“Co-Sleeping stunts your baby’s development | It’s a bad idea!”

I want to start this piece by saying, I’m not judging anybody.

Everyone parents in their own way and I think there are lots of valid ways to raise our kids and there are pro’s and con’s to all of them. I have seen a few posts in The Dad Network recently, promoting co-sleeping and, as it’s something I feel quite strongly about, I wanted to throw my own two cents into the ring and try and explain why I feel it’s a bad idea.

This is only my opinion (like arseholes, I know) and I welcome debate and conversation on the subject, so please leave a comment below with your thoughts and/or questions.

When a baby arrives (particularly the first one), it’s a massive change. Everything in your life changes. You can’t go out when you want anymore, you can’t lie in together anymore and you can’t pop to the shops on a whim anymore. Everything you do has to take the baby’s needs into account. And that’s fine, it’s natural and it’s, to a degree, inevitable.

But it’s also vitally important to remember baby’s place in the house.

Baby isn’t the boss.

I’ve seen comments saying things like (and I stress these aren’t verbatim):

‘Co-sleeping works perfectly for me, I co-sleep with all my three, ranging from age 1 to 8’

Wait, what? You have allowed your children to dictate your sleep pattern and sleeping arrangements for 8 years and you see nothing wrong with that?

Another one was along the lines of, (again, I am paraphrasing):

‘We have a spare bed and my son chooses which one he sleeps in’

Again, what? Your son can choose where he sleeps?

This is the crux of my issue with co-sleeping; your child is not the boss, you are. Your child needs to sleep where you tell them to, not where they choose to. And they need to go to bed when you tell them to.

And they only way they will learn to do that it by being taught.

By you.

Let’s be fair, the first three months are a right off. During that period, you sleep when baby sleeps, you see your partner briefly as one shift ends and the other starts, and you go by baby’s needs.

But after that point, you can start to get baby into a schedule. For me, that includes regular feeding times, regular nap times and a structured bedtime.

Our first took far too long to settle into a night time routine and didn’t sleep through the night until she was over 12 months old. It was Hell.

A long, long year and a typical night went like this:

  1. Settle baby in her bed around 8:00
  2. Head to bed ourselves around 11:00
  3. Baby wakes crying around Midnight
  4. Go into baby who stops crying, insert dummy, and leave room
  5. Door clicks closed, baby cries
  6. Repeat, until wearily curling up under a duvet next to the cot
  7. Wake in the morning with a sore head and stiff back and go to work
  8. Repeat the following day

After several months of this, it was clear she didn’t need anything in particular; she just wanted to be near us.

Now some will say, if baby cries, it’s because he needs you, I can’t just leave him crying. And whilst I would never advocate just leaving a screaming baby when he clearly needs something, the difference between a need and a want must be established.

And I suppose this is the point you make a choice; you either decide you will do anything to satisfy baby and continue with the above routine indefinitely.

Or, you decide that baby isn’t the boss, and needs to learn that she won’t always get what she wants (I’m honestly of the opinion that there are few more important life lessons). Which is the option we went for.

Over the next three nights our routine became:

  1. Settle down baby in her bed around 8:00
  2. Head to bed ourselves around 11:00
  3. Baby wakes crying around Midnight
  4. Go into baby to check that nothing is wrong and she doesn’t need anything (essentially if she stops crying when you enter the room, it’s a want, not a need)
  5. Assuming there is no need, Insert dummy, leave room
  6. Door clicks closed, baby cries
  7. Go back to bed and listen to baby screaming blue murder for an hour, going into reinsert dummy at 10-minute intervals.
  8. Wake suddenly in the morning, not remembering going to sleep or quite sure if everything is ok.

The first night, the crying went on for over an hour before she stopped. The second night it was around 40 minutes. The third night, she cried for 5 minutes and then settled.

The fourth night, she slept through. And, barring bad dreams and Calpol requirements (which are of course entirely legitimate reasons for going to her), has continued to do so ever since.

I won’t pretend those three nights were easy, it took everything for my wife and me not to go to her. But we reminded each other we had a game plan, we kept each other in the game when we were ready to give in, we told each other it would be worth it in the end. And it was.

We did this with our second and it worked in an almost identical pattern.

I truly believe with co-sleeping, you not only make a rod for your own back but you also stunt baby’s development.

They need to learn that they don’t always get what they want, and they need to know they aren’t the boss. You also potentially run the risk of damaging the relationship between you and your partner (which, let’s face it, is the reason baby exists in the first place). Spending any number of months or years in separate beds in hardly going to do wonders for your relationship.

Babies don’t automatically understand that night time is for sleeping and that, for the sake of your sanity (and possibly your relationship) they need to do it in their own bed and alone. They need to be taught, just as they need to be taught everything else.

