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"Are Family Beds a Good Idea?"

By Charles Hopkins Published 04/24/2006 | Parenting
What happened to newborns sleeping all day and night? Why is your one year old still not sleeping through the night? And will your five year old ever choose to sleep in her own bed all night?

For a few generations the thought of sharing your bed with your children seemed not just undisciplined but even archaic. That view still exists in many Western countries. For years professionals encouraged the trend towards independence in children as early as possible. Mothers were urged to formula feed rather than breastfeed. Babies slept alone rather than with their mothers.

Now a whiplash effect has occurred with many women looking to return to breastfeeding and the family bed.

Why is it such a controversial topic? For many new mothers the reports about increased suffocation risk for infants sleeping in adult beds along with social pressure to establish an independent child forces them to rise several times per night and endless daily battles to keep their unwilling child in a crib.

Is it worth it? Many mothers and fathers are beginning to say NO.

In a report by Today's Parent magazine, two-thirds of respondents said they sleep with their baby "sometimes", "often" or "always". Is it something you should try? If you already are, is it safe to continue?

Many of the dangers attributed to sleeping in adult beds comes from studies that included the risk of the baby coming to harm on the bed itself - by wedging between the mattress and the wall or other danger - and babies who died from SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) in which no cause was found.

Despite that fact, professionals who continued to look for methods of bed sharing that were acceptable were unable to do so. While sharing a room with the parents has been proven to cut the risk of SIDS dramatically, sharing a bed just could not pass the scrutiny of the medical community.

On the other hand, sharing a bed has been a custom for centuries before average families could afford separate beds, let alone separate rooms, for each individual in the home. Many countries still accept this as the norm and often boast good numbers of healthy infants in the process.

So what will you do? More and more Western families are seeing benefits of sharing a bed with improved sleep for both mother and baby. Young children also find comfort in a family bed. This can be particularly attractive to working mothers who miss out on time spent with their infants or children through the day.

However, a word of caution: adults who are intoxicated, taking sleeping pills or other drugs or are unusually heavy sleepers ARE a risk to infants since they will not be as aware of the presence of the baby and could potentially suffocate it. Infants should also not share beds with other children for the same reason - they just lack the ability to maintain awareness of the baby while sleeping.

Mothers who nurse will also find the baby will likely nurse more frequently in a shared sleeping arrangement. But both baby and mother will not have to fully awaken and on average will enjoy longer sleeping periods - a benefit for everyone in the family. Whatever you decide, you will find many parents divided on the topic, so find what works for your family and stick to it!