The practice of bed-sharing — parents sharing a bed with their infant — is a hot topic. Supporters of bed-sharing believe that a parent's bed is just where a baby belongs. But others worry that bed-sharing is unsafe.

Co-Sleeping, Room-Sharing, and Bed-Sharing

Many people use the terms "bed-sharing" and "co-sleeping" to describe the same thing, but there are differences:

Why Some People Bed-Share

Bed-sharing supporters believe — and some studies support their beliefs — that bed-sharing:

But do the risks of bed-sharing outweigh the benefits?

Is Bed-Sharing Safe?

In some non-Western cultures, bed-sharing is common and the number of infant deaths related to it is lower than in the West. Differences in mattresses, bedding, and other cultural practices may account for the lower risk in these countries.

Despite the possible pros, various U.S. medical groups warn parents not to place their infants to sleep in adult beds due to serious safety risks. Bed-sharing puts babies at risk of suffocation, strangulation, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Studies have found that bed-sharing is the most common cause of deaths in babies, especially those 3 months and younger.

An adult bed has many safety risks for a baby, including:

Among older infants (4 to12 months old) who died due to bed-sharing, having an additional item (like a pillow or a blanket) on the bed increased the risk of death. Babies should always be placed to sleep on their backs on a firm mattress without any pillows, blankets, toys, stuffed animals, or other items.

Because of the risks involved, both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the U.S. Product Safety Commission (CPSC) advise against bed-sharing. The AAP does recommend the practice of room-sharing without bed-sharing. Room-sharing is thought to help lower the risk of SIDS.

Besides the potential safety risks, sharing a bed with a baby sometimes prevent parents from getting a good night's sleep. And infants who co-sleep might learn to associate sleep with being close to a parent in the parent's bed, which can become a problem at naptime or when the baby needs to go to sleep before the parent is ready.

Bed-Sharing & SIDS

Some studies suggest that bed-sharing increases the risk of SIDS, especially in infants younger than 12 weeks old.

Factors that can increase this risk include:

It's safer to use room-sharing without bed-sharing. Experts note that parents and babies sleeping in the same room can reduce the risk of SIDS because they tend to wake up more often throughout the night.

How to Room-Share Safely

To avoid the risks of bed sharing while enjoying the benefits of room-sharing, parents have lots of options. To keep your little one close by, but not in your bed, you could:

How to Bed-Share as Safely as Possible

Despite the risks of bed-sharing, some parents decide this sleeping arrangement is best for their family. If you do choose to share your bed with your baby, follow these precautions:

Who Shouldn't Share a Bed With a Baby?

If an infant and a parent are bed-sharing, keep the following people out of the sleep environment:

And nobody should smoke in the room, as this increases the risk of SIDS.

Moving Out of the Parent's Bed

Eventually, the bed-sharing routine will be end at some point, either because the child wants to or by the parents' choice.

If you've been bed-sharing with your little one and would like to stop, talk to your doctor about making a plan for when your baby will sleep in a crib. Moving to a crib by 6 months of age is usually easier — for both parents and baby — before the bed-sharing habit is ingrained and other developmental issues (such as separation anxiety) come into play.

Reviewed by: Rupal Christine Gupta, MD
Date reviewed: September 2014

Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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Related Resources
OrganizationU.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) This federal agency collects information about consumer goods and issues recalls on unsafe or dangerous products.
OrganizationAmerican Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) AASM strives to increase awareness of sleep disorders in public and professional communities.
OrganizationAmerican Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) The AAP is committed to the health and well-being of infants, adolescents, and young adults. The website offers news articles and tips on health for families.
Web SiteNational Sleep Foundation (NSF) NSF is an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to improving public health and safety by achieving understanding of sleep and sleep disorders, and by supporting education, sleep-related research, and advocacy.
Web SiteSafe to Sleep This safety campaign teaches parents and other caregivers to always place babies on their backs to sleep. Babies who sleep on their backs are much less likely to die of SIDS than are babies who sleep on their stomachs or sides.
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