Although the terms are often used interchangeably, “co-sleeping” and “bed-sharing” are not synonymous––and understanding the difference is important for your baby’s safety at night.
When children sleep near their parents in the same room, the family is said to be “co-sleeping.” But co-sleeping can take several forms:
- “Sidecar” arrangement
In this arrangement, the baby sleeps in a crib in the room of the parents (or parent) that’s separate from the parents’ bed. This setup is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) for at least the first 6 months and preferably the first year to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Parents who have their child within view and within reach can better respond to their baby’s needs for feeding, comforting, and monitoring compared with parents who place their babies in a separate room.
In this sleeping setup––which is a type of room-sharing––the baby sleeps in a bed that’s attached to the parents’ bed so that the mother can easily reach the baby during the night. When the baby is within reach during the night, the mother can respond to her needs, providing a reassuring touch or bringing her close to breastfeed. But after each interaction, the child is returned to her own space to sleep. This arrangement often involves the use of a commercial product designed for this purpose, such as a bassinet that attaches securely to the parents’ bed. The AAP and federal health authorities appear to have issued no recommendations regarding sidecar sleeping.
In this type of co-sleeping, the child sleeps in his parents’ bed. U.S. health authorities advise against this because of the higher risk of SIDS. A 2014 International Journal of Pediatrics analysis compiled the results of 21 studies and concluded that while more research is needed, there is some evidence that bed-sharing is associated with more than double the risk for SIDS. In 2007, the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) published questions and answers for health care providers on sleep and SIDS that included the AAP’s recommendation for room-sharing but not bed-sharing. A 2012 NICHD fact sheet on safe sleep for babies notes that babies “should not sleep in an adult bed, on a couch, or on a chair alone, with you, or with anyone else.”
By knowing the facts about safe sleep for your baby, you can enjoy the benefits of nighttime closeness while also helping to ensure your child’s safety.