What exactly is co‐sleeping?
Co‐sleeping is a practice in which babies sleep close to one or both parents as opposed to sleeping in a separate room, often in the same bed. In many cultures, co‐sleeping is the norm until babies are weaned or in some cases may continue as the child gets older. In western cultures, co‐sleeping is often met with controversy. What’s important is that your children’s sleep is safe and that wherever they sleep suits you and them.
Are there positives of co‐sleeping?
Advocates of co‐sleeping believe (and some studies support) that this practice:
- Encourages breastfeeding because feeding during the night is convenient. It’s also thought that babies who sleep near their mothers continue to breastfeed for longer and breastfeeding is likely to be more successful.
- Helps parents and infants sleep more soundly. Because of their close proximity, mothers can tend to their infants before either of them is fully awake.
- Promotes higher self‐esteem. Some studies suggest that co‐sleeping promotes confidence, self‐esteem and intimacy, possibly by reflecting an attitude of parental acceptance.
- Helps parents and babies to bond if they have been separated for any length of time e.g. when a parent is away at work.
What are the negatives of co‐sleeping and possible long‐term effects on children?
While there are certainly positives involved with co‐sleeping and many advocates for this practice, a number of negative effects have been identified. Co‐sleeping in the same bed can be dangerous for a small infant and may increase the risk of fatal sleep accidents. If co‐sleeping goes on for too long it can lead to sleeping problems in older children. When they start to sleep on their own they may experience separation anxiety and it can stop kids from achieving independence during the night. These kids may not be able to fall asleep without you being with them. Another negative aspect of co‐sleeping is the affect it can have on your relationship with your partner. Intimacy, whether through verbal communication or physical closeness, is compromised when your kids sleep in the same bed as you and your partner, and this can have a negative effect on your relationship.
How do I help my child sleep alone and avoid sleeping problems?
- Help your little one get used to sleeping on their own and in their own bed by doing it gradually, allowing time for them to adjust to the change. Try staying in their room with them while they go to sleep. This will be helped along if you too lay on a mattress which could be placed by their bed. After they’ve fallen asleep, return to your room so they can become used to waking alone.
- When transitioning to their own bed, let your child pick out their sheets and pillows so they feel a sense of ownership and are more likely to stay put.
- If your little one wakes through the night, go to them and quietly reassure them that everything is alright and that it is time to go back to sleep. Try not to disturb them too much or stay with them for too long, and make minimal contact. The goal is to get them used to being on their own and falling asleep by themselves. It will help if you don’t turn on any bright lights. If they continue to need you through the night, continue to respond in the same way but space your visits out.They should learn to calm down and settle themselves to sleep if you stick to this technique.
- If your child wanders into your bedroom in the middle of the night, take them back to their own bed to reassure them that it is a safe and comfortable place.