A resource to inspire, inform and empower parents.

Snuggle in Tight, That’s Right, Like That: Co-Sleeping/Bed-Sharing

Let’s begin with a vocabulary lesson. Co-sleeping means you sleep close to your baby. Maybe the baby is in bed with you; maybe she is in a bassinette or maybe in a crib, a co-sleeper or basket in the same room. Bed-sharing refers to the specific type of co-sleeping where the baby and you are in the same bed. There are many types of co-sleeping. Bed-sharing is a type of co-sleeping.

The sleeping arrangement in our home was 5 months in the making. It wasn’t until 5 months when I finally internalized what I had learned, relaxed, brought Jack in, latched him on and gave us both the permission to follow a biological norm and necessity.

Abby Theuring, The Badass Breastfeeder, breastfeeding and bed sharing

Jack slept next to me in his plastic box while we were still in the hospital. When he came home he slept in his bassinet next to my side of the bed. Bed-sharing is downright dangerous. You could fall asleep and roll onto your baby. My Mom told me that I slept in between her and my Dad when I was a baby. Wow Mom, how could you be so neglectful as to put me in such a dangerous position? At Jack’s first doctor visit the doctor confirmed that a baby should never be in an adult bed. I was terrified to even be sitting on the bed while nursing Jack. I wasn’t afraid to doze off while nursing on the couch or the rocking chair, but the bed? You gotta be crazy.

The plan was to have Jack sleep in our room in his bassinette until he was 6 months old. I felt like I was really pushing the envelope with 6 months. I was going to make people think twice about putting their babies in their cribs in their own rooms so soon. Six months sounded like a good long time. I mean he’d be practically self-sufficient by then. At Jack’s 1 month appointment his pediatrician reminded me that I could put him in his own room anytime, but I was confident that those 6 months together were going to be beneficial to him.

Jack nursed (still nurses) many times a night. Maybe he wasn’t eating, but he was latched on to my breast pretty much the whole night. It was getting difficult to stay awake around the clock. And what’s with the “sleep when baby sleeps” advice? Stupidest thing I have ever heard. When the hell was I supposed to eat, shower, shit, sit or stare at the wall in disbelief at how small of a thing could cause such great changes in my world? I started to bring him into the bed and nurse him lying down. I made my husband stay awake and monitor so I wouldn’t roll onto him. I was heavy with guilt day and night. I was putting my baby in such a dangerous situation. I was frustrated that he would only sleep well like this. I wanted him to get sleep, but I knew I was wrong for doing it this way.

“Is he sleeping through the night?” Jack’s pediatrician asked at his 4 month appointment. By now I had been schooled on the “sleeping through the night” thing and how ridiculous a question that is. “No, but, he eats through the night!” She seemed surprised and said that he should be going 10 to 12 hours without needing to eat by now. She began to tell us how we could get him to sleep through the night. “On the first night you leave him for 4 minutes,” she said. She stumbled over her words a bit as if she were reading from a book. My husband and I waited for a break in her obnoxious sleep training bit. “He sleeps with us,” I said. “Oh,” she said. It didn’t occur to her to ask where he slept before she signed us up for this training. She assumed he was alone in another room. That is the norm after all.

Fear makes people do unsafe things. Fear makes people ignore their instincts. I was so afraid to fall asleep while nursing in bed that instead I would move to the couch or a rocking chair. These, in fact, are dangerous places to be when sleeping with a baby. Exhausted people with newborns fall asleep all over the house. Babies die when they slip into the cushions of the couch or into the space between you and the arm rest. They suffocate under fluffy blankets and pillows. Or they lie in their cribs alone in another room and mom can’t respond quickly enough or know if baby has gotten into trouble.

The truth of the matter is that SIDS, formerly known as “cot death,” yes, for all the babies that were dying IN THEIR CRIBS ALONE, is not more common in bed-sharing families. Bed-sharing, in fact, protects against major suspected causes of SIDS. You are much safer when you and your baby just lie down in your bed, nurse, cuddle and sleep. There is a reason why it feels right, why you sleep better and why you and your baby wake up for less time during the night. This is what your baby was born to do.

Mainstream America would prefer that you think bed-sharing causes psychological harm. Modern western civilization is the ONLY place in the world and in history where bed-sharing is not the norm. So are we to believe that all humans except for Americans in the last half century or so are the only humans without psychological harm? I don’t know about you, but my money is on the exact opposite.

The reasons for this cultural shift are under analysis as we speak. We have, for some reason, decided that it is best to ignore all maternal instinct, all natural behavior and all child-centered practices. Women and families across the nation and beyond are being shamed for sleeping with their babies. Are being fed bullshit to make them question the very thing that keeps a mother naturally connected and in tune with her baby. Shame on you. Shame on you misinformed doctors. Shame on you judgmental and ignorant peoples. Shame on all of you for making me and my fellow mothers feel afraid; for making us lie awake at night; for making us make decisions based on fear. With evolution, history and biology on our side you still spread lies. You still ignore the deep protective connection between a mother and her baby.

The truth-Everyone sleeps better when they feel safe. Nighttime separation anxiety is real. Babies are biologically wired to fear sleeping alone. Babies were born to sleep with their mothers. Sleeping alone as an infant causes long-term sleep issues. Bed-sharing cuts down on bedtime arguments because these children have not learned to fear sleep. Bed-sharing makes it easy to breastfeed and helps maintain milk supply. Bed-sharing is a protective factor against many suspected causes of SIDS. Bed-sharing mothers sleep better than non-bed sharing mothers. Yes, I said it. Better. Bed-sharing mothers wake more frequently, but these intervals are much shorter than the non-bed sharing mother and therefore she is more rested in the morning. James McKenna’s research from his Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame is a great place to start if you would like to do your own research on the realities of bed-sharing.

There are, of course, people who should not share a bed with their baby. If you use common sense you can avoid the major risk factors. Smoking; do not share your bed with your baby if you smoke. Smoking impairs your ability to rouse from sleep. Also, drugs and drinking alcohol  impair your ability to do most things needed to parent safely. But that should be obvious to a mother. You are not in touch with your maternal instincts when you are under the influence. Also, ditch the loose bedding and move the pillows. You know, don’t bury your baby so she can’t breathe. Eliminate spaces between the bed and walls or head board. Don’t bed-share on a water bed. Breastfeeding is one of the biggest protective factors in bed-sharing. Breastfeeding is the cosmic vessel through which the innate mother-baby connection travels. Bottle feeding moms and babies move differently than breastfeeding pairs and is a risk factor for bed-sharing. Check out more research and resources for safe co-sleeping and bed-sharing.

Abby Theuring, MSW


Sleep Resources

Websites (See also Gentle Parenting Resources here)

Dr. James McKenna Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame (find an extensive list of articles regarding co-sleeping and normal infant sleep)


Evolutionary Parenting


Infant Sleep Information Source


Safe Sleep Space



Sweet Sleep by La Leche League

The Baby Sleep Book: The Complete Guide to a Good Night’s Rest for the Whole Family by Dr. Sears

The No-Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley

Nighttime Parenting: How to Get Your Baby and Child to Sleep by Dr. Sears

Sleeping With Your Baby by James McKenna

Sweet Dreams: A Pediatrician’s Secrets for a Baby’s Good Night’s Sleep by Frederick M. Hodges