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Getting to Sleep

Sharing a Bed

What are the pros and cons of the "family bed"?

Dr. Sears: I believe there's no right or wrong place for a baby to sleep; however everyone gets the best sleep is the right arrangement for that family. My personal belief is that in the first year babies belong snuggled next to their parents.

Patricia Henderson Shimm: Letting your kids sleep on their own starting in infancy gives them independence. Bedtime should be a happy, nurturing time for a child. If you think of their bed as a little nest and you treat it as a wonderful place to be, they'll like it.

Lerner: For some people the family bed is just not in sync with their personality. You have to give up a lot of space, time, and intimacy with your partner. Often, sleeping with their baby is a decision parents later regret  -- because the longer you keep the child in your bed, the harder it may be for her to adjust when you want her to stay in her own room.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission recently warned that sharing a bed with a baby can be dangerous. Should parents be concerned?

Arlene Eisenberg: Yes, they need to be extremely cautious. Babies can suffocate under soft comforters and pillows. And some beds have bars and cracks where an infant can get caught and be strangled.

Dr. Sears: Parents need to co-sleep in a safe way. That means no drugs or alcohol prior to bedtime, sleeping with only one child at a time, and not using soft or loose bedding.

If you do want your baby to sleep with you at first and then move him into his own bed, what's the best way to ease the transition?

Pieper: If you let the family bed go on after your baby is 6 months old, it can be hard to stop it without making him feel that it's arbitrary and mean. If you're