The practice of co-sleeping - parents sharing a bed with their infant - is a hot topic. Some believe a parent's bed is where baby belongs, but others worry it can do more harm than good.

To help you tackle this difficult question, here are the facts about co-sleeping.

Expert Recommendations on Co-Sleeping

Decades of research on co-sleeping has shown an increased risk of infant death from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), strangulation and suffocation. Based on the research, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends "that infants sleep in the parents' room, close to the parents' bed, but on a separate surface. The infant's crib, portable crib, play yard or bassinet should be placed in the parents' bedroom, ideally for the first year of life, but at least for the first six months." This is known as room-sharing.

Here are the differences between room-sharing and co-sleeping:

  • Room-sharing: Parent(s) and infant sleeping in the same room on separate surfaces.
  • Co-Sleeping: Parent(s) and infant sleeping together on any surface (bed, couch, chair, etc.).

Why Some People Co-Sleep

If so much research shows negative outcomes of co-sleeping, why do some people choose it anyway? Co-sleeping supporters believe it makes it more convenient for mothers to breastfeed their baby, sleep at the same time as baby, keep baby asleep and establish closeness with baby after working all day.

Why Some People Do Not Co-Sleep

Studies have found co-sleeping is the most common cause of death for babies, particularly for infants less than three months old. Among older infants (four to 12 months old) who died due to co-sleeping, having an additional item (like a pillow or a blanket) on the bed increased the risk of death.

ther things that further increase this risk of death while bed-sharing include:

  • a baby sleeping on a couch alone or with a parent
  • a baby sleeping between two parents
  • parents who are extremely tired
  • a parent who has recently used alcohol or illicit or sedating drugs
  • bed-sharing with pillows or bedcovers
  • bed-sharing with other children
  • when one or both parents are smokers, even if they are not smoking in bed
  • when the mother smoked during pregnancy
  • when the baby was born preterm and/or with low birthweight

Besides potential safety risks, sharing a bed with a baby can prevent parents from getting a good night's sleep. Also, infants who sleep with their parents can develop problems sleeping without them at naptime or when the baby needs to go to sleep before the parent is ready.

Alternatives to Co-Sleeping

You can enjoy the benefits of convenience and closeness to your baby while also decreasing his or her risk of SIDS by following the AAP's recommendation to room-share without co-sleeping. To successfully follow this advice, consider these options:

  • Put a bassinet, play yard or crib next to your bed. This lets you keep baby close, which can be especially important if you're breastfeeding, and reduces the risk of SIDS.
  • Use a bedside sleeper, which attaches to your bed so you and your baby are next to each other but on separate surfaces. The CPSC has recommended safety standards for bedside sleepers, but no studies have looked at whether these devices prevent SIDS and other sleep-related deaths or injuries.

Other tips on newborn sleeping arrangements:

  • Always place your baby on his or her back to sleep to reduce the risk of SIDS.
  • Dress your baby in minimal clothing to avoid overheating.
  • Don't place your baby to sleep in an adult bed.
  • Don't place your baby on a soft surface to sleep, such as a soft mattress, sofa or waterbed.
  • Don't cover your child's head while sleeping.
  • Don't use pillows, comforters, quilts and other soft or plush items on your baby's bed.
  • Dress your baby in a sleeper instead of using blankets.
  • Don't drink alcohol or use medicines or drugs that could keep you from waking or might cause you to mishandle your baby.
  • Don't place your baby's bed near draperies, blinds or anything else with cords.
  • Don't fall asleep with a baby on your chest.
  • Don't sleep on couches, recliners or rockers with a baby.

If You Still Aren't Sure About Co-Sleeping

Bed-sharing is unsafe and not recommended. If you think you still want to share your bed with your baby despite the risks, talk to your baby's pediatrician first so you can make a well-informed decision that keeps you and baby in the best of health.