All About Co-Sleeping & How To Do So Safely

Co-sleeping is defined as sleeping within sensory proximity to your baby. In other words, sleeping where your baby can sense you and you can sense your baby.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

I find that a lot of confusion around the safety of co-sleeping stems from the term being used synonymously with “bed sharing.” I know that when I was being discharged from the hospital, the doctor specifically told me no co-sleeping, which was a warning that continued throughout our first few Well-Baby check-ups. It is important to know that “bed sharing” is just that, sharing a bed. “Bed sharing” is a type of “co-sleeping.” Often when professionals are telling us not to “co-sleep” they are actually telling us not to “bed share.” “Co-sleeping” can mean a variety of sleeping arrangements:

  • Bed-sharing: having your child sleep in the same bed with or welcoming the child into the bed as needed.
  • Side car arrangement: removing the side of the child’s crib and securing it to the parents bed.
  • Room sharing: the child sleeps in their own appropriate sleep space (e.g., crib, bassinet, floor bed)

You can co-sleep without bed-sharing. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) actually recommends co-sleeping (i.e., room sharing) for the first 6 months of life (preferably the first year), as it is thought to reduce Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) by up to 50%. As well, there are numerous scientific benefits to co-sleeping:

  • everyone is able to get more sleep
  • breastfeeding is easier
  • the mother is better able to maintain milk supply
  • the risk of SIDS is reduced
  • fewer bedtime battles
  • less separation anxiety
  • stronger emotional attachment, and physiological regulation (Dr. James McKenna).

Furthermore, based on evolutionary science and anthropological studies, sleeping alone may not be normal. Sleep anthropologist, Dr. James McKenna argues throughout his extensive work that solitary infant sleep is largely only seen in modern Western societies. He maintains that human infants were never alone historically and are still not meant to be alone today. For instance, in a study conducted by Barry & Paxson (1971), the authors found that out of 186 non-industrial societies, 46% of children sleep in the same bed as their parents and 21% sleep in a separate bed but in the same room. That is, in 67% of cultures, children sleep in the sensory proximity of others.

If you are choosing to co-sleep and/or bed share, it is important to do so safely and follow safe sleep guidelines:

  • Put baby to sleep on their backs.
  • Baby should sleep on a firm surface with tight fitted sheets.
  • Do not place pillows, blankets, stuffed toys, etc., in bed with the baby.
  • Babies should not sleep in car seats, swings, infant carriers, infant seats or rockers, wedges, etc.
  • Be aware of overheating.
  • Do not sleep with baby on a sofa, chair, couch, futon, recliner, etc.
  • Do not bed share if you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, are overly tired, a deep sleeper, or obese.
  • Do not sleep with baby if you or your partner are smokers.
  • Only sleep with your baby if they were healthy full-term infants.
  • Only sleep with your baby if you are breastfeeding. If you are a non-breastfeeding family, please refer here.
  • Refrain from swaddling your baby if you are bed sharing.
  • Baby should sleep near mom who should sleep on her side with her knees tucked up towards her chest to protect baby.
  • Bed should be on the floor, particularly if baby is mobile.
  • Baby should be clear of any cords or crevices.
  • No loose pillows or blankets near baby.
  • Siblings should not sleep in the bed with baby.
  • Long hair should be tied up. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

Please research safe guidelines and speak to your doctor about this information.


If you are in the United States please refer to the American Academy of Pediatrics for their latest Safe Sleep Guidelines. You can find the most recent guidelines here (updated November 2016).

If you are in Canada, please refer to the Canadian Pediatric Society for their latest on Safe Sleep.

If you are in the UK, check out The Lullaby Trust

La Leche Leauge International is another good source. Their Safe Sleep Seven outlines safe sleep guidelines for nursing mothers.

If you are a non-breastfeeding family, please click here for more information.

Dr. James McKenna is a Sleep Anthropologist and leading authority in mother-infant co-sleeping. He uses anthropological and medical research to examine myths and controversies around a variety of infant sleeping arrangements. His website has a variety of resources from safe sleep guidelines to articles to presentations and more.

*Please refer to your local health authority to determine safe sleep guidelines for your country.

Disclaimer: Raising Littles is for information purposes only. I am not a medical professional. The views and opinions expressed are my own and are NOT meant to replace those of a licensed medical professional. Please consult with your health professional prior to engaging in any health related matter.

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