Pros & Cons of Co-Sleeping

Parent Q&A

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  • Hi all, I need some help calibrating what's appropriate.  I have an only child, one son.  His dad and I split up last year, when he was 6.  I have him 50 percent time.  Since we split up, he's been sleeping with me in my king-sized bed on the nights he is with me.  When his dad and I were together, he would only occasionally sleep with us, usually on the weekends.  I value the extra closeness since I'm only with him half the time, and he finds it comforting.  We read and snuggle a bit, and then he falls asleep.  At his dad's, he sleeps in his own bed.  Our split was amicable, and our son is doing well.  My question is whether I should start encouraging him back into his own bed, or let this continue a bit longer. We would both miss it, but I don't want to be doing something that may not good for him.  Anyone have any experience with something similar?  Thanks!

    My 6 year old daughter and 8 year old son both slept with me for the first month after their dad moved out. Then I transitioned them back to their own rooms. Unless you want your son sleeping with you indefinitely, it would seem wise to shift him back to his own bed. It’s great that you have a close relationship, and it’s also worthwhile to take a step back, as you are doing, to make sure you’re not maintaining a situation that you both find cozy and loving- but which ultimately will become undesirable. Good luck! You can still have a nice bedtime routine with reading together, etc. just establish a new ritual that is also pleasant. 

    I don't personally see any harm. I think it is likely that your son needs the extra closeness, and that this could be contributing to why he is doing so well in the midst of this emotional time. Personally I would just let it be for awhile and see how it goes.

    Speaking from my own personal experience, I have an 8 year old son who still climbs into bed with me and my husband, who is his step dad, half the nights that he is with us (which is most of the time). For me, the split with his bio-father was NOT amicable when I was pregnant (he abused me and it escalated out of control very quickly when I was pregnant), and things have been incredibly difficult since our son was born and was a baby (Still worth it of course, because if I hadn't gone through all that, I wouldn't have our son), and there have been issues and emotional abuse from his father (I have sole legal and physical custody and he only sees his father one night per week and on some holidays, because of the abuse and medical neglect issues recognized by the courts). For us, I am pretty sure that the fact that our 8-year-old needs extra closeness is related to the anxiety and things he has had to grapple with from our situation in general with having a family that feels very split, as well as dealing with his father who is still incredibly angry (unfortunately totally unwilling to recognize it and seek help, though I wish he would, even when our co-parenting therapists have brought it up to him). I remarried when our son was almost 4. My husband is very loving, understanding and supportive, and that definitely helps. Until recently we just took it night by night. Sometimes he would want to sleep in his own bed. Lately, we have started encouraging him to sleep in his own bed sometimes, but we take it night by night and if he is having a hard time we just try to keep it chill. Sometimes I will tell him that he can fall asleep with us, and that when he is asleep I will put him in his bed and that if he wakes up and needs us he knows where to come find us for more snuggles-- that seems to be helping with transitioning him slowly to sleeping in his bed more often. He didn't like it at first but is more accepting of it now and it seems to be helping to find the right balance for our family. Our situation is slightly different from yours I suppose but honestly I still think there are plenty of parallels -- It seems to me that, even with a more quiet and amicable split scenario, kids are still going to feel torn with a family that has separated, and they will need extra support for some time. For me and my husband, we have sought advice from our son's play therapist at times, and she thought there was no harm with the fact that he likes to fall asleep with us or climb into bed with us for extra snuggle time. Sometimes kids just need more closeness and time together with mom or dad if they are experiencing difficult times, even if they seem like they are outwardly doing ok.

    I can't tell you what is right for you, but I thought I would share our experience and hope that it helps. Try talking to a therapist for advice, I have found some great advice from doing my own therapy, from co-parenting therapists, and from my son's play therapist. Feel free to reach out if you want to chat, I have to keep my username hidden here but you can ask the moderator for my email. Take care and I send you warm positive thoughts and energy. 

    I help my child fall asleep in her own room since her dad died, rather than helping her fall asleep in my room. Maybe try that instead?

