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August 01, 2008



Good post. This is one of the studies that the mainstream media and the anti-co-sleeping community would like to forget. You are right to say that the overall parenting experience is a very defining factor in a child’s upbringing. However…one of the “actions” of a good parent is to prevent any foreseeable and possible harm to their child, so…with that in mind who wouldn’t bed-share? Jim McKenna has repeated many times, and maybe partially as a result of the findings of this study, it is safer to sleep next to your child than not.

Usually the parenting decision to provide a solitary sleep environment for their child comes from peer pressure (in-laws, friends, society), or it’s generated from a “parent-centered” choice (ie. perceived loss of intimate “marital space”). To bed-share…it would simply always be your child’s first choice (nothing knee-herky-jerky about that).

And, with the complete understanding of the point of your post and the research article, and not that it would be a scientific prediction of Axe murderers but…someone should do a study of violent offenders and ask one question…did they bed-share with their parents?

Please visit www.co-sleepingsurvey.com sign-up and help provide an co-sleeping prevalence number like the one needed for the research article cited in this post. Bed-sharing is done safely more often than not, and does not deserve to be called abuse or neglect.


I agree with the overall point you make, as well - that at the very least, room-sharing is important to physical wellbeing and survival through infancy. However, that it MUST be bedsharing I question - the research supports separate-but-close-by as strongly as same bed, as far as I can tell. And for those who smoke, who are severely obese (and in that case the issue of apnea is more likely to be a concern), and/or who have had less than 4 hours continuous sleep in the last 24 hours, same bed is a higher risk under 10-14 weeks of age of the infant, so... again, I'm not going to blanket-approve cosleeping for everyone.

I also do believe that it is important and valid to address the parental needs. People who sleep poorly and are easily disrupted may function less well as parents if they are cosleeping. People who are unable to integrate cosleeping into their marital process (not that they should not be able to, but that due to their own issues in relation to their partner, it is untenable), again, I'm NOT going to say they should force the issue. Address it, yes. Discuss, yes. But assuming that the relationship is such that of course the child's biological imperative (close to mother) is allowed to be the priority in parenting is ... well, just not useful.

Trying to set up situations where parents consider the biological imperitive, and consider whether their underlying philosophy is being supported by their choices (the knee-jerk emotional reaction that is not necessarily moderated effectively by their intellectual position), those are great starting points. But they cannot be guaranteed to have occurred already. Is it better to create additional tension for a mother who has PPD and low support from her spouse, or to have the child sleep separately? That's a challenge that nobody has measured yet. I would hesitate to assume that the benefit of the cosleeping outweighs the psychological risk of resentment, emotional or physical abuse, etc., etc.

In ideal conditions, I'm all for ideal responses. But I live in reality, and I know the realities of far too many basically 'normal range' people who have specific issues with cosleeping regarding how they and their families relate. I encourage everyone to think clearly on the subject, to do the research (I'll be linking more research on that later - I adore the BMJ research that pulled out the confounding issues so clearly that they could identify the increased risk of sleeping in a separate room from the baby...), and work from their philosophy through their specific individual issues and into their eventual choices, and revisit all of that cycle regularly. I also encourage parents to take interest in their emotional reactions (aversion and attraction included) to such choices, and be curious about the sources of their reactions - too often we react out of a single instance of revulsion that is unrelated to the current choice... for example, if a parent who was emotionally abusive happened to cosleep with their child and it affected that child (mainly due to it being just one more instance of their issues and not the exact situation), understanding where the feeling of disgust/fear/rejection comes from is important - it is entirely possible to move from understanding that THIS ONE PERSON was abusive, and also happened to cosleep to understanding that one can be an excellent parent with good boundaries and a distinct separation of self-and-other and also cosleep. Curiousity about our own feelings and their source is crucial to being able to make effective decisions for oneself. But it may not also be enough. At least for one person I know, being married to someone who was emotionally abused and who was exposed to coercive cosleeping in later childhood and who had been unable to resolve those issues in therapy at the time his children were born was sufficient to choose to not cosleep, period, ever, and yet also to choose to respond to their children at night, in their own room.

Life isn't simple. The answers aren't, either. There isn't just one choice that is effective for all situations. Anyone who looks at the individual details can find a situation in which what was good for the majority would not suit this particular case.

