The question: I have a friend who still co-sleeps with her one-year-old son in the same bed. Is that okay for her to do? Or is she taking attachment parenting a little too far?
The answer: Children with sleeping issues account for a significant number of visits to my pediatric clinic. In my experience, after 12 months of age, most infants (and parents) sleep better when the child is in their own crib, ideally in their own bedroom.
Admittedly, there are a multitude of potential sleeping arrangements and how and where a child sleeps will be affected by many factors, including the size of the home and the number of siblings. Often a young child will start sleeping with their parents as a result of an illness, where the child needs extra support through the nighttime. Not infrequently, the habit of bed-sharing continues after the illness has resolved and parents show up in my clinic months or years later, looking for help in breaking a sleeping habit that has become well ingrained.
Babies younger than 1 who share a bed with their parents are at high risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and suffocation. This makes sense, since the typical adult bed is not designed with infant safety in mind. The soft mattress, along with the presence of pillows, sheets and blankets, all pose suffocation risks.
Add in the potential for the parent to roll onto the child; the chance of baby rolling off the bed; the risk of the infant becoming trapped between the bed and wall, and you can see why bed-sharing should not be taken lightly.
When making decisions about your child’s sleeping environment, keep the following points in mind:
- 1. In the first six months of life, the safest sleeping environment for a baby is in a CSA-approved crib located in the parent’s bedroom.
- 2. Because of the increased risk of SIDS and suffocation, the following people should not share a bed with an infant: smokers, those impaired by drugs, alcohol, or extreme fatigue, and the morbidly obese. Also, the more bodies in the bed (including pets!), the higher the risk
- 3. Sleeping with an infant on a couch or in a waterbed carries a particularly high risk of unexpected infant death.
- 4. Regardless of where an infant is placed to sleep, they should always be placed on their back in a location free of pillows, quilts and comforters. Dressing an infant in a one-piece sleeper usually eliminates the need for any covers. If a blanket is felt to be required, choose one composed of a thin, porous material to reduce the risk of suffocation.
- 5. Never leave a young infant unattended on an adult bed.
Hopefully your friend’s sleeping arrangement is working for both parent and child, and that steps have been taken to minimize potential risks. Nine to 12 months is the perfect age to train your child to sleep independently. And make no mistake: Many, if not most, children will need training, because it won’t come naturally.
Talk to your physician if you are having struggles with independent sleeping, or refer to one of the many books on the subject, like Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems, by Dr. Richard Ferber.
Dr. Michael Dickinson is the head of pediatrics and chief of staff at the Miramichi Regional Hospital in New Brunswick. He’s a staunch advocate for children’s health in Atlantic Canada through his involvement with the Canadian Paediatric Society.
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