There are few things that engender as much discussion regarding parenting as newborn sleeping arrangements. Bed-sharing, where a mom and a baby sleep in the same bed, is not often recommended by pediatricians but many people continue to do it. Other parents choose to create a co-sleeping arrangement where parents and their newborn share the same room but not the same bed space. Still, other parents choose to keep their baby in a completely separate nursery. Any of these options can be right for you and your family. Here are some things to consider if you’re making a decision about how you and your baby will sleep.

Documented risks for bed-sharing

There are some well-defined risks present when babies share their parent’s bed. It has been documented that heavily sleeping parents have accidentally rolled over on a child, causing smothering. This is even more likely to happen if a parent has been sleeping heavily due to drinking or have been affected by recreational drugs or another substance that makes them less aware of their position in relation to their newborn.

In addition, babies and newborns sleep most safely when they have specific blanketing, firm mattresses with tightly-fitted sheets, are not overheated, and are placed resting on their backs. It is also recommended that infant and baby sleeping spaces be free of pillows, soft blankets, or other objects near to the child’s face. This position is hard to maintain in a parental bed. For these reasons, most pediatricians strongly do not recommend the practice and are clear with new parents about the risks it presents.

Aside from dangers to babies, bed-sharing may have another drawback, it may result in a night of less restful sleep for parents. Some moms may have trouble drifting off or may be affected as babies grow and move more, tossing, turning, and kicking in their sleep.

Benefits of sharing a sleeping space

Proponents of co-sleeping talk about the closeness between mother and child that the practice can bring. They are quick to note that humans are one of the only animals that don’t sleep with their offspring and that nighttime contact is reassuring for babies and good for moms too. Synchronized breathing between parents and the baby has been documented as well as a closeness that comes while they are sleeping. Lastly, Waking up next to a sleepy baby in the morning, or having parents and child kept closely together, is a wonderful, family defining experience.

Co-sleeping has also been known to make nighttime nursing easier. When baby wakes, mom doesn’t have to get out of bed and go to the child’s sleeping place to nurse. Because the baby is closer to mom, they don’t need to fully wake up for feeding and the process of feeding can soothe them to sleep more easily. Everyone is right there and ready and the process is comparably stress-free, even if babies are waking every few hours. Lastly, many say that there are bonding benefits to co-sleeping arrangements. Waking up next to a sleepy baby in the morning, or having parents and child kept closely together is a wonderful, family defining experience.

Supporters of co-sleeping, such as the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, currently don’t believe that there is enough evidence to support the view that co-sleeping is inherently dangerous. They do agree that if it takes place parents need to follow guidelines. Other experts, including well-known pediatrician Dr. William Sears, also generally recommend the practice when done properly.

Are there ways to make bed-sharing safer?

With its notable benefits, may parents may be wondering if there’s a way to share a sleeping space but to do it safer. The good news is that there may be. A sidecar arrangement involves a crib-like sleeper that attaches to the parent’s bed on one side but maintains the other three sides as a typical crib would. Many doctors recommend this practice for their patients who want to sleep more closely with their children but are worried about the safety factors of fully sharing an adult bed.

If parents are committed to the choice of co-sleeping in the same sleeping space as their baby, there are some guidelines they can follow to ensure safety. To start, they should be sure to refrain from drinking alcohol or ingesting other substances medications that would make them less aware as they sleep. If they have taken substances, if they’re heavily tired, and wouldn’t awake easily, or they aren’t sure they could be somewhat aware of their child’s whereabouts in the bed while they’re sleeping, even bed-sharing advocates recommend that the child should sleep in their own space. In addition, it is recommended that parents never leave their child alone on the bed and that babies less than a year old not share a bed with a baby and older siblings. Lastly, parents who are smokers or who smoked during pregnancy refrain from sharing a sleeping mattress as smoking increases the chance of SIDS.

Parents can also consider that there are other ways to stay close to their baby at night without having to share a mattress space and blankets. These include having the child placed in a bassinet or small crib placed next to, but not attached, can also be used. their own sleeping space in the same room as parents or having adjoining rooms with the option of a door left open. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends this approach, indicating that close sleeping without sharing a mattress can reduce the risk of SIDS significantly and can be good for both mother and baby.