The great bed-sharing debate

Posted on 8 March 2016

Some swear by it, others wouldn’t dream of it. Sharing a bed with the baby or kids has long been a contentious issue. Paediatricians and parents weigh in on the matter.

The minute a couple announce they’re expecting, they’re generally bombarded by a barrage of well-intentioned advice from friends and family – advice that lingers throughout the parenting journey. As much as self-proclaimed experts’ opinions differ, their certainty seldom wavers, creating more confusion than ever. Among the issues that raise the most debate is sharing a bed with your offspring – something that’s usually rooted in emotional and practical considerations. But where does the medical fraternity stand? We ask paediatricans with differing opinions to share their views.

Against
‘In general, having babies co-sleeping with you is dangerous, because you may roll on top of them or blankets may smother them,’ says Dr Martin Bailey, a supporting paediatrician for Mediclinic Constantiaberg. ‘There’s no advantage to co-sleeping, but you can have your baby next to you in a bassinet. Parents need to begin encouraging babies to sleep in their own rooms at the age of six months to a year.’

Dr Bailey also refers to the developmental disadvantages of sharing a bed with toddlers and children. ‘Generally, part of ensuring children can function happily in their own space is encouraging them to sleep in their own bed, where you’re not physically next to them all the time. The abstract concept of security, which parents begin to amplify as toddlers grow older, is undermined if you have them in bed with you. An important step in confidence-building is showing your child that even if they can’t feel or see you, you’re still around. Limit-setting instills confidence and security. Ultimately the same logic applies as with a car seat – of course you put your child in a car seat, and they have to sit in it. In the same way, when bedtime comes, children must know that sleeping takes place in their own beds.’

For and against
While Dr Heidi Ackermann, a paediatrician at Mediclinic George, does not advocate co-sleeping with babies below the age of one, she does feel that it may be a good fit for families with toddlers and young children. ‘Various studies have shown an increased risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) when babies below the age of one share a bed with their parents. It can also have a negative effect on a marriage,’ she says. ‘However, there are studies that show that toddlers and young children who share a bed with their parents are less anxious and less likely to develop self-esteem and behavioural issues in the future. I would advocate co-sleeping for families with children older than one, where these children need frequent attention during the night because of breast-feeding or nightmares. This is a simple measure to keep the disruption of the parents’ sleep to a minimum. Parents do need, though, to decide until what age this is allowed.’

Parents speak
Two mothers share the sleeping arrangements that work for them:

Ashton Paige de Abreu: My husband and I absolutely didn’t allow our kids to sleep in our bed. They both slept in their own cots from day one. We didn’t want to get them into sleeping habits that would be difficult to break later. Unless they were sick or teething, they slept through every night.

Lezel Simons: I firmly believe anything natural is best. I breast-feed and to me a baby should be close to mom for that purpose but also for comfort and protection. I love cuddling and being next to my hubby so I don’t see why little babies should sleep all by themselves.

Did you know?
The amount of sleep kids between the ages of 1 and 5 should get every day is between 10 and 12 hours.

Join the conversation!
How did you cultivate good sleeping habits in your children? Share your tips on Facebook.com/MediclinicSouthernAfrica

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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