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Co-sleeping, also called the family bed, is a practice in which babies and young children sleep with one or both parents. It is standard practice in many parts of the world outside of North America and Europe and was widely practiced in all areas up until the 19th century, until the advent of giving the child his or her own room and the crib. More recently, it has been re-introduced into Western culture by practitioners of attachment parenting.

Proponents believe that co-sleeping promotes bonding, lets the parents get more sleep, facilitates breastfeeding, and protects against sudden infant death syndrome. Older babies can breastfeed during the night without waking their mother. Opponents charge that co-sleeping is dangerous, and argue that modern-day bedding is not safe for co-sleeping. They point to evidence that co-sleeping may increase the risk of SIDS, or that the parent may smother the child or promote an unhealthy dependence of the child on the parent.

According to advocates, co-sleeping is likely to end after a year or two if the child is not forced to co-sleep. The child may choose a place of his own, possibly on a surface that would appear to be uncomfortable by adult standards. Hot weather and weaning can encourage this natural separation.


Co-sleeping proponents argue that the sleep patterns of a healthy adult will prevent injury to the child, but not all people are healthy adults. Some common advice given is that a child should never sleep with a parent who smokes, is taking drugs (including alcohol) that impede alertness, or is extremely obese. It is also recommended that the bed should be firm, and should not be a waterbed or couch; and that heavy quilts, comforters, and pillows should not be used. Young children should never sleep next to babies, because young children sleep in a way that would allow them to roll onto a baby. It is often recommended that a baby should never be left unattended in an adult bed; there may be a risk of falling to a hard floor even if the bed surface itself is no more dangerous than a crib surface.


There are several products which can be used to facilitate safe co-sleeping with an infant.

  • bassinets that attach to the side of an adult bed, and which have barriers on three sides, but are open to the parent's bed (see example product on
  • side rail or other barrier, to prevent the child from rolling off
  • co-sleeping infant enclosures which are placed directly in the adult bed.

Effects of co-sleepingEdit

There are two basic types of co-sleeping.

  1. Co-sleeping can be started within a few months of the child's birth, or at birth, and continue into toddlerhood. In this case, children who began co-sleeping as infants exhibited more self-reliance and social independence than children in the second case or children who slept alone. This showed itself in areas such as settling disputes with playmates on their own rather than involving adults.
  2. Co-sleeping can begin later, in response to the child's sleeping difficulties. In the this case, the sleep of everyone in the bed (i.e. parents and child) is often disrupted and family tensions are increased.

(Keller & Goldberg, 2004)


  • Keller, M.A., and W.A. Goldberg (2004). Co-sleeping: Help or hindrance for young children's independence?. Infant and Child Development 13 (December): 369-388. DOI:10.1002/icd.365.
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