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13 Comments

  1. Stefanie cargill 6 January, 2017 / 7:52 pm

    I agree there is a point you need to stop co sleeping and I full admit I did co sleep for the convenience of not waking my other kids as my daughter had to share a room with our youngest (the baby) not to mention with 5 kids u need ur sleep lol

    Once she sleep all night in our bed she moves to her cot still in our room after 3 night of sleeping all night in the cot by herself she went with her sister you do have to do what works for your family

  2. Tamsin 6 January, 2017 / 9:34 pm

    This is not a question of who is boss. This is a question of biology and brain development. Babies wake at night because they are meant to. Its how our species has survived. A baby’s brain is 25% of an adults’ at birth. All other carry mammals’ babies have brains around 80% that of adults. Human babies brains reach this proportion at around 9 months. In effect they are born 9 months premature.

    Babies struggle to get themselves to sleep because they simply dont have the cognitive ability to self-settle at least until the age of 3. I know very few adults who settle themselves to sleep without reading, meditation, a glass of wine etc and we have developed brains!

    As for sleeping with your children the scientific evidence actually shows that it benefits children in terms of cognitive function, emotional regulation, reduced depression and increased empathy and compassion (two things the modern world needs more of). The reason? Biology. It is how our species is meant to raise children. Let the baby sleep in a separate cave said no caveman ever!

    This does not mean that you cant have rules. My 11 month old son goes to bed in his cot at 7. If he wakes and cant get back to sleep we settle him. When we go to bed he sleeps with us. Everyone gets sleep. No one cries.

  3. Natalie 7 January, 2017 / 10:34 am

    Wow….. i dont agree with a single word you say…… i have co-slept with all 3 of my boys….. who are 2, 13, 15….. my 2 year old as always slept with me since been 5 weeks old….. your saying your not prepared to put your child first?? And co sleeping might ruin your and your partners sex life….. well my hubby as slept on the sofa for many yrs now….. if he demanded i leave my son to cry whilst he lays comfortable in bed ….id be throughing him out….100% my children do come first and can sleept with me untill there old enough to want to sleep on their own, older boys still sleep with me occasionally eapecially if there ill. Children do WANT to be with there parents…. who are you to say no…. u dont need me only want me….. babies and children only want to feel warm safe and loved xx instagram darnellbrooklyn

  4. Paul Nickerson 9 January, 2017 / 10:58 am

    Agree with this article and our experience was exactly the same with our first and we plan to do the same for our second. In the interests of balance though I would be interested to know that development benefits of co-sleeping – Im sure there are some.

  5. Mr Insomnia 10 January, 2017 / 3:13 pm

    My girlfriend has been a single mother for 6 years but has had her 6 year old daughter sleep with her in the same room but in a separate bed. She also tends to let her daughter sleep in the same bed with her every now and then as a treat and vice vercer. Now that I have become a large part of her life, these sleeping arrangements are proving very difficult. As now her daughter is sleeping in the same room as her and her boyfriend who is not the farther to her child. When it comes to bed time her daughter will wake up approximately 45 mins after being put to bed crying hysterically saying that she is lonely, that she cant sleep or her stomach is hurting, actually all three and this happens most nights . I understand that with my introduction to both of there lives will brings cause for adaption. I’m quite concerned about her daughters issue’s with sleeping on her own and also how these sleeping conditions are affected our relationship. Any advice would be appreciated?

    • Alex O 11 January, 2017 / 5:28 pm

      If you think this relationship is a go, start thinking of yourself as a father. How do you think your relationship effects the one she has with her mother?

    • Jesse Woods 15 March, 2017 / 12:22 pm

      Having stepped into a relationship with a mother of a 4 year old, I understand whole-heartedly the challenges that we face in a change of viewpoint.

      Sleep, behaviour, routines, discipline(NOT punishment, DISCIPLINE), etc., etc. There are so many things that are completely different, but if you’re going to be a part of the mothers life, then you’re going to be a part of the childs life.

      Now you either support the mothers way of doing things, at least until you have a father-figure role in the childs life, OR, you’re going to risk up-ending your relationship by trying to change the way things are. You have zero control over what has been, it’s like the train track has already been laid, and trying to change the direction of a train track while the train is still running is inevitably going to cause a wreck.

      Let it be. Humans have an incredible ability to develop themselves and, as long as support is given, we naturally look to improve ourselves, be it physically, emotionally, mentally, we are always on the lookout to be better. Especially children.

      I’m assuming a fair bit here (like how old she was when you came into her life) but consider this: The only stability this little girl may have had is from her mum. The only constant in her whole life. And all of a sudden, there is a strange man sleeping IN THE SAME ROOM as her and her mum have always slept in. How scary is that, no matter how friendly she is with this new man(yourself), it’s a complete change for her. So now she may crave her mums attention more to feel secure, to know that things aren’t all going to flip up-side down. She may wake up more often because she feels a little bit more insecure and needs emotional support.

