Although the terms are often used interchangeably, “co-sleeping” and “bed-sharing” are not synonymous—and understanding the difference is important for your baby’s safety at night.
When children sleep near their parents in the same room, the family is said to be “co-sleeping.” But co-sleeping can take several forms:
- “Sidecar” arrangement
In this arrangement, the baby sleeps in a crib in the room of the parents (or parent) that’s separate from the parents’ bed. This setup is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) for at least the first 6 months and preferably the first year to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Parents who have their child within view and within reach can better respond to their baby’s needs for feeding, comforting, and monitoring compared with parents who place their babies in a separate room.
In this sleeping setup, the baby sleeps in a bed that’s attached to the parents’ bed so that the mother can easily reach the baby during the night. When the baby is within reach during the night, the mother can respond to her needs, providing a reassuring touch or bringing her close to breastfeed. But after each interaction, the child is returned to her own space to sleep. This arrangement often involves the use of a commercial product designed for this purpose, such as a bassinet that attaches securely to the parents’ bed.
In this type of co-sleeping, the child sleeps in his parents’ bed. U.S. health authorities advise against this because of the higher risk of sleep-related infant deaths—perhaps a two-times greater risk, according to an analysis published in a 2014 issue of the International Journal of Pediatrics. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends room-sharing but not bed-sharing, and a 2012 NICHD fact sheet on safe sleep for babies notes that babies “should not sleep in an adult bed, on a couch, or on a chair alone, with you, or with anyone else.”
The multi-disciplinary, international Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine (ABM) suggests in its 2019 “Bedsharing and Breastfeeding” protocol that for breastfeeding dyads with mothers and healthy full-term infants at home, the increased risk of sleep-related infant death may be due to other hazardous circumstances, including but not limited to:
- an inappropriate sleep surface
- use of drugs or alcohol
- second-hand smoke exposure
- unsafe placement of bed in relation to walls or other furniture
The ABM recommends that health care providers and parents have candid communication about plans for the infant’s sleep space and strategies for keeping them safe.
By knowing the facts about safe sleep for your baby, you can enjoy the benefits of nighttime closeness while also helping to ensure your child’s safety.