I hope that makes sense, and doesn't come off too much like a smack-down. ;) Statistics don't apply to individuals. I'm on-board with the stats. I'm still willing to apply reason to the individuals one at a time.


Oh, and I did the cosleeping survey already (way back!). Though I don't know how effective it is as a tool to do more than just suggest a minimum value for the rate of bedsharing/cosleeping. Regardless, already done.


That’s cool. I understand the place of science. I have found myself way too deep into the “study” of things and forgot the reality of individualism. Basically, a safe parent can trump most of life’s unsafe situations.

As for the co-sleeping survey… yes there isn’t a huge amount of science to it. It was started because no-one else was doing it. In just about every study, both for and against co-sleeping, the actual incidence of bed-sharing can be found as the unknown variable. You read…”we don’t know how many people are doing it so we can’t measure it against anything” issue needs to not be hidden behind anymore. We hope that someone will take the lead and ask the SIDS affected world “how many of you bed-share”? Having known Jim McKenna for years I asked him about the survey, and yes, he would have liked some more science thrown in there as well, but applauded any large movement in the defense of the practice. Mothering magazine is going to give it some notice in their next issue.

The scare tactics are wrong. America likes to paint the lowest common denominator as the “standard” when it suits them. What is currently being relayed to the public is…because these few parents who took no safety precautions couldn’t do it safely, you should not either. And, IF you do…we will label you as lazy, abusive, and soon….criminal…so here’s your sign, I mean crib. It’s not fair and the positive side of bed-sharing never gets it’s mainstream due (even your post was weighted with tons of caution, and you have experience doing it. I understand not having confidence in the general public.). In reference to SIDS however, hate to think of any parent getting comforted by hearing “there was nothing you could have done, it’s just a mystery death”…especially when the people telling them that know properly diagnosed SIDS deaths are always found in solitary sleep not shared.
Science can be used to make things seem more complicated than they really are and, can a valuable tool for whoever wants to use it BUT…what if it fell into the wrong hands?

Thanks for being a part of the survey. We hope to see about 30,000 signatures before 2009.


As a parent of a half-time cosleeper, half-time crib sleeper, I am uncomfortable with the implication that parents who put their child to sleep in a crib are at fault for SIDS, or vice versa. Or attachment disorder, or ADHD, or whatever.

So thank you, Hedra, for so eloquently presenting the idea that a myriad of factors affects each family's parenting choices, and that the philosophy anchoring those choices is the important thing.

My partner and I make plenty of "parent-centered choices," considering our sanity and happiness a crucial, if not the critical, factor in our child's sanity and happiness. In fact, the "parent-centered" vs. "child-centered" idea seems to me to set up an unnecessary opposition that could engender lots of resentment. We aim for an overall "family-centered" life--what works for OUR family.

And THAT choice, the radical move of choosing based on our philosophy--refined through research and experience and reflection--our needs, and the personality of our child, gets no support from any media--mainstream or otherwise. It is so, so lovely to come to these corners of the Internet--Hedra, Moxie--where you find people who are not only striving to do better and learn more, but also striving to help others do the same. Even if our choices look very different at the end of the day...

Katie B.

yes. yes. yes! It's about long-term general behavior (philosophy, etc.), not specific instances - not that those have no effect.

Personally, I cosleep for convenience as much as anything. Bad enough having to wake up every couple of hours to nurse without having to get up, too!

I do quibble a bit with your reading of openness about sexuality being a negative - but I'm not entirely sure what you mean by that (do you mean the same thing I do? do you mean being sex-positive - that sex is something joyful and not shameful - or do you mean something more like inappropriate expressions of sexuality?), and I do recognize that (sadly) most of the world is not as sex-positive as I am.


read the study, that will tell you what they were talking about on the 'open sexual behavior' being a negative (I guess I wasn't clear - the researchers findings included their designation of a negative on that - mainly it seems that reading 'non-committed sexual behavior before 18 years old' - which may or may not be a negative, and they did say that it could also be read as a positive, but perhaps not within the majority culture. They did not seem to mean abusive or negative activity overall, just that IIRC particularly teenage girls were more likely to be sexually active... and that has in the past been read as a danger sign, but... well, in a sexually positive individual, it just might not be!).

Anyway, quibble with the researchers, I'm just noting that even they don't say that there is zero downside, just presumably LESS downside than the alternative(s?).

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