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Co-Sleeping Parents and Kids: Weighing the Dangers

Is it really that risky? Parents and experts shed light on the reasons, safety concerns and precautions that all come with bed sharing.

The ear-piercing screams of a sick baby wake even the deepest sleepers. And that can cause crazy sleep patterns for moms and dads. Co-sleeping can seemingly help – but there's a lot of concern about its risks, too.

With a son who had a lot of mysterious ear infections and bronchitis as an infant, Macomb Township mom Lauren Mento was no stranger to this cycle. Combine that with breastfeeding, and it made for some rough nights – especially for a working mom. So when Mento was desperate to get some shut-eye, the decision to pile her family into their king-size bed was easy.

"Bed-sharing is the only way all of us get any sleep," she says. "I was so against it in the beginning, but we just decided to start letting him sleep in the bed with us, because it seemed to comfort him.

"The sickness of our oldest child is what started it, but we've continued because we do like snuggling with them." Mento and her husband continued to co-sleep with their kids as toddlers.

Why it's done

Bed sharing, or co-sleeping, is a popular form of attachment parenting in which a child sleeps in bed with his parents. Practiced by moms and dads all over the world for years, it's been proven to strengthen bonds between parent and child – and to make breastfeeding at night more convenient.

"Culturally, (for) people that simply don't have other sleeping conditions, where everybody sleeps in the same bed, (it) is usually based on necessity," says Dr. John Dorsey of Beaumont Hospital and Beverly Hills Pediatrics. "In America, the issue becomes more of an expression of closeness and bonding."

Safety concerns

The American Academy of Pediatrics advises against co-sleeping due to safety concerns for the baby, such as the risk of a sleeping parent rolling on top of the baby. Depending on the age of the child, the risk of the child suffocating on the bedding is also a concern.

An option Dorsey suggests is moving the child into his own bed after he's fallen asleep.

"They have to go down to the deep stage of sleeping," Dorsey says. "You can comfortably have them settle down at night by having them fall asleep with you and, after about 20-30 minutes, just put them in their bed."

Taking precautions

Mento also recommends not sleeping with a lot of blankets – and ensuring they're made of a lightweight material. Limiting the amount of pillows helps, too. There also are barriers that can be purchased and placed under the bed sheets to prevent the child from rolling off.

"I myself use a pillow, but I position it vertically in the bed," she says. "That way, it's pretty much just on my body, and there's no way the baby could roll into it.

"Just make sure you're aware of your surroundings and to try to look at all the dangers. I used to be adamantly against bed-sharing, but if it feels right to you as a parent and it's the only way you really can get sleep, then I'm all for it."

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