Co-sleeping: myths, facts and knowing when to stop
It’s not always bad, and it’s not always good – but for so many parents, co-sleeping feels like the final frontier of independence. After conquering solid foods, walking, potty training and talking, getting a full nights’ sleep without sneaking into the “family bed” in the small hours can remain for years.
What’s the harm in it?
Despite us all facing similar challenges, we parents can be a judgemental bunch sometimes. We won’t always understand the uniqueness of each other’s children – but things can get stressful when we turn them into a game of comparison. Thoughts can run through your head, like:
“My friend’s daughter sleeps through the night in her own bed – she’s never wet the bed either, and she’s only two!”
And that’s actually completely normal. Even the coolest, most laid-back mums and dads have done the same comparison – at least in their heads. Benchmarking our children’s’ developmental steps is just something we do, consciously or otherwise. And sometimes, it’s a good thing.
Little red flags can give way to proper diagnoses, and that can improve our kids’ chances in areas where they struggle; we can understand them better, and they can understand themselves, too.
But when it comes to sleep, and particularly co-sleeping, there seems to be a very strict divide: parents who do it and parents who don’t.
We’re not here to invalidate anyone’s concerns, or convince anyone to do something that doesn’t feel right for their family – we just want to try and dispel the myths, present the facts, and remind you that if you’re co-sleeping, it’s okay. And you’re doing great.
Co-sleeping happens in a few ways. There’s plain old co-sleeping, which is where a child and one or more parents sleep in the same place, as the norm. This could be in the child’s bed, in the parents’ bed, or anywhere else the family happens to be.
Then there’s bed sharing – where there’s a “family bed” that everyone shares as the normal place to sleep every night. This is usually the parents’ bed, and this is the world’s most common sleeping arrangement.
Finally, there’s reactive co-sleeping, when a child goes to sleep in their own bedroom, but wakes up and gets into bed with their parents at some point during the night.
Most parents will experience all three, in different degrees and at different stages.
Transitioning from always sharing a bed to reactive co-sleeping is pretty common, and parents in this situation might be wondering how long it’ll last – or when they should stop.
Knowing when to stop: is there an age limit to co-sleeping?
Well, sort of, yes. But it’s usually set by the child.
In time, kids begin to draw their own lines: no more kisses and cuddles in public, especially at the school gates. No more joining in with games, no more being embarrassing (whatever that means) – and no more sharing a bed with you. That’s not to say it’s all up to them, little dictators though they are.
That’s not to say it’s all up to them, little dictators though they are.
You’re the parent, and you have final say. If you feel it’s time to stop co-sleeping, then it’s time to stop. Or – maybe there’s an element of your own comfort at stake if you were to lose it: be honest with yourself, and assess who’s benefiting more from co-sleeping.
If you feel it’s time, then work towards helping your child sleep in their own room by tackling the challenges they face with sleeping alone.
There will be times when they’re upset or unwell, or just need mum or dad at night. Actually, some of us have felt that need in adulthood. But a secure, safe and loving environment is the foundation of any child’s success. As long as they know you’ll be there, they’ll work through it.
Some of the deepest conversations around co-sleeping are actually rooted in myths.
It makes for clingy children
This one’s been proven false – by science. In 2011, an American study found that sharing your bed with a toddler has no negative impact on behaviour, development or learning.
Independence stems from security, and other studies find that kids who co-slept with their parents are more confident and emotionally healthy as a result of having that security in early life.
Partners can’t be intimate anymore
Oh really? Well, we’ll let you use your imagination, here – but let’s just say that the bedroom isn’t the only place you and your significant other can have some alone time together.
In most parts of the world, not co-sleeping is considered weird. In a study of 186 non- western cultures, 67 percent of children were found to sleep in the company of others. That’s because most children in the world don't have their own bedrooms. Families all sleep together in one room.
It’s not safe
Bed sharing with under 1s is not recommended, even for breastfeeding mums. But we all know it happens: exhausted mums and dads fall asleep feeding babies in bed all the time. There are risks, highest in babies under three months, and in premature babies. Sofas and armchairs aren’t as safe as a bed. And of course, sharing a bed after alcohol consumption and smoking remain major risk factors of SIDS.Still – co-sleeping is safe, if practiced safely. Read the advice on safe co-sleeping from the Lullaby Trust.
It’s up to each parent to assess the risks and rewards – but although the general advice is still to put baby to sleep on a separate sleep surface, the majority of the world still practices co-sleeping.
Room sharing in infancy is widely recommended. A bedside “next to me”-style crib or cot is a popular solution that gives parents easy access to baby at night and extra peace of mind.
After infancy, co-sleeping poses no significant risks – but always ask your health visitor for advice when you need it.
The cons of co-sleeping
It’s not all peaches and cream. Anyone who’s spent the night getting kicked and punched by a fussy little whirling dervish can attest to that. Co-sleeping sleep problems are largely experienced by the adults, but
It can become cramped sharing a bed, especially as the family grows. We can't all fit king size divans in our bedrooms, and a standard double is a really tight squeeze for a family of three to share. And then, if more kids come along, they’ll have different bedtimes.
The logistics of co-sleeping can soon become unworkable with an infant and a toddler – and many parents use this as a time to help their older child transition into their own bed.
Try this: The big bed challenge reward chart
Make a bedroom they’ll love
When it’s time to make the leap into their own big bed, make them a bedroom they’ll love.
Discover our kids bedroom themes, and start designing their own little world of imagination. Just another thing to help you sleep at night – from Pea.