A separate room or bed for the baby is an unknown luxury in many developing countries, where financial hardship excludes this possibility. But in developed countries, the issue has been hotly debated.
Many doctors remain passionately opposed to the idea of sharing a bed with your baby for a host of reasons. Many say that it's dangerous and that it has, in some cases, led to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Dr Chris Idzikowski, director of the Edinburgh Sleep Centre, says that although he believes co-sleeping is generally a safe exercise, each situation is different. "A couple of studies have shown negative effects of co-sleeping, but it has also been noted that these 'negative' effects are culturally dependant. What's viewed as a problem in one society is not viewed as a problem in another society."
The argument for co-sleeping
Idzikowski says that the benefits of sharing a bed with your child would include the opportunity to bond with the child and breastfeed in bed at night.
According to the World Health Organization's paper titled Evidence for the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding, children who are breastfed in bed by their mothers while co-sleeping may actually be protected against SIDS.
The research states that "Routinely co-sleeping infants breastfeed three times longer during the night than routinely solitary sleeping infants, suggesting that co-sleeping promotes breastfeeding. The authors also suggested that, by increasing breastfeeding, co-sleeping might protect against SIDS."
Another positive reason for co-sleeping noted in the paper is that "infants in nurseries cry more and their caregivers do not respond as often as mothers who are in the same room. Thus infants, whether breastfed or not, should be in the room with their mothers, throughout the 24 hours, unless there is an unavoidable medical reason why they should be cared for in a nursery."
How does this affect the parent?
"From the sleep laboratory perspective, the least disturbed sleep for any individual at any age is to sleep alone. However, there is no evidence that sleep disturbed by co-sleeping has any adverse effect," Idzikowski says.
He adds that one of the primary benefits of such sleeping arrangements is the emotional bonding between mother and child.
"There are alternative ideas for parents to have their children close to them during the night, the most common of which is keeping the crib beside the bed," he says.
However, he adds that, "co-sleeping when the mother or father have consumed alcohol or drugs, are over-tired or are sleeping in a confined space such as on sofas – which have been shown to increase the risk of infant death nearly fifty-fold - are risk factors for SIDS."
- Dr Chris Idzikowski, director of the Edinburgh Sleep Centre
- World Health Organisation (www.who.int/nutrition/publications/evidence_ten_step_eng.pdf)
- Attachment Parenting International