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The Co-Sleeping Conundrum: Good or bad for children?

Guest Post: Written by Holly Easterby Holly Easterby adores children. A kids’ fashion guru and often-featured blogger, she regularly contributes to Bonza Brats and other websites to share her passion and knowledge. Here, she examines the different opinions on the controversial parental practice of co-sleeping with kids.
Co-sleeping with baby
  Until cribs and bassinets were ever invented, infants and children used to sleep beside their mothers. Co-sleeping, or having your children sleep beside or near you, just seems a natural consequence of your motherly instinct to keep your baby close. However, there is conflicting advice about this subject out there and things can get confusing. People do have different opinions on the best ways of caring for a newborn or a young child during bedtime. Is co-sleeping with kids decidedly good or bad for them in the long run?

Co-sleeping Defined

Co-sleeping can refer to two different ways of sleeping with a child. First as roomsharing, which is where a child sleeps in the same room as you but in a separate crib or other sleep surface. Bed-sharing with kids or having a family bed, on the other hand, is when your baby sleeps in the same bed with you. In either case, the child sleeps in close proximity with the parents. This practice is thus the opposite of solitary sleep, which is having the baby sleep in a crib or bed in a different room altogether. In most discussions, co-sleeping is used synonymously with bed-sharing, which will also be done here.
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Benefits of Co-Sleeping

With newborns, the obvious benefit of bed-sharing is the convenience of immediacy during nighttime feedings. Whether breastfeeding or bottle feeding, you will definitely get to feed your baby quicker and easier if he/she is right next to you. Studies also report co-sleeping is a less disruptive practice on the mother’s sleep compared with having to get up to go to the baby’s room for feeding. Bed sharing rouses a mother and a baby more often though. But apparently, this is all the better for baby’s wellbeing. When you wake up more frequently in the night, you become better attuned to your baby’s slightest stirrings. And it may not seem so, but your baby’s frequent waking is also a good thing.Together with breastfeeding, more frequent nighttime rousing reduces the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). On the mother’s end, she can look in on her baby more often, while on the baby’s, his/her ability to be easily roused is protective in itself. Another extolled benefit of bed sharing with kids is sleep syncing between mum and child. Mums and babies who sleep in the same bed tend to wake up at about the same time. This allows a mum to respond to her baby’s cries and feeding needs quicker. While bed sharing with your baby wakes you up more easily and frequently than solitary sleeping, you and your baby are still able to resume sleep more quickly. Co-sleeping with kids of any age also seems to help calm them and reduce their bedtime anxiety. Co-sleeping promotes skin-to-skin contact, which is very comforting to children, especially infants just out of the womb. Meeting children’s need to feel secure and safe helps them become better adjusted and less fearful.
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Co-Sleeping Risks

The main argument you hear from the anti-co-sleepers is that co-sleeping increases the risk of SIDS.The American Academy of Pediatrics for one, advises that parents do not bed-share with kids and instead let them sleep close by but in a separate cot. The organisation cites potential risks in adult beds, including smothering a child with a blanket or pillow, rolling over a child or trapping a child in the crevice between a wall and the bed. The risk increases when babies bed with parents who smoke, drink too much and take drugs (even over-the-counter meds). There are also higher chances of SIDS with parents who are very tired and those who fail to ensure the adult bed is child-safe. Apart from SIDS, the long-term psychological impact of co-sleeping on children is another hot topic in the anti-bed-sharing with kids camp. One important argument being put out there is the disruption of a baby’s ability to self-soothe. If your baby sleeps beside you, comforting him/her at the first whimper is said to condition a baby to become emotionally dependent. If you don’t teach your baby to soothe him/herself back to sleep, you are apparently keeping him/her from developing a healthy self-esteem and encouraging fearfulness. In addition, the anti-bed-sharers say being there straight away for your baby when he/she is hungry eventually makes weaning more difficult. Furthermore, the opposition cites negative impacts on the parents’ side of the family bed. With a baby sharing the bed and waking up every now and then, no one gets to sleep soundly at night. Older babies and toddlers can be restless sleepers who sleep all over the bed, without regard for whether somebody gets kicked or rolled in on. Of course, with babies sharing the sleeping quarters, the parents lose their privacy as a couple.

Weighing the benefits and risks

The pros and cons of bed-sharing with kids are definitely valid points to consider. Accidents have indeed happened on adult beds resulting in infant deaths. However, when you inspect closer, such unfortunate incidents depend on whether a baby has unsuitable or too many bed mates and whether the bed or sleep surface itself is unsuitable. Of course, high-risk or multiple-risk babies are expected to be more fragile than term, healthy babies.With regards the psychological impacts, the practice of bed-sharing alone will not shape your child’s psyche but is merely part of your overall approach to parenting. A child is not affected by sleeping arrangements alone but by a myriad of factors surrounding his/her upbringing. The final decision on the matter of co-sleeping entirely rests on you and your parenting style. Sleeping arrangements will vary per family, and no family is expected to conform to any one approach. You might agree though that in the first few months of infanthood, the baby always comes first. If bed-sharing seems best for your baby, then by all means do it. The opposite holds true. In England, medical professionals don’t practise giving “one size fits all” advice but simply provide all known information as it is. The same principle goes here on this matter. You should know every detail that pertains to your child’s health. Armed with that, you can then determine what practices support or undermine his/her wellbeing.   Image sources:[1][2][3][4][5][6][7]
holly easterbyAuthor: Holly Easterby Holly's love for children has seen her featured in many education and children websites, whether talking about healthy snacks, motivating students, or children's fashion at Bonza Brats. Holly loves reading books, and shopping is her way of spending time with her young family. If you would like to catch her, you can via Google+ or Twitter: @HollyEasterby.