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The benefits and drawbacks of staying close to your baby at night

A fancy term for a simple concept, co-sleeping refers to having your baby or infant sleep in your room at night, rather than a separate room. Bed-sharing, in which a baby or young child sleeps in the same bed with one or both parents, is a form of co-sleeping, but it’s not the only one. You can also have your child sleep in your room, but on a separate surface (perhaps in a nearby bassinet or crib). Though they’re widespread practices in many non-Western cultures, both co-sleeping and bed-sharing are somewhat controversial in the U.S. Both styles have their benefits and their drawbacks, as you’ll see, so weigh the decision carefully.

The Perks of Co-Sleeping

Mothers who co-sleep get more sleep, and stress hormones are lower in both mothers and children who sleep near each other. What’s more, co-sleeping and bed-sharing make nighttime breastfeeding more convenient and help a mother’s and baby’s sleep cycles get in sync. Room-sharing (but not bed-sharing) can reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Co-sleeping may also promote long-term emotional health in infants as they grow up, because the practice makes babies feel secure and comforted.

The Risks of Co-Sleeping

Bed-sharing is considered dangerous by some, because a sleeping parent could accidentally smother the child, the baby could potentially suffocate under the bed covers, or the baby could roll off the bed. Some people frown upon co-sleeping out of concern that the practice could promote a child’s dependency on the parent and interfere with the parents’ romantic relationship. There’s also the chance that none of you will sleep particularly well if any of you are light sleepers who are easily awakened by sounds or movements.

Easing Out of Co-Sleeping

If you choose to co-sleep with your little one, eventually it will be time to end the habit. This typically happens because either the parents want to reclaim their privacy and sex life or because a young child seems ready to have his or her own room. Deciding when the time is right is a personal matter, but the transition to a crib tends to be smoother if it’s made within six months; that way, the co-sleeping habit won’t have become deeply ingrained.