This article was published, citation information below.


Ang, M. (2006). The Fourth Ideal of Attachment Parenting: Bedsharing/Cosleeping. In Infanity magazine, June 2006 issue.

We’ve reached the fourth “B” of what I call the “8Bs” of attachment parenting – to recap, these are: Birthing / being prepared for childbirth; Bonding / being emotionally responsive to your baby; Breastfeeding; Bedsharing / cosleeping; Babywearing; Being there / avoiding frequent and prolonged separation; Behaviour / positive discipline; and Balance in family life.

Much research has been done and published on the topic of bedsharing or cosleeping. In this month’s article I will collate information from various sources and present them in a logical sequence.

Defining Bedsharing or Cosleeping
Perhaps a more technically accurate term would be “Sharing Sleep Space”. Bedsharing means actually sharing your bed – in AP terms, this is usually understood to mean that infant and mother sleep side by side in the same bed, usually with father as well. A “family bed” implies more than one young child sleeping in the same bed with their parents. Cosleeping need not always mean that baby is actually in the same bed though – some families opt for the so-called “sidecar” arrangement where a crib with a mattress at the same height as the parents’ bed is securely attached to the parents’ bed so that baby is right beside mother, but in his or her own physical space. The crib rail must be lowered or removed to prevent it coming between mother and baby. Special cribs called “cosleepers” designed for this aim are also available for sale.

Slightly older children may sleep in an adjacent toddler bed or single bed of their own. Some families opt for laying several mattresses side-by-side on the floor instead. The key is close proximity and responsiveness to your child’s night time needs.

The Scientific Basis for Sharing Sleep Space [1]
Human infants need constant attention and contact with other human beings because they are unable to look after themselves. Unlike other mammals, they cannot keep themselves warm, move about, or feed themselves until relatively late in life. It is their extreme neurological immaturity at birth and slow maturation that make the mother-infant relationship so important. Breast-feeding mothers sleeping alongside their infants constitute a marvelously adaptive system in which both the mothers' and infants' sleep physiology and health are connected in beneficial ways. By sleeping next to its mother, the infant receives protection, warmth, emotional reassurance, and breast milk - in the forms and quantities that nature intended. This sleeping arrangement permits mothers (and fathers) to respond quickly to the infant if it cries, chokes, or needs its nasal passages cleared, its body cooled, warmed, caressed, rocked or held, helping to regulate the infant's breathing, sleep state, arousal patterns, heart rates and body temperature. The mother's proximity also stimulates the infant to feed more frequently, thus receiving more antibodies to fight disease. The increased nipple contact also causes changes in the mother's hormone levels that help to prevent a new pregnancy before the infant is ready to be weaned. In this way, the infant regulates its mother's biology, too. Sleep laboratory studies have shown that bedsharing, instead of sleeping in separate rooms, almost doubled the number of breast-feeding episodes and tripled the total nightly duration of breast-feeding. Human milk is composed of relatively low amounts of protein and fat, and high amounts of quickly absorbed and metabolized sugars, therefore the infant's hunger cycle is short. Infants cry much less frequently when sleeping next to their mothers, and spend less time awake, having their night time need for frequent breastfeeding met so much more easily.

Why Bedsharing is Controversial
There are three main objections raised by those who object to cosleeping. The first of these has to do with safety – primarily the fear that baby will be squashed and suffocated by either of the sleeping parents. It should be made clear that when bedsharing, strict safety guidelines must be followed. Having said that, parents should also be aware that bedsharing has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of SIDS, making it the safest sleep option when safety guidelines are followed. These guidelines are presented in the section after this one.

The second objection to cosleeping is that it interferes with the parents’ relationship with each other. This need not be the case as it merely requires a little creativity in terms of finding opportunities for private interludes with your spouse. Many cosleeping couples in fact report a revitalized romance as the new challenge of finding time and space for intimacy adds to the fun and excitement.

The third and final common objection to cosleeping is that it develops bad sleep habits and that kids may never want to leave their parents bed. Parents of older children who coslept during early childhood generally report that children generally do want their own bed and room once they are emotionally ready for it, typically somewhere between toddlerhood and preschool, though many parents also choose to gradually move their older infants into their own cribs once they are no longer breastfeeding so frequently through the night. Either way, cosleeping does not develop bad sleep habits.

Guidelines for Safe Bedsharing [2]
Safety while cosleeping is of utmost importance. Parents should take very seriously the importance of providing their babies with a safe sleeping environment. There are many guidelines, most of which are common sense [3, 4]. To start with, the bed must be arranged in such a way as to eliminate the possibility of the child falling out. This can be done using a mesh guardrail, a special cosleeper crib (with three sides), or by pushing the bed flush against the wall, making sure there are no crevices which could entrap the baby. Next, in the early months, parents must be sure to place the baby next to the mother rather than between the parents as fathers are not usually as aware of their infants as the mothers are at first. Cosleepers should use a large bed or a sidecar arrangement, with a three-sided crib clamped flush to the mother's side of the bed and the mattresses set to the same level. They should avoid using heavy comforters or pillows near the infant. Babies should not be overdressed as the warmth of the mother will be shared with the child. Infants who cosleep are usually breastfed throughout the night; this is to be encouraged. Waterbeds, sofas, and other soft surfaces should not be the location for cosleeping [3, 4, 5]. Most importantly, parents should not cosleep if they are seriously sleep-deprived or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Parents who are smokers should not cosleep as secondary smoke greatly increases the risk of death from SIDS [3, 6].

  1. James J. McKenna. “Babies Need Their Mothers Beside Them”, World Health, Journal of the World Health Organization (March-April 1996).
  2. Tami E. Breazeale. “Cosleeping”, Excerpted from "Attachment Parenting: A Practical Approach for the Reduction of Attachment Disorders and the Promotion of Emotionally Secure Children", Master's thesis, Bethel College, February, 2001.
  3. Sears, W. (1995). SIDS: A parent's guide to understanding and preventing Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company.
  4. Thevenin, T. (1987). The family bed: An age old concept in child rearing. Wayne, NJ: Avery Publishing Group, Inc.
  5. Heinig, M. J. (2000). "Bed sharing and infant mortality: Guilt by association?" Journal of Human Lactation, 16, 189-191.
  6. McKenna, J., Thoman, E. B., Anders, T. F., Sadeh, A., Schectman, V. L., & Glotzbach, S. F. (1993). "Infant-parent co-sleeping in an evolutionary perspective: Implications for understanding infant sleep development and the sudden infant death syndrome." Sleep, 16, 263-282.


Copyright ©2006 Minni Ang