Safe Co-sleeping is Good for You and Your Baby.

Last night as I lay down to sleep I placed my hand on the hot belly of my five-year-old, beside me in our big bed. She has a fever. At bedtime I had tucked her in bed beside me without even considering laying her elsewhere. Put her down the hall to sleep alone through the ups-and-downs of a feverish sleep? No way. She's by my side. I can't imagine it any other way.
We've co-slept since the first night with our first child. We did it safely and I can't imagine mothering any other way. It's like breastfeeding and baby-wearing. I can't comprehend how we could have parented with as much grace, ease, and connection as we did without these simple tools.

Co-sleeping can be done safely. Let me say that again: co-sleeping can be done safely. In fact, when done properly your bed can be a safer place to sleep than a crib according to some studies. Dr. Sears notes, "…one independent researcher examined the CPSC's data and came to the…conclusion that sleeping with your baby is actually SAFER than not sleeping with your baby (see Mothering Magazine Sept/Oct 2002)."

Yes, despite what you have heard, co-sleeping offers many benefits both mother and child.

My point is this: educate yourself, and then find what works for your family. Fear is no replacement for education, so do some reading and then make your own educated choice. Both you and your baby deserve as much.

There are two wonderful websites I encourage you to visit as you embark on bed-sharing for the first time. Dr. Sears lays out the guidelines (as well as the facts about how safe it really is to co-sleep) in this fabulous post (note that the co-sleeper is optional). Also Dr. McKenna at Notre Dame has years of data as to how mother and child share sleep to the benefit of both on this site as well as the basics of doing it safely. No, falling asleep together on the couch is not co-sleeping. Nor is it safe. But tucking in beside your child in an appropriate bed is, if you do it right. And it's easy to do it right.

Indeed, mothers (and fathers) have bed-shared with their infants and children since the beginning of time. It's only natural. You are not an inherient danger to your baby. Learn the basics of safe sleep-sharing.

Below is a reflection on co-sleeping that I wrote last year. Enjoy.



We co-slept with both of our kids until they decided they were each ready to move out into their own room. Now most evenings Pete and I enjoy having our own bed to stretch out in. That space feels luxurious to us these days. By morning we are sometimes still two, often three, and occasionally four (or even just one), depending on what if any night-time parenting was required before sunrise. There is flex and flow in our sleeping world.

Last night Sage decided to fall asleep in the "Big Bed". (The Big Bed is Pete's and my bed. We casually decided not to call it "our" bed because all of us are welcome there and we want the kids to know that just because they have their own rooms doesn't mean that aren't welcome in ours.) When I crawled in to go to sleep, there was my little boy, all legs and arms sprawled out across the covers.

In the darkness I snuggled in beside him and was stunned by how far his legs reached out from his torso; how grown-up the tempo of his breathing; how Big he has become. In that moment I traveled in time to a yellow house in Baraboo to a tiny boy just hours old (born one floor below) asleep beside me in the moonlight. That night my eyes were wide-open and awe-filled as I watched this tiny person sleep. Perfection in physical form. Smiles flickering across his baby face, eyes darting beneath sleeping lids.

As those early weeks and months of parenthood unfolded, night was not the sanctuary of peace I had anticipated. Sleep was broken, and tears were shed nightly by one or more of us. It was hard. Harder than anything I had imagined. But I held him and danced him and nursed him and did countless deep-knee-bends throughout the night. And he would fall back to sleep, over and over and each morning we would wake together and begin our day.

He was so small. So open. So dialed in to my every vibration and emotion and to those of our house, our community, our planet. I know – heavy, right? But Sage is an tapped-in child. And he feels everything. So many of the children being born today are. And because of that I saw no other option than to keep him by my side, close and safe. His crib down the hall stayed empty and unused until we packed it up and gave it back to its original owner. He told me (as best as he could) to keep him close. So I did.

All babies wake at night.

As parents how we respond to these wakings (or don't) determines if our babies will trust us to be present for them in the night. Our action or inaction determines if they will continue to reach out to us when they are in need. If not they aren't sleeping through – they just know not to ask us to help them.

I chose to have both of my kids know that I was there and I was their mama, no matter what the clock said.


And now? He sleeps. She sleeps. We all sleep. For those of you who read this through bleary sleep-deprived eyes, up throughout the long, tear-filled nights, know that this too shall pass. Hold them and kiss them and nurse them and comfort them. And then – like magic – one day you'll wake to discover that it's morning and you've done nothing but sleep since you laid your head down in the sweet darkness.

And while you won't likely miss all of those wakings, you might just miss the sight of their tiny perfectness lying in the moonlight beside you, peacefully dreaming.

23 thoughts on “Safe Co-sleeping is Good for You and Your Baby.

  1. kim says:

    I’m so thankful for your blog post. I was interviewed by Channel 27 (ABC) yesterday about how I co-slept with both of my kids, and they left out most of my comments on how co-sleeping is beneficial when done correctly and safely. Instead i was portrayed as an unsafe mother who co-sleeps with her children more for her benefit than for her children’s safety. I would complain more, but they did put my entire video on their website. Anyway, i just want to thank you for your heart-felt post that helped reassure me that co-sleeeping was indeed a beneficial experience for my boys. I know we are more connected as a family because of it, and I never once felt that I was putting my children in any danger by co-sleeping in a safe manner.

  2. Julie says:

    That brought tears to my eyes. Does anyone else feel like they cry more easily since they have had kids? And my daughter is 6 so I don’t think it’s the hormones. Bigger heart requirement? Who knows?! Beautiful post.

