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Q&A: Is a Family Bed a Good Idea?

Q. I love the idea of a family bed. My husband is adamantly opposed to this; he says our baby should learn to sleep in his own room immediately or he won't be independent and we won't have any privacy. Who's right?

A. This is a tough and very personal decision. The American Academy of Pediatrics argues against sleeping with your baby in your bed because it might increase the risk of SIDS. Most research shows that co-sleeping poses a negligible risk by itself. What really puts babies at greater risk in a family bed isn't the fact that they sleep with their parents, but other factors, such as parental smoking or alcohol use, getting trapped beneath a comforter or against a headboard, or being put down on their stomachs so that they can't pick up their heads and turn them. If you do sleep in a bed with your baby, keep in mind that your bed doesn't meet the same safety standards as a crib. Take care that your baby sleeps on her back, use light blankets instead of soft quilts and comforters, and don't let your baby sleep with her head on a pillow.

Some researchers have demonstrated that babies who co-sleep with their parents cry less and have an easier time stabilizing their nervous systems after birth than babies who sleep alone. In any case, the first few months of your baby's life is not the time to teach him independence, but rather a time to teach him that his needs will be met when he requires comforting for any reason. You can't spoil a newborn. On the contrary, some studies show that children who sleep with their parents are more confident and independent than children who do not. The truth is that most parents sleep with their children at least sometimes, whether they have an "official" family bed or not, simply because of the frequency with which they have to get up to tend their infants. (In other words, exhaustion sometimes forces the issue of where your baby will sleep.)

The best solution is to keep a safe baby bed next to your own bed for the first few months. That way you can keep baby close without worrying about rolling over on him or burying him in adult-size bedding. When you are awakened in the middle of the night, you won't have as far to go to feed or comfort your baby.

If it's sex your husband is worried about, or watching TV in your room while the baby sleeps, there's no need to be concerned. Newborns sleep through almost anything. In fact, some sleep better with a certain noise level, and it's absolute quiet that wakes them instead.

Originally published in You & Your Baby: Pregnancy.

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