Does your baby sleep better with you than in the crib? Does your toddler have difficulty getting to sleep so you “give in” and let him sleep in your bed? Are you a new parent with a breastfeeding baby? Are you or your partner not getting enough sleep due to frequent night waking with your child?
These are issues that many new parents struggle with. As the saying goes: “Anyone who says they sleep like a baby never had one.” I remember my challenges with my first child’s sleep problems. During the first year, it was rare that I got even 3-4 hours of uninterrupted sleep!
The “family bed” is supported by some health care and family experts as a natural, family-friendly way to resolve these problems. It can be convenient, especially with breastfeeding newborns, to simply let them drift off to sleep after they finish nursing. It can also promote a healthy bond between parent and child, as skin-to-skin contact has been shown to be vital for healthy infant development. However, not everyone agrees that sharing a bed with your child is a good idea. Many others feel that it is important for children to learn to sleep in their own beds from an early age so as to promote a differentiation between adult and child space and to circumvent sleep problems later on.
If you are wondering if the family bed is a good idea for you, consider these thoughts:
1. It is very easy to maintain a family bed when your child is breastfed. When the baby wakes up hungry, you don’t have to get up in the middle of the night to feed your child.
2. If you find that getting out of bed to quiet a cranky baby is getting the best of you, trying the family bed may help you get more rest.
3. No extra changing crib sheets – keep a towel or blanket under your baby in your bed.
4. Your baby will feel secure and warm, and you will be able to soothe him quickly before he fully awakes.
5. It can be comforting to know your child is safe beside you.
1. Many parents worry that they will roll over on their child during the night, and consequently do not sleep deeply.
2. It is more difficult to maintain an intimate sex life.
3. Your spouse or partner may oppose the idea, leading to arguments or resentment.
4. Many parents and experts feel that it is important for a child to have his own space to sleep to promote independence and family boundaries.
5. Your child may have difficulty falling asleep when you are not there, such as a trip away or an illness.
6. Your child may have trouble transitioning to her own bed when she is older.
You may be able to think of your own pros and cons. There is no right or wrong way to handle this issue. The best way is to do what works for you, your partner and your child.
If you and your partner disagree on the family bed, use this article as a springboard to discuss it openly. Listen to your partner’s views, state yours simply, without defensiveness, and look for a compromise. Perhaps you could start for a period of time using the family bed, and then switch the child to a crib at a particular date or age. Or you could start the evening with the family bed, and then move the child to his own bed during the night
As a family therapist and a seasoned parent, I know we tend to over-think our parenting decisions. Remember that regardless of which way you choose, be confident that if make your parenting decisions thoughtfully, you will do a good job in raising your child. A caring, thinking, insightful parent such as yourself will likely end up with a healthy, happy child. And one that sleeps through the night. Eventually.