  3. amy says:

    Thanks for this post, Rachel. I’m a dedicated co-sleeper with two children, and it frustrates me the way the mainstream media jumps so quickly to say co-sleeping is dangerous. I go to bed happily next to my nursing toddler, and wake up in b/t him and his four-year old brother, who joins us every night, sometime b/t midnight and 5am. (Sometimes Papa joins the snuggle party, but more often he heads to the guest room where he can sprawl out and snore w/o causing excessive night-waking for the rest of us.) Obviously mothers have been sleeping with their babies since the dawn of humanity! It’s quite recent, unnatural, and, I think, pretty much confined to the more affluent Western world, this phenomena of setting up a whole separate bed, in a whole separate room, for one’s child(ren). I feel much sympathy for the mothers who would have loved to have slept with their babies, but were afraid to do so, and instead had to suffer through getting up and going down the hall to sit in a rocker to nurse their babies back to sleep, instead of just rolling over and nursing, w/o even really waking up. It’s nice to read something that is pro-family bed. Thanks again, and Happy Friday!

  4. sandi ratch says:

    Rachel – we tried not co-sleeping, and it rarely worked very well. I was up and to another room usually 2 or 3 times every night. My sleeping patterns got truly screwed up. Now that my son is almost 8, he insists on falling asleep in our bed with me. Most times he gets carried to his bed (he’s getting a bit heavy for that now), but sometimes he ends up spending the night. For whatever reason, it is important to him to fall asleep with us. Tonight he is going away with his grandparents for a week, so last night I was the one who wanted him to sleep with me. I’m going to miss him and couldn’t imagine not having him beside me the night before he left.

  5. Robyn says:

    Co-sleeping is the single best decision i have made as a parent, aside from nursing, which i really don’t even consider a “decision”. and my confident, compassionate, and truly wonderful 2.5 year old is all the proof i need.

  6. Angi says:

    I was one of those mothers that decorated the nursery, ordered beautiful crib bedding and room accents to make my firstborn feel so special when she came ‘home’ to her room. Except for an occasional mid-day nap the crib went unused. I had no intention of cosleeping, knew very little about it during my pregnancy. But once that miracle left my belly and entered my life there was no way I was going to let her sleep alone in a dark room so far away from me. She slept with me until she was ready to be on her own. Then her little sister joined the family and my bed was hers. I had taken the crib down already and didnt even set it up for my second baby. Although their daddy wasnt as supportive as I wouldve liked, it felt right and natural for us. Wouldnt change a thing.

  7. Thomasin says:

    Yes! The Milwaukee campaign makes me cringe. And makes me sad. I feel I’m a better parent to my daughters by being there with them, for them, in the night. We are careful to follow safe-cosleeping guidelines–NOTHING in common with wielding a knife in bed, goodness! (How alarmist can you get, Milwaukee!)

    Love to all the parents snuggling with their sweet ones at night.


  8. Teri says:

    I can’t imagine not sleeping with my little ones! I can go to sleep without worry, knowing that if I need to check on them, they are right beside me. And it puts me in greater touch with their health and well-being; for instance, if, during the night, I hear congestion, I know to jump on immune boosting the very next morning.

    And the challenges of the day melt away as I gaze upon their angelic sleep expressions. Yes, co-sleeping is a very good thing.

  9. KC says:

    I’m in total agreement. I wouldn’t dare but my babies in a crib. Actually my first daughter wouldn’t let me. She would just do gymnastics in it.

  10. Lucky says:

    My daughter and I have co-slept for all of her 8 years.

    In the middle of the night when she was 2 years old and sick, her little burning foot touched my leg and I knew I had to bring her to a doctor. Turned out she had pneumonia and a fever of 105. Waiting until the morning could’ve been fatal.

    On a lighter note, bedtime is when my daughter really opens up and reveals tidbits about her day, her thoughts and troubles – in the security of the nest.

    I appreciate when people advocate co-sleeping. There are still a lot of people who find it very hard to accept.

  11. Jl Johnson says:

    Thank you so much. You made me cry and explained beautifully what I’ve been feeling.
    My husband and I felt so alone and nuts the first few months. It was awful because we didn’t believe in crying it out but cosleeping felt so natural. Many cultures do it. I felt like we were doing something wrong because our child would not sleep in her crib.

  12. Lina Quintero says:

    Ohh how I love your blog, how I love your words, thank you for this post, I still co sleep with my toddler and how I love it, how she loves it! She knows I’m there for her with her, this and the other blog post when you had decided to have only Sage and a midwife told you how sorry she was that you wouldn’t have the joy of an easy baby and then came Lupine to make everything complete, I want to tell you that despite of the evident differences in our life styles we just might be connected on a deeper level, where the love for our children guide our soul. Thanks again for this space for representing motherhood so grandly for being frank and open because boy have I shed many tears in this road of motherhood and I wouldn’t change a thing… well maybe some better nights and able to breast feed!;o)

  13. erin says:

    i haven’t read all of the comments but a free flowing “yes!” to o-sleeping.

    i think evolutionarily speaking if there was a problem with the design of co-sleeping, we wouldn’t have survived.

    my kids thrive co-sleeping, and currently, my 10 year old is next to us in our queen, in his own bed, and my 6 year old is snuggled between papa and i. happily. my 10 year old doesn’t want to sleep anywhere else.

    i wish more parents would give themselves permission to do what they feel intuitively is healthier and attachment-promoting.


  14. Rachel Wolf says:

    Since I wrote this piece weve shifted things around a great deal. Most night the kids fall asleep together in their bedroom (they had separate rooms but never slept alone in them so we finally combined rooms). By morning were 4-across – our 5 year old between us in the king and our 9 in his sidecar twin bed. Sounds almost identical to how you awaken!

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