    I don't see anything wrong with that.

    I don't think it's bad for him.  My son slept in my bed occasionally even as a teen. At some point, I acquired a chaise lounge (it's kind of like a long chair) and he's also slept there, even though he's over 6 feet tall.  That was nice because I didn't have to worry about getting kicked.  Also, sometimes he'd want to keep talking and I'd want to go to sleep, so I'd just tell him to let me go to sleep and tell me whatever it was in the morning.  If there's a reason you want to sleep by yourself, tell him, but I don't see a problem. 

    My son is now 13 and started sleeping with me when he was about 5, when we parents separated. Both he and I needed the extra security and warmth. He had nightmares for a couple of years after we separated and moved, and after trying for a while to get him to sleep in his room part of the night, I realized we just all slept better if we were in the same bed. Sleep is a big priority! And when you don't see him half the week - plus working hours and school - those extra hours together become very important. Of course it won't last - they grow up and want to be alone. But at this point, my son still sleeps with me (and also his dad, at his house) a few times a month, but also sleeps great on his own, has sleepovers and sleepaway camps, does fine in his own room - and btw is happy, an almost straight A student, very athletic, lots of friends, and no more nightmares ever. I believe that giving him that extra cuddling and support when he really needed it is a big part of why he's doing well now, despite divorced parents. 

    One suggestion in addition to therapy is trying a weighted blanket for sleeping.   Our daughter is older, and suffers from severe anxiety and insomnia and the weighted blanket has allowed her to sleep at night without medication.   I ordered it off of Amazon.  Probably a 5 pound one for an 8 year old. 

Archived Q&A and Reviews

From: Kathy

My husband and I have come to a comfortable level of peace with this issue so I thought I'd share our experience in case it helps some one else do the same. Our daughter is now 2 years and 9 months old. Every child is very unique. As they grow we recognize and cherish these differences in them but for some silly reason we think as babies they should all act and behave according to some standard measure and many people tell us they should nap at regular intervals and sleep through the night. I apologize for the length of my response but I think this issue is a fairly troubling one for parents in the first couple of years and deserves some thoughtful commentary.

I'm still not sure what term to use to describe our daughter's first year but it was hard. She cried all the time for the first 3 months of her life and continued to cry a lot through out her first year whenever things weren't just right. I joined a mom's group during that first 3 months which confirmed what my husband and I already knew, our baby did cry a lot and was more difficult than the average baby. I would go to the weekly sessions and watch other babies lay on the floor in angelic happiness for 2 hours or sleep contentedly in carseats while my child intermittently cried beyond comfort for the entire time. In some ways this was more comforting because it helped us keep the situation in perspective and not blame ourselves for doing something to cause the crying.

By the 3rd night of her life we'd already given up the concept that she'd sleep in the beautiful bassinet my mother gave to us. She began sleeping in our bed and nursing as needed throughout the night. As all the other notes attest this is certainly easy and everyone gets a lot of sleep.

Our night time issues were fine but the days were still very hard. Around week number 4 a friend of mine brought over a baby sling and the Sears 'Baby Book'. Both were a life saver. I started wearing my baby in the sling throughout the day even for naps. If I tried to lay her down after she'd fallen asleep she'd immediately startle and begin crying again, the sling gave me mobility and gave my daughter the comfort she needed to make it through the day (I had a different brand of baby carrier that my daughter didn't like, the sling keeps the child immediately next to you which provides a level of warmth that is unique). Although I don't align myself with everything the Sears preach (and they can be a little preachy), I think they do a great job of relating their personal experience on varying temperaments of different children. Their personal experience was that their first 3 children were 'easy' babies and the 4th turned their lives upside down. This 4th baby is what helped them develop many of their 'attachment parenting' philosophies which include baby wearing and sharing sleep. They had assumed that their parenting itself made the first 3 kids so wonderful. When the 4th was so different they decided it was really temperament that influenced the differences and that as parents we need to recognize this and parent our children accordingly.

