getting trapped while sleeping.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

The Baby Sleep Site: "How To Gently Transition Your Baby or Toddler From Co-Sleeping"

KidsHealth: “Bed-Sharing.”

The Lullaby Trust: “Co-sleeping with your baby.”

Pediatrics: “SIDS and Other Sleep-Related Infant Deaths: Evidence Base for 2016 Updated Recommendations for a Safe Infant Sleeping Environment,”

American Academy of Pediatrics: “Sleep-Related Infant Deaths: Updated 2022 Recommendations for Reducing Infant Deaths in the Sleep Environment.”

SCAN: “Co-Sleeping with Your Infant.”

Children’s Hospital Los Angeles: “Why Co-sleeping Can Do More Harm Than Good.”

University of Maryland Children’s Hospital: “Research Shows That Co-Sleeping with Toddlers Can Impact Mother's Mental Health.”

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