The Great Debate

Sleeping solo or filling the family bed.

Probably since the beginning of time, babies and parents around the world have slept together in what has come to be commonly referred to as “the family bed.” In recent years, particularly in industrialized nations including the United States, the trend has been to have children sleep separately from their parents starting from infancy. Whatever you choose, be sure you let common sense prevail; if you or your baby aren’t safe, content or able to rest well in your sleeping arrangement of choice, it’s probably time for a change. As you explore your options, we have one additional insight into your sleeping future to offer you: Your selection of sleep arrangements now will not necessarily translate into a long-term commitment, but it can certainly turn into one. If you have no intention of bed-sharing in the future, then give serious thought as to just how long you plan on letting your newborn become comfortably accustomed to the idea of a family bed at the outset— whether it’s just a few weeks, many months or any number of years.

The Family Bed

Whether due to space limitations, cultural norms or a strong belief that cosleeping is an integral part of parenting, parents have slept with their babies for thousands of years. In many parts of the world and in a good 60 percent of U.S. households, many babies still do sleep in bed with their parents at least on occasion despite recent trends toward solo sleeping. Followers of attachment parenting seem to feel quite strongly that parents and babies benefit most from bonding whenever possible, including during sleep. Proponents also feel that cosleeping makes breastfeeding easier— making new mothers more responsive to their babies’ cues of hunger long before they wail to be fed, and requiring less effort to feed them.

Sleeping Solo

In the United States, there has been a definite shift toward putting babies to sleep independently, whether in a crib, cradle or bassinet. Our country’s movement toward independent sleep may well be, in part, attributable to recent concerns that cosleeping may increase the risk of SIDS. Other practical reasons why parents opt for solo sleeping: They find it to be safer, sounder (for the baby and his parents) and less intrusive on their “adult” time.

Cosleeping Safety Considerations

Many new parents are tempted to take their newborn into bed with them— oftentimes out of fatigue and convenience, as well as for cultural and philosophical reasons. Whether cosleeping is safe, however, has been the subject of much debate. Recent studies suggest that cosleeping may significantly increase the risk of infant suffocation so you’ll find that many experts now strongly advise against it. If you do sleep with your baby, even if only infrequently, here are some simple but extremely important safety considerations.

  • Cosleeping and the use of tobacco, alcohol or drugs (including over-the-counter or prescription medicines) don’t mix. These substances may cause excessive drowsiness— making you potentially less aware of your baby.
  • The heavy blankets, comforters, pillows and other accessories that are typically found on adult beds and that could potentially suffocate or smother your baby have no place being in the same location where your newborn sleeps. While we’re on the subject of simple yet potentially life-saving measures, we also strongly recommend removing any and all such items that may have already taken up residence in your baby’s crib.
  • Make sure you protect your baby from falls or from the possibility of being trapped between the mattress and the wall, headboard or other furniture.

The Convenience of Cosleepers

For those of you who find the convenience of having your baby nearby at night appealing but aren’t as wedded to the idea of having him in bed with you, then a cosleeper may be just the right answer for you. If you ask us, these specially designed baby beds are ingenious. They are somewhat like playpens, generally rest at the same height as a standard adult bed, have a drop-down (or absent) side rail on the side that fits next to the bed, and can therefore be placed right alongside it for easy access. Some even have the added benefit of doubling as a portable crib, play yard or changing table.

Crib Safety Considerations

Whether you decide to set up a crib for your baby as soon as your pregnancy test turns positive or months after your newborn’s much anticipated arrival, there are a few general safety principles that you’ll want to follow to ensure your baby’s safety. Some may not seem particularly relevant during your baby’s first few months, but given that cribs tend to be big-ticket items and the one you invest in is going to be put to the test for many months to come as your baby learns to roll, sit, stand and climb in it, it’s well worth considering present and future safety concerns.

  • Crib slats. The slats should be no more than two- 3/8 inches apart. All new cribs must meet this standard, but older cribs may not.
  • Posts and cutouts. Steer clear of bedposts taller than 1/16 of an inch and/or cutouts in the headboard (or any other parts of the crib) where a baby’s or toddler’s body parts could get stuck.
  • Firm-fitting mattress/fitted sheet. While they seem to be mostly standardized, cribs and mattresses can and do come in more than one size, so be sure to double-check measurements and read labels to make sure you end up with a mattress that fits snugly into your chosen crib. Any extra space between the mattress and crib frame has the potential to trap a baby’s arm, leg or head. Also make sure your fitted sheets are tight enough that they don’t slip off easily, thus posing a serious safety hazard.