Back to the sleep issue. Our daughter continued to sleep with us. At about 4 or 5 months we would put her down in her crib at night after nursing or rocking her to sleep. Some nights she'd sleep through and others (most of the time) she'd awaken and cry at which time we'd just bring her back to our bed where she'd fall asleep immediately. We both work full time and needed the sleep. At around 7 or 8 months we felt our bed was getting too crowded and experimented with the Ferber method. It seemed to work for us for a month or so. Many parents in my mom's group have had success with this method so I think it does work if you have the stamina and patience to apply it. Reports are though that it normally takes a couple of different rounds of Ferber as your child goes through different developmental stages. After our month of success came several holiday trips and a series of relatives staying at our house for extended periods of time. Not exactly great circumstances to let your baby cry for hours during the night. My husband and I discussed our options knowing that if we took the path of least resistance (our baby in our bed) that we needed to prepare for having her there until she decided it was time to leave. We made that choice and bought a king size bed.

I think as long as the decision is mutual between you and your partner then sharing a bed with your kid can work. My husband and I laugh about it, know it will eventually end and are creative about where we get intimate. We use the 'don't ask, don't tell' rule with our pediatrician and friends. It's amazing how many people have very strong opinions about sharing sleep, I've yet to figure out what the big deal is. We feel like we just did what we felt worked for us. We're expecting another baby in June and really hope we can make the crib work for that baby, but if it isn't in the stars we'll just add another to our bed.

Sharing sleep was the most difficult during the 13 to 16 month age range. She was really squirmy and tended to wake frequently during the night. She also wanted to scoot to the edge of the bed and try and get up on her own which made me very nervous. At around 18 months she settled down and now she falls asleep as soon as she's in bed and tends to sleep rather soundly through the night. She takes naps in her own bed in her own room (a small way we trick ourselves into justifying that purchase) and we ask her monthly if she wants to try sleeping in her bed at night. So far she says she'd rather sleep with us.

As far as her personality goes she's very independent and happy. Many of the other parents in my mom's group complain about how difficult the 2's are. My husband and I laugh because we think it's a breeze. The first year was so hard for us that everything since then seems easy. I don't think the sleep situation has impacted her one way or the other, again, we just did what we felt worked for our situation. I also don't believe we've created any problems for her. Many articles and books I've read on this subject stress the importance of your child learning to fall asleep on their own and establishing independence by learning to sleep on their own. She falls asleep on her own now both at home and at pre-school and we always violated all the rules by either rocking or nursing her to sleep as a young baby. I can look back on this now with a smile (I really enjoyed holding her in my arms and comforting her to sleep) but I remember feeling very guilty at the time and thinking that I was setting my child up for a life of sleep problems. Hog wash to all that. She's also very independent. I believe if you meet your child's security needs at a young age it nurtures their confidence and enables their ability to be independent. This has been very true for us. I don't believe sleeping by oneself automatically will lead to independence just as sleeping in the parents bed will preclude it.

My only advice is that the decision needs to be mutual between you and your partner. I have a friend that's currently going through a divorce. The sleep issue was one thing they never agreed on and she began sleeping on a mattress with her son in his room. When people refer to intimacy problems and sharing sleep with their children I think it's really due to disagreement between the parents on the issue itself. A baby sleeping in your bed doesn't inherently limit anything if both parents accept the responsibility to not let it interfere with their relationship.

I'd love to have a crystal ball into the future to know when she'll decide she's ready to move into her own bed so I'm enjoying the trail of responses on this issue to see what's ahead. I'd especially like to hear from parents of older children who've lived through all of this and their opinions about the effect (or lack thereof) on their kids.

From: Toby

I have always felt that it's fine for children to sleep with their parents. It's a natural desire on both the child's and parent's part. I've slept intermittently with both of my daughters (at separate times). My oldest is now 15 and I see no ill effects. I think it can only make them feel better (and you because you can sleep and feel at ease). I don't think there's any harm in it.

I didn't even want to respond to this since family-bed advocates have such strong feelings on the subject, but there was no input at all from the other side so here's one opinion...

