by Heidi Green
June 13, 2012
Although the terms are often used interchangeably, “co-sleeping” and “bedsharing” are not synonymous.
When children sleep near their parents, in the same room, the family is said to be “co-sleeping.” However, co-sleeping can take any of several different forms:
A “sidecar” arrangement often involves the use of a commercial product designed for this purpose, such as a bassinet that attaches securely to the parent’s bed. As Dr. William Sears explains, a sidecar “allows both mother and baby to have their own sleeping space, while baby still enjoys sleeping close to [the mother] for easier feeding and comforting.” When a baby is within reach, the mother can respond to the baby’s needs, providing a reassuring touch or bringing the baby close to breastfeed during the night; however, after each interaction, the child is returned to his own space to sleep.
“Room-sharing,” in which the baby sleeps in a crib in the parents’ room, is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) until a baby is at least 6 months old, to reduce the risk of SIDS. Parents who room-share are able to better respond to their baby’s needs compared to parents who place their babies in a separate room.
“Bedsharing” is another type of co-sleeping, in which the child sleeps in his parents’ bed. Although bedsharing is a sleep arrangement embraced by many families, bedsharing is controversial due to the perceived risk of suffocation. Dr. James McKenna, of the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at Notre Dame University, notes that while some parents are unable to provide safe bedsharing environments, this is not true of all parents. According to both Dr. McKenna and Dr. Helen Ball of the Parent-Infant Sleep Lab at Durham University, when done safely, mother-infant bedsharing can improve nighttime breastfeeding, extend the duration of breastfeeding, contribute to infant and maternal health and wellbeing, and even save infants’ lives.
Safe Sleep guidelines such as those found elsewhere on baby gooroo’s site and on Dr. McKenna’s website are designed to help parents who choose to bedshare create a safe bedsharing environment. In fact, the guidelines are helpful for parents regardless of where their children sleep:
The American Academy of Pediatrics recognizes the need for infants to sleep in close proximity to their parents. (Click here for their policy statement on SIDS.) Co-sleeping—in which the infant sleeps within close proximity to the parents—is highly recommended. When it comes to bedsharing, parents will need to weigh the risks and benefits for their own families.
Only you can know which sleeping arrangement best suits your family. If you choose to bedshare, be sure to learn how to bedshare safely as well as how to assess the safety of cribs and other sleeping surfaces. For information on crib recalls, visit the Consumer Product Safety Commission website.
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