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Co-sleeping: How Bad Is It?

By Rebecca on March 5, 2012

There's been a lot of talk about co-sleeping lately as a number of recent deaths are making headlines.

Public health officials are stating in no uncertain terms that co-sleeping is always dangerous and that babies should always be put to sleep in their cribs (on their backs, of course) no matter what. Attachment parenting types and those of us desperate for a few consecutive hours of shut eye claim that's ridiculous. Co-sleeping can be safe, they say, and public health campaigns should focus on how to cosleep safely rather than on prohibiting it altogether.

I don't know. I really don't.

I know that every night I put my infant girl to sleep in her crib and every morning I wake up with her next to me. I then proceed to keep shoving a boob into her mouth while I continue to doze for as long as it takes her to get (literally) fed up. Well, until either the baby's had enough or one of her siblings starts playing hop scotch over and around our bodies.

But I also put her down on a laundry basket full of clean clothes and carried the basket, baby and all, up the stairs yesterday. I absolutely do not support a public health campaign on how to safely cart a baby around on a pile of laundry. Even though I am quite sure that the low level of laundry, the angle of the basket and her limited range of mobility meant that she was safe on that particular trip up the stairs, I think it's fair to say that carrying babies around on baskets of laundry is generally a bad idea. Don't do it.

And while I know that my baby is safe in bed beside me on any given night because she is far from the edge of the bed and from any pillows or bedding that might suffocate her, and because I don't smoke and haven't been drinking and because I don't move around in my sleep when I have a baby next to me, I also know that some babies have died while sleeping with their parents. Babies have died. Lots of them.

Oh, I know that in most of those deaths drugs or alcohol or some other particularly unsafe sleeping arrangement have been implicated. I understand that if strict standards of safe co-sleeping are abided by, the rates of infant deaths drops dramatically. I get that.

But I also think parents who have been drinking are way more likely to put their baby to bed in a crib if that's what they always do. I think that when co-sleeping becomes normalized people are less likely to worry about meeting all the safety criteria. And I think that public health officials need to be concerned with promoting the number one, most safe way of caring for infants. That means breastfeeding, yes. It means putting a baby on it's back to sleep. And, I think, it probably means putting a baby in a safe and secure crib or basinette.

It's a public health campaign; it's not a judgment. Feel free to do your research and make the informed decision to disregard the recommendations. The truth is that if you really care that much, this campaign isn't aimed at you anyway.

Am I wrong? Convince me.

About Rebecca

Rebecca (aka @rebeccakeenan) has been neglecting her kids to mess around on the internet and work on her blog since 2007. Her hobbies include late-night grocery shopping, stepping on Lego and buckling three kids in and out of car seats over and over again. She then regurgitates it all at Playground Confidential. Of course.


  1. I agree with you totally. Here’s the thing: stating an opinion is not going to change anything. Saying”co-sleeping is bad,” or “co-sleeping is good,” isn’t going to change my perspective on the topic. Where you actually have an opportunity to effect change is through education. Start telling parents how to safely co-sleep, and sure you can include the statistics of infant mortality if these steps are not followed. Knowledge is power, it makes way for change.

  2. Fox says:

    I think that women have slept with their children for thousands of years and there were likely no more deaths in the past than there are now. There have always been dangers and always will be with ANYTHING. But Michelle is right. Few people pay attention to the opinion of the health officials. What do they know anyway? Most are appointed positions that have little need for actual academic achievement.

  3. Tricia says:

    It can be done safely. No doubt. And it’s not for everyone. It was for us. And I’ve totally done the laundry basket thing. :)
    Tricia´s last [type] ..Deciphering A 3-Year Old’s Speech Impediment

    • Astari says:

      anymore because of all the laurdny piling up. It is pretty tiny (you can see it before we moved in on this post) but I am still excited about having a real laurdny room to work

  4. Aussie says:

    DRIVING KILLS. It should be banned. Look at the statistics – thousands of lives would be saved each year if we just stopped driving. Think of all the drunk drivers, the drugged ones, the reckless ones. The ones who don’t put their seatbelt on. If we allow driving then we will just encourage them to get into a car as well.

    What’s that? You don’t want to give up your car? Yes, it is inconvenient but with a little effort we could all catch the bus / train / ride a bike or walk to everywhere we needed. What? You don’t want to drag your sick toddler through the rain to stand and wait 20 minutes for the next bus? Don’t be ridiculous, and whatever you do don’t give in and drive – think of the children! The risks!

    Why on earth do we have this type of attitude to co-sleeping when there are far more dangerous activities out there we accept the risks for each day? Don’t let the drunk / drugged / reckless people put you off doing it, and sleeping on a couch is NOT co-sleeping (So statisticians please stop using the tragic deaths on couches as ‘examples’ why co-sleeping is dangerous). Follow the safety recommendations (‘wear your seatbelt’) and use common sense.

  5. Dilovely says:

    Ha ha! I’ve done the laundry basket thing too. And I LOVE co-sleeping, even when it’s tough. Great post. I credit bed-sharing for the awesome snuggliness of my kid. When I brought him home from hospital (going on three years ago), I simply couldn’t have him that far away from me – so I followed my instinct (which people are always telling new moms to do!) and brought him to my bed. We’ve never looked back.
    Dilovely´s last [type] ..Happy Birthday and Happy 10 Years to my Hubbibi

  6. I think the thing that really bugs me about the co-sleeping statistics that are used to ‘scare’ parents into not co-sleeping are not telling the complete story. I always like to look at both sides of the story, and here’s a great link that illustrates the other side:

    Co-sleeping is safe if done safely and if it is more than just mom and baby in the bed (ie dad) then both adults have to be on the same page. (Most studies with the negative statistics are done either by baby product manufacturers or those who are influenced by these companies… these people want to sell products and will show statistics that support their products. I’m not getting into recalls on cribs, etc.)

    I co-slept with our first child (started after a month or so because I just was not getting any sleep. However, I am going to have another baby in July and am more concerned with this baby as my son still climbs into bed with us from time to time and that would not be a safe arrangement for the newborn.
    Crystal @ Crystal’s Cozy Kitchen´s last [type] ..Menu: Feb 27-March 4

  7. tricia says:

    Every mom has done the laundry thing- and I’m all for safe co-sleeping. It was the only way I could function, feed my child and get up by 5:30 to get ready for work the next morning. If you’re not drugged up, inebriated, grossly overweight or sleeping with a million covers and suffocation-inducing things, you can do it safely. It works for some people and it doesn’t for others. The people who don’t like it, shouldn’t do it.
    tricia´s last [type] ..A BabbaCo Babba Box Review: Emotions!

  8. As a dad who shared his bed with his babies when they were young, I recall working longish hours and commuting, and wanting more time to be around my babies. Sharing a bed helped me bond with them, and made it easier to wake up and go to work the next day feeling like I had made some sort of connection.