      All I’m saying is, life is hard for anyone, no matter their circumstances. Have understanding for the people around you, the rest will work itself out.

      Good luck in pursuing this relationship ;)
      Jesse

  6. D 11 January, 2017 / 11:14 am

    You started your post saying you weren’t judging anybody, but lets face it you were. You’ve banded everybody who co-sleeps into the pigeon hole of being cowardly soft parents with no authority or rules all the while trying to justify your reasons for following the cry it out method. You’ve made claims that it stunts development but haven’t backed this up with any evidence or proof so I can only take from this that it’s your opinion and nothing more.

    You come across a bit bitter to be honest, wound up by all the things you can no longer do because you have a baby and how dare it try to disrupt your sleep, lets squash that and let them cry themselves to sleep, thinking that nobody is coming to them, and that they are alone, in the dark. They will soon learn that your house as rules and if you say sleep they must sleep, so there’s no point crying because you know there’s nothing wrong so you are just going to leave them too it. – See how crap it is to be judged and have people make scathing, condescending remarks about your parenting skills?

    There is no right way or wrong way to parent. As long as a child is loved, fed, cared for, clean with somewhere warm to sleep and a roof over their head then that’s the main thing. We all have our different methods of doing things and as long as it’s well researched and safe then I see no issue, but rather than judge why not educate yourself about it? Plenty of people co-sleep safely, with routines, and rules and their children turn out well balanced and bright, meeting all their developmental milestones.

    • Jesse Woods 15 March, 2017 / 1:05 pm

      I understand that being judged makes it very easy to open ones judgement, almost like a knee-jerk reaction.

      I pose a question though:
      Which helps you understand something better, an emotional attack, or a calm explanation?

      Often there is a case of the pot calling the kettle black, which goes back and forth between people who are clashing heads. One says they’re not judging, the other calls them bitter. All the while, the first one is judging and the second is being bitter.

      To err is human, to forgive is godly. Be godly, be the best of humanity and help guide others to a better future ;)

  7. Kathryn 11 January, 2017 / 8:45 pm

    While we are all entitled to our own opinions that doesn’t mean they all have equal merit or that they change the facts. There is a fair body of evidence that sleeping in the same room reduces the risk of SIDS (ideally in a crib but where there are no additional risk factors and baby is breastfed cosleeping is also a better option than own room). There are also several studies suggesting leaving children to cry it out can (& i stress can not will) cause mental health problems later in life. There is no evidence beyond anecdotes I have ever seen to show that co sleeping causes any developmental issues or that sleep training babies has any long term benefits to anyone. Children are all very different and obviously what works for one may not for another but I would strongly disagree that any child must be taught that their need for affection from and closeness with their parents is something only allowed during the hours of daylight. I would challenge you to find any peer reviewed academic research that supports your ideas as I certainly didn’t come across any when looking for research on infant development and sleep. I totally get why people choose controlled crying and other sleep training methods rather than co sleeping and I wouldn’t ever judge them for it as sleep deprivation is awful and everyone needs to figure out what works for them to get the sleep needed to function. I do however take issue when they try to suggest not doing the same as them with your offspring is somehow bad for the baby and liable to cause harm without ever producing any evidence to back up their assertions.

  8. Kathryn 11 January, 2017 / 8:45 pm

    While we are all entitled to our own opinions that doesn’t mean they all have equal merit or that they change the facts. There is a fair body of evidence that sleeping in the same room reduces the risk of SIDS (ideally in a crib but where there are no additional risk factors and baby is breastfed cosleeping is also a better option than own room). There are also several studies suggesting leaving children to cry it out can (& i stress can not will) cause mental health problems later in life. There is no evidence beyond anecdotes I have ever seen to show that co sleeping causes any developmental issues or that sleep training babies has any long term benefits to anyone. Children are all very different and obviously what works for one may not for another but I would strongly disagree that any child must be taught that their need for affection from and closeness with their parents is something only allowed during the hours of daylight. I would challenge you to find any peer reviewed academic research that supports your ideas as I certainly didn’t come across any when looking for research on infant development and sleep. I totally get why people choose controlled crying and other sleep training methods rather than co sleeping and I wouldn’t ever judge them for it as sleep deprivation is awful and everyone needs to figure out what works for them to get the sleep needed to function. I do however take issue when they try to suggest not doing the same as them with your offspring is somehow bad for the baby and liable to cause harm without ever producing any evidence to back up their assertions.

