CONTROVERSIAL: Divulging that sharing a bed with your baby is contentious.
CONTROVERSIAL: Divulging that sharing a bed with your baby is contentious. Thinkstock

Bed-sharing has merits

DARE I admit that, with the weather as hot as it's been, my children have been sleeping in my bed. My room is cooler than theirs, for starters, and this way I can dampen their foreheads while they sleep. Not that I need an excuse.

I have been 'co-sleeping' with my boys on and off since they were born.

Divulging that is risky because sharing a bed with your baby is contentious, a sure-fire lightning rod for parental judgment and disapproval. It's regarded as the genesis of dependent, needy children at best, with the potential to kill them at worst.

In 2013 the NSW Child Death Review found that 44% of the 480 infants who died suddenly and unexpectedly in that state in the decade prior were co-sleeping.

Last week in the UK a judge removed two young children from their parents citing, as one of the reasons, the mother "ignoring advice against co-sleeping”. In this instance the children also had physical injuries but it was the bed sharing part that made headlines.

What these cases fail to mention is that the greater risk factors for co-sleeping babies include exposure to cigarette smoke, parents who consume drugs or alcohol, parent obesity, sleeping with a sibling or pet, or baby left alone in an adult bed, according to the Australian Breastfeeding Association.

SIDS And Kids' advice is that babies sleep on a separate surface in the same room as their carer for at least six to 12 months (for example in a bassinet next to your bed). The risk of SIDS is reduced when a baby room-shares with parents compared to a baby sleeping alone.

Our obsession with getting babies to sleep in their own rooms down the corridor is not so much our fear of inadvertently harming them by, god forbid, rolling on them in a deep sleep. It's rather generations of cultural conditioning that co-sleeping is bad parenting.

To harbour babies in our bed, even in the same room, is considered weak and mollycoddling...

The facts are quite the opposite according to a burgeoning body of co-sleeping research.

Prof James McKenna, considered the world's leading authority on mother-infant co-sleeping, advises babies should be "within sensory contact” (i.e. within the same four walls) as their mother for at least the first six months.

His decades of research has led to the conclusion that babies are "biologically designed” to sleep next to their mother. "Mother's body proves still to be the only environment to which the infant is truly adapted, for which even modern western technology has yet to produce a substitute,” he says.

Contrary to popular opinion, McKenna has also observed that co-sleeping mothers get more sleep than those who don't, and believes it's better for bonding and healthy attachment.

It's not everyone's cup of tea, and not always practical, but I love nothing more than lying next to my children as they're falling asleep, absorbing the subtle tempo change of breath as their limbs go limp, the soles of their feet joined together like a newborn. "I'm here”, I whisper to them in the night, assurance hopefully setting them up for life.

"It's such a short time of their lives”, says a friend who's shared a bed with her four-year-old on and off since birth. "I've told her I'll take her lead on when she's ready to go to her own bed. It's not like she's going to be crawling into my bed when she's 15.”


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