I took a parenting class for infants and one of the topics was assisting your child in learning the skill of sleeping through the night. I do firmly believe that babies need uninterrupted sleep like we adults do and I've been able to test it several times when we had to wake my baby in the middle of the night for 3 trips back East before he turned 5 mos. The class I took had about 10 sets of parents and all of us had babies that slept through by 7 weeks old. None of us used a family bed or rocked the babies to sleep. We did not allow them to cry during the middle of the night either.

I only am trying to say that you don't have to use a family bed to have a happy, contented baby or for everyone to get enough sleep. I sensed that was the tone of some of the messages. I also have great concern for the intimacy of marriage and how it plays out with children sleeping in mom and dad's bed over an extended time period. Obviously, it will take more effort to make time and opportunity for this. I'd like to hear from the men who are using the family bed concept. Do they feel that there is enough time and opportunity for filling this need as well? (Not that women don't count of course, but I've heard so infrequently from men on this topic.)

We started out with the family bed concept. The first few weeks we were quite tired and getting in and out of bed for the night feedings didn't seem to make sense. I actually liked it: it was like sleeping with a teddy bear, but better. I don't think it would have worked well with a bed smaller than king size.

After a few months, we noticed that she didn't sleep that well in the large bed. We moved her to her crib. First we kept the crib next to the bed, then we gradually moved it away. Now (at 18 months) she is in a separate room.

We almost always tried to do what seemed most comfortable for her. We put her back in our bed on occasions, but she never seemed to care for it. There was one small `ferberization' struggle when she became able to stand up in her crib holding on to the side, at about 7-8 months. It lasted about a week. She would cry for 20 minutes or so: we would enter the room every few minutes to comfort her for a minute, but we never took her out of the crib.

Having said this, I also think that babies, and parents, are too different from each other for a standard solution, and I am generally reluctant to disagree with other people's child-rearing strategies.

From: Rajesh

Hi! I am a father (someone wanted a male voice) of a 9 month-old who sleeps in our bed. He used to fall asleep himself but after a couple of illnesses he needs to be rocked (in our laps) or patted to sleep.

I love it! My wife is concerned that i will elbow him one day, but so far its been a great experience. He sleeps on my chest and if he gets up in the middle of the night, reaches out for my hair to pull (without opening his eyes) and then goes back to sleep.

He is also my morning alarm and its great (except for a few late nights)!

Right now we have no plans of moving him off our bed, both of us are happy (actually all 3 of us!).


From: Sophie

I'm writing this from the POV of someone for whom family bed has been a wonderful experience, so much so that we haven't even considered moving our big boy out when the new baby comes (though we'll have to play things by ear if space gets tight or if the new baby interfere's with his sleep).

It seems like the intimacy question is always the first one raised by people when they find out we're doing this, and I've always found it somewhat perplexing, because I can honestly say that having a family bed has not been a problem whatsoever for us in this regard (I guess the fact that we're expecting #2 any day now is sort of proof :-)

Offhand, I can think of two ways in which family bed has had an effect. First, since it's meant not having to get up in the middle of the night, both of us have gotten more sleep and that certainly helps our libidos. Second, it is frequently the case that mom, who's nursing and holding baby all day long, gets touched-out; or, put another way, has many of her physical needs for intimacy met by the baby. In the family bed, dad gets to snuggle all night long too, which means he doesn't feel left out as much.

One of the things I've noticed is that very early on, the discussions about baby-care assume a competition between the baby's needs and the mother's needs or the father's needs, and I think this is a really bad way to view family dynamics.

