Co-Sleeping: Making It Work and Safe

by Elizabeth Pantley

This article is a copyrighted excerpt from Gentle Baby Care

"We're expecting our first baby soon and thinking about using a family bed. We've done a lot of research on the "whys" and there's lots of information out there. But what about the practical tips? How do we set things up?"

Learn about it

The family bed, co-sleeping, shared sleep -- no matter what you call it, it means that your baby sleeps with you, or very close to you. The family bed is becoming more and more common (or perhaps it's always been common but more people are now talking about it.) Sharing sleep is very popular with parents (particularly nursing mothers) of young babies who wake throughout the night, since it allows parents to avoid getting up out of bed and traveling up and down a dark hallway. Co-sleeping is popular also with parents of older babies who enjoy the nighttime closeness with their child.

There are as many different styles of family beds as there are families! Here are a few of the typical sleeping arrangements:

  • The family bed: Parents and baby sleep together in one bed, usually king-sized.
  • Side-by-side: The child sleeps on a separate mattress or futon on the floor next to the parent's bed.
  • Sidecar: A cradle or crib is nestled adjacent to the parent's bed, sometimes with one side of the crib removed.
  • Shared room: The baby and parents have separate beds in the same room.

The use of these arrangements varies from home to home also. Some of the common sleep situations are:

  • Shared sleep with the baby during the night and for naps.
  • Part-time shared sleep for either naps or nighttime only, or some of both, with baby in a crib, cradle or other place for other sleep times.
  • Mom's dual beds is a common setup in which Mommy has one place where she sleeps with the baby, and another where she sleeps with her husband. She moves back and forth between beds based on how often the baby wakes up and how tired she is on any given night.
  • Musical beds are a common arrangement. There are several beds in different rooms, and parents and baby shift from place to place depending on each evening's situation.
  • Occasional family bed is when the baby has her own crib or bed but is welcomed into the parent's bed whenever she has a bad dream, feels sick, or needs some extra cuddle time.
  • Sibling bed is often a natural followup to the family bed. Older children share sleep after they outgrow the need for the parent's bed or the sidecar arrangement.

How to decide

Every family has different nighttime needs. There is no single best arrangement that works for all babies and parents. Even within a family, there may be several "right" options to choose from. The key is to find the solution that feels right to everyone in your family.

It's very important to eliminate your need or desire to satisfy anyone else's perception of what you should be doing. In other words, no matter what your in-laws, your neighbors, your pediatrician, or your favorite author says about sleeping arrangements, the only "right" answer is the one that works for the people living in your home.

Making it safe

If you decide to have your baby sleep with you, either for naps or at nighttime, you should adhere to the following safety guidelines: