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Ask Dr. Donohoe - The benefits of Co-sleeping

The Benefits of Co-Sleeping

Believe me, I’ve been there too. I looked for the house with the extra room which would make the perfect nursery. I spent the hundreds of dollars on the crib and all the bedding and toys to go with it. I bought the perfect rocking chair for the nursery to help soothe my baby back to sleep in the middle of the night. And then… it all went to waste when I realized that my child would never spend a night alone in that crib in a room separated from my wife and I.

When did I come to that realization? When the midwife brought that perfect baby into my life right there on my bed in my bedroom and after a good first nursing, my wife and daughter cuddled down to sleep right there in the same bed!

Western culture dictates that children should sleep in their own beds in their own rooms, but in most cultures, co-sleeping is the standard practice. In fact, mothers and babies sleeping together is the cultural norm for about 90% of the world’s population! Mothers in Asia and Africa think nothing of bringing their babies to bed, and many consider the Western practice of isolating infants in “cages” and banishing them to another room to be quite cruel.

There are many myths surrounding the practice of co-sleeping and each of them needs to be dispelled.
​Co-sleeping causes SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).
Not true! To the contrary, studies are demonstrating that co-sleeping may help to prevent SIDS. There are many factors at work here ranging from the ease of breastfeeding to the sleep cycles of babies and mommies matching up and including the sharing of breath. The bottom line is that when you share sleep with your infants you are reducing the incidence of SIDS.

Children that sleep with their parents are less independent.
The assumption that co-sleeping inhibits independence is pure cultural mythology. In fact, the opposite is true! Children who share sleep with their parents are actually more independent than their peers. They perform better in school, have higher self esteem, and fewer health problems. After all, who is more likely to be well-adjusted, the child who learns that his needs will be met, or the one who is left alone for long periods of time?

If they sleep in your bed, they’ll never leave.
Rest assured that as your co-sleeping child ages, he will eventually decide to leave the parental bed. Left alone, it will happen naturally when the child is ready. If your readiness comes before your child’s, you may be able to convince him to try solo sleeping with rewards or gentle persuasion. It is true that a young child with nighttime needs may be hesitant to give up his first-class sleeping situation. Though it will likely happen much earlier for most, my daughter is now 4 years old and is beginning to sleep through the night in her own “big girl bed” in her own bedroom, but she knows she can always come to our bed for any reason and that we’ll always welcome her.

Adults that sleep with baby get less sleep.
Who is more disturbed, the mother who must get out of bed, run to baby’s room, pick up baby, possibly warm a bottle, and feed the baby while sitting up, or the mother who simply moves baby closer to her breast (before he has time to totally awaken and begin crying), and falls asleep with him by her side? Indeed, some Western parents begin co-sleeping because it is the only way they can get enough sleep! An added benefit for the combination of breastfeeding and co-sleeping is that Dad is often not disturbed at all!

Parents who sleep with their children don’t have as much sex.
Untrue. Co-sleeping parents are not celibate, but have simply put their children’s nighttime needs above their need for unrestricted sexual access. There are other places for sex besides the marital bed. Some couples find that the creativity required to find places to have intercourse while co-sleeping adds spice to their sex life.

Co-sleeping benefits both baby and parents.
​Breastfeeding is easier.
Mom needs only to draw baby close and neither needs to come fully awake in order to nurse. Babies who sleep with their mothers enjoy greater immunological benefits from breastfeeding because they nurse twice as frequently as their counterparts who sleep alone.

Everyone sleeps better.
My contribution was changing the nighttime diapers, but for the most part I slept without much interruption. My wife and daughter did their thing and went right back to sleep without that rocking chair and without any significant crying spells.
A few parents do experience difficulty sleeping with a baby in their bed. For them, a “sidecar” or bedside sleeper is an ideal way to meet their needs for rest and their baby’s need for co-sleep. Keeping a crib or bassinet in the parents’ room is another option. A “family bed” is not for everyone, but creative solutions for co-sleep are abundant in our consumer-friendly culture.

There are some guidelines to follow when practicing co-sleeping. Please consider the following before bringing your baby into your bed.
• Choose a firm mattress that fits tightly in its frame. There should be no space between the mattress and the bed frame to prevent entrapment.
• Dress baby warmly. Excess covers can lead to baby getting buried by blankets. Avoid big, fluffy blankets to minimize any chance of suffocation.
• Never co-sleep with a baby if you are obese, taking sedative or mind-altering medications. Don’t drink excessively and sleep with your baby. If you sleep too heavily you may consider a “sidecar” bed that attaches to your adult mattress.
• Baby shouldn’t sleep with anyone other than mom or dad. The safest co-sleeping occurs when baby sleeps between mommy and a wall or special guardrail attached to the mattress.
• Don’t allow baby to sleep with anything that might wrap around his neck or body during the night. That includes pajama ties on you or the baby.
• Child-proof your room. Though you will most likely be aware of your child leaving your bed, they may get out. Keep your room “baby safe” and keep the door locked.
Co-sleeping does not always work and some parents simply do not want to sleep with their baby. You are not bad parents if you don’t sleep with your baby. Try it. If it’s working and you enjoy it, continue. If not, try other sleeping arrangements (an alternative is the sidecar arrangement: place a crib or co-sleeper adjacent to your bed). I can tell you from my own experience, I wouldn’t have done it any other way.

Dr. Donohoe is a family chiropractor specializing in the unique needs of pregnant women and children. His office is located at 41880 Kalmia St., Suite 135 in Murrieta. He can be reached at 951-677-6500 or through his website at

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