  9. Mark 1 February, 2017 / 2:13 pm

    With our first I woke up every night for over 6 months having a nightmare that I had fallen asleep in bed with our son and rolled over on them, to the point where I would reach over my wife every night and wake her- it was horrible. I was so tired going through the process of waking up every 2 hours to feed. We had agreed co-sleeping was never going to be for us (even now he is 3 and he has slept in our bed maybe 3 nights when he had his first night terrors), so eventually when we put him in his own room we went through the exact same process you describe and it worked a dream.

    With the second we were a little firmer to start with and always put our daughter into her crib with minimum of fuss right from the start and she has been such a better settler and sleeper. She is one now and our routine is as follows

    1- Dinner at 6
    2- Bath at 6.30-7
    3 – Bed time story in 3 year olds room with both kids and mum and dad
    4 – 3 year old is given milk and (generally goes to sleep theirself)
    4- 1 year old taken to their own room, milk is started in arms and put into cot – she then goes to sleep herself

    This generally works and gives us our evenings to be adults – we try to do steps 1 and 2 as a full family then if one of us has football or a gym class we try and leave at bath time.

  10. Jesse Woods 15 March, 2017 / 12:56 pm

    A common idea that I’ve come across is that in a family there is a boss. A lot of people grow up with a controlling force in their lives, dictating what will and will not happen. And guess what? When that person who has been dictated to throughout their life gets old enough to realise that they can do the same to others, then they will want to control others. I’m not saying I’m outside of this catch-22 situation, I have been effected by it too, and I feel a need to control others. I am trying to give people the chance to be themselves though.

    This ‘boss’ idea is the same as a lot of workplaces. The leader of the group is the boss, and everyone must obey the boss. It has been shown that this is not an effective workplace management principle, (it destroys creativity and confidence) and that leading from beneath is actually much more effective in boosting workplace morale, and therefore productivity.

    Now here I am, talking about the workplace, and I bet you’re wondering, “Why?” The workplace is just an extended version of a family, where a group of people co-exist to achieve a certain goal, or list of goals that has been predetermined, or is yet to be determined by the group.

    In the same way, a family requires mutual respect, and an understanding that every person does things for a reason.

    Think back to the last time you were upset about something. It’s not likely that you cried about it, because we learn to manage our emotions a bit better as we get older, but I’m 100% certain that your behaviours would have been effected by it. It’s chemical.

    I totally understand that there may come a time when you say something along the lines of, “Our sleep deprivation is actually having a detrimental effect on our parenting, and is doing our child(ren), a disservice. Perhaps we need to put a management system in place.”

    Did you see what I did there? I put the child(ren) first. Understandably, if their sleep pattern is affecting your mood so much that you damage them emotionally, then yes, you need to change something drastically.

    Going back to the last time you were upset about something, what was it that made you feel better? Usually it’s a case of going through a process in order to understand what happened, to feel it out, to make peace with what happened and to accept it.

    Infants, babies and even toddlers, while they may seem super smart and really switched on for their age, lack a lot of the emotional maturity that us as adults have developed. Emotional maturity doesn’t mean bottling something up until it goes away, and it certainly doesn’t mean kicking and screaming to release that frustration, it means understanding how to go through the process that will make you feel better and let your brain deal with the problem at hand.

    So kids haven’t got the emotional maturity to get there on their own, so how do they develop it? With support. As human beings, we have this incredible ability to be aware of our awareness, and hence, spend a lot of our time developing ourselves. In order to develop ourselves though, we need to be emotionally secure and, I don’t know about you, but being left alone when all that was needed was some comfort, certainly didn’t help anyone deal with emotional issues.

    When we decide to have children, or have it sprung upon us, either way we are handed a huge responsibility of holding this little persons hand and guiding them into the best adult life that they can possibly have. Otherwise, what is the point of a parent? Yes, we make the money, yes we provide the food, the clothing, shelter, warmth, security, friendship, affection, attention, comfort, achievement, routine, support, affirmation, accetance, etc. All the foundational blocks of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which allow the actualisation of self to occur. Self-actualisation is reaching our full potential.

    I hope that this viewpoint has been presented in a way that makes sense. If not, then please excuse my ramblings :) All I want is to share compassion with other people and help guide each other to a better future. If you have a couple of hours one evening when you could have watched a film, I STRONGLY recommend watching Rob Bell – Everything Is Spiritual. If that doesn’t get your brain firing, nothing will!

    Finally, here’s a tough one to approach… If I say that I’m not being racist, and then go on to be rather one-sided about which race is the better, then am I being racist? It feels like you are judging people while claiming, ‘I’m not judging anyone!’…Just a mirror for you to reflect upon.

    PS. I put that last paragraph at the bottom so that I wouldn’t put your defences up from the very beginning. I hope I haven’t offended, that’s not what I’m here to do. I’m here to share a different perspective that you may not have considered before.

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