Sleeping with Mom: The Effects of a Child Sleeping with a Parent

    Updated 14 April 2020 |
    Published 10 May 2019
    Fact Checked
    Reviewed by Tanya Tantry, MD, Obstetrician & Gynecologist, Medical Consultant at Flo
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    Co-sleeping, the habit of sleeping in close proximity to your baby, has become increasingly popular in recent years. However, the practice of co-sleeping isn’t new; parents have been sleeping close to their children since the beginning of time. But now, opinions differ on what effects co-sleeping has on your family.

    What is co-sleeping?

    Co-sleeping is a long-standing practice in which a baby sleeps close to their parents. Although many people believe that co-sleeping means a child is sleeping in the same bed as their parents, this isn’t necessarily true. While some co-sleeping families choose to share a bed, for others it simply means having a child sleep in their own bed in the same room as their parents.

    There are many differing opinions on co-sleeping. Some claim that it has many benefits for the child and their parents. Some of the benefits of co-sleeping include:

    • Babies fall asleep faster and sleep longer.
    • It makes breastfeeding during the night more comfortable.
    • Some studies suggest that babies who co-sleep with their parents form stronger emotional bonds with them.
    • Mothers who co-sleep report feeling less tired, even when their babies are newborns.

    For some families, co-sleeping is simply a practical matter. For example, a family who doesn’t have much spare room might find it easier to co-sleep rather than to have a separate room for the baby. This is especially true if the baby still doesn’t have a set sleep pattern and wakes up crying during the night, which could disrupt other family members’ sleep.

    Psychological effects of co-sleeping 

    Co-sleeping remains a hot topic of debate for physicians, psychologists, and scientists. Although co-sleeping has been shown to have some benefits, most pediatricians agree that the research on co-sleeping is insufficient. Some doctors argue that the risks of co-sleeping outweigh the possible benefits. Some of the negative effects of co-sleeping include the following:

    • You might constantly worry about your baby’s safety. If you’re a light sleeper or you’re worried about keeping your child safe while you co-sleep, the quality and quantity of your sleep could suffer as a result. This could make it harder for you to cope with your daytime routine, from exercising after delivery, to pumping and storing milk, and even caring for your child when they’re awake.
    • Co-sleeping might result in less-independent children. Even though it’s normal to want to protect your kid at all times, they start to learn how to be independent from a very young age. Learning how to sleep alone and having their own space helps them become more self-reliant, and co-sleeping can slow this development.
    • Co-sleeping allows for less intimacy with your partner. Sharing your bed or room with your child can make it much harder for you and your partner to share intimate moments. Over time, this could lead to a heightened sense of anxiety or stress within your relationship, decreasing the quality of the time you spend together.

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    At what age should kids stop sleeping with their parents? 

    Many families don’t set out to co-sleep for long, but then they get used to it and don’t know how to stop. There isn’t a hard and fast rule for when your child should stop sleeping with you. However, as soon as you feel like your family is ready to change your sleeping arrangements, it’s time to have your baby sleep in their own room.

    For many parents, the time to stop co-sleeping is when they realize that the quality of their sleep is being negatively affected by co-sleeping. The earlier your baby starts to sleep in their own room, the easier the switch will be. Young babies have very flexible sleep patterns and can adapt to changes quickly.

    Transitioning from co-sleeping to the crib 

    Once you’ve decided to have your child sleep in their own room, it’s important to stick to it. Consistency and perseverance are key factors that will help your child more quickly adjust to their new sleeping arrangements. Here are some tips that can help your child transition from co-sleeping to the crib:

    • Keep your bed off-limits for a while. If your child has to sleep in their own bed or crib, but you let them sleep with you for naps or night feeding, they’ll get confused and frustrated. A baby can’t understand the difference between naps and sleeping for the night, so keep your child off your bed for at least three months after they stop co-sleeping.
    • Make sure you provide your baby with a great space to sleep. If your child goes from sleeping in your comfortable bed to a less ideal room, they won’t be happy. Make sure their room is dark or only dimly lit, calm, and quiet. Keep their crib safe by avoiding extra blankets or pillows. 
    • Ease your anxiety with a baby monitor. It’s normal to feel nervous when your child starts to sleep in a separate space. To ease this feeling, keep a baby monitor nearby. Pretty soon, you’ll feel more relaxed about this new arrangement.
    • Explain the change to older children. If your child is a toddler, explain to them in simple terms why it’s important for them to sleep in their own room. If they’re old enough to go to your bed at night, simply walk them back to their bed and say good night. The first few nights might be difficult, but they’ll get used to sleeping on their own.

    Co-sleeping and sleep problems: what could go wrong?

    Certain security measures need to be taken if you’re co-sleeping with your child. These measures include not co-sleeping if you or your partner have been drinking alcohol, if you take any medications that could affect your awareness, if either of you snore or smoke, or if you sleep on an especially soft mattress like a water bed. If you don’t follow these security measures properly, the risks of co-sleeping can include:

    • Increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome 
    • Strangulation
    • Entrapment
    • Suffocation
    • Smothering

    Many families like to co-sleep, but then later don’t know how to get toddlers to sleep in their beds. Although the transition can induce some anxiety, stay firm and your child will manage to sleep on their own in no time.

    History of updates

    Current version (14 April 2020)

    Reviewed by Tanya Tantry, MD, Obstetrician & Gynecologist, Medical Consultant at Flo

    Published (10 May 2019)

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