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The Pros and Cons of the Family Bed

mother with her two children

cultura Photography/Veer

Controversy over the family bed, or co-sleeping as it's often called, seems to come and go in waves. Currently, most child development experts, even those who were previously opposed to co-sleeping, take a middle-ground position on a family-that-sleeps-together policy. Most now admit that an issue this personal has to be decided by you, taking your own family's needs and cultural background into consideration. Be sure that you're making an informed decision, so you know what you're getting into if you let your child begin -- or continue -- to share your bed. Feelings run high on both sides of this intimate issue.

Proponents of the family bed point to the historical precedent set for this practice in many cultures. Children have shared a bed with their parents all over the world for centuries. Some nursing mothers find it easier to have their child nearby for nighttime feedings with minimal interruption of sleep for mother and child. Some parents feel it's cruel to isolate a highly social child by putting him in his bed alone at night. Others simply feel that children derive a greater sense of security and well-being from sleeping near their mom and dad.

On the other hand, many parents believe equally strongly that what works in other cultures may not necessarily work in ours. You may feel that your child needs her own identity separate from yours and her own retreat at the end of the day. Parents, too, may feel that their room and their bed are their own sanctuary, a child-free place for rest, for togetherness, and for sex (though co-sleeping advocates say their way encourages them to be more creative about when and where and how to make love). Some experts feel that having a very small child sleep with her parents poses a suffocation hazard, although this is probably a minimal risk for a 1-year-old. At any rate, you need not feel at all guilty if you are simply more comfortable having your child sleep in her bed rather than in yours. Either way, there are benefits.

If you haven't done so already, you will have to make your own decision about how much family you want in your bed. If you do choose to follow the co-sleeping route, make sure the togetherness you desire addresses your child's needs and not just your own. If you are a single parent or your spouse is often away from home, for instance, you should not allow your child to sleep with you just to stave off your own loneliness. Nor should you take your child into your bed simply because you feel that it will be easier to get him to go to sleep that way. You can certainly help your child to learn to fall asleep in his own bed within a few days.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.