From: Ellen

We've used a family bed and it has been very successful for us. Personally, one of my priorities is uninterrupted sleep. After spending a couple of weeks getting up with my newborn son, feeding him, and finding it difficult to go back to sleep, I brought him to bed with me and nursed him there and then we would fall asleep. It then dawned on me that I could just start him off in our bed and when he woke up, I wouldn't have to get out of bed. We both got so used to it that he could nurse in the middle of the night and I barely noticed. But the best part was the waking up in the morning. I've never been a morning person but being woken by my son's little baby fingers on my face, cooing and his great big smile when I opened my eyes made morning something to look forward to. The fun of this actually lasted longer than I thought. By the time he was around 2.5, he was sleeping in his own bed but would climb into ours sometime in the middle of the night. He sometimes still, at 8 yrs old, comes in around 6-7 am (on Saturday he goes directly to cartoons). As far as affecting his long-term sleeping habits, he has no problem going to sleep on his own and has been doing sleepovers at friends' houses since he was 5. We used the family bed for our second son too and he transitioned from our bed to his brother's bed, then his own at 2. I usually find him in our bed when I wake up. He just turned 4 and he hasn't started sleepovers yet but has spent a weekend at his grandparent's w/o us and had no trouble sleeping. My husband has enjoyed this arrangement as much as I have. The closeness and extra snuggle time has been great.

The family bed isn't for everyone: some kids are real squirmy and are not comfortable to sleep with, some people are very uncomfortable with or object to the intimacy or feel that it is inappropriate or indulgent, and unless you have a queen-size bed or bigger, it gets kinda crowded. Our families (and some friends) were very disapproving but that's never stopped me before.

I think the most important aspects are that the partners agree on the sleeping arrangements, that everyone is comfortable and everyone's sleeping needs are being met.

From: Laura

I have been reading with interest the opinions on family bed. Our daughter Adriana slept with us until the day we replaced her crib with a big-girl bed just before her second birthday, and since then she has happily gone to bed in her own room. I wanted, (and my husband also allowed though with some skepticism) do what was easiest for her because it made her feel good and secure. To me, this extends to not letting her cry it out for any length of time. A trade off, in a way, for being in daycare away from mom and dad all day. Ever since she was born she has let us know what she wants or needs, and we have tried our best to meet those needs. I think it has paid off by making her grow into a very self assured and outgoing 2 1/2 year old (personality traits that may have emerged in any case, of course).

I just want to add my voice to the chorus of advice about whether or not to sleep with your child. I think you should do what feels right to you, and do NOT assume that there is some pre-determined biological need for a child to sleep with their parents. Some should, some don't need to. I saw so much good advice here, and some of it was completely contradictory, but equally as helpful, depending on you and your needs and your child and her needs. I never slept with my son--he went from bassinet to crib, without any ill effects that I can see. He is an amazing sleeper, falls asleep on his own every night and has since he was one (he's 2 1/4 now). If he does cry for any length of time when I put him down then I know something's wrong. Same thing if he wakes in the middle of the night. I don't let him cry anything out; I don't hesitate to pick him up, because his very rare night waking usually means he's sick, had a nightmare, or really needs comfort. Going in to him, holding and rocking him for a while, etc., never affects his ability to go back to sleep or to go back to his routine the next night. But I've learned this through getting to know my son--were he different, I might let him cry it out, or I might have him sleep with me. I was invested in having him sleep independently, and that may have had an effect, but had it not worked, I doubt I'd still be doing it. My main argument for it being okay to go either way, and for there not being some universal need for children to sleep with their parents, is that sometimes when my son wakes up extra early and I still want to sleep, or when he does wake in the middle of the night and I want to go back to sleep, he won't come to my bed! He wants me to stay in his room and sit in the glider with him; he has no desire to sleep with me, though he loves to play and bounce on my bed during the day. He loves his crib; it's his little haven, and he no more wants to sleep with me than he wants me in his crib. He is a happy healthy boy, so there you have it. By the way, he does have a transitional object, which I cultivated literally from birth--Babas the Bear--and I think that has helped him learn to self-comfort and fall asleep on his own, not to mention transition to day care etc. But I echo the advice of getting more than one object. I had quite a time finding another Babas, and when I finally found one, I bought four, just to be on the safe side! Do what feels right, what you can manage; don't feel guilty over her crying, but don't do something that your instinct tells you is wrong. My mother always says that the first sentence of Dr. Spock is what saved her as a new mom: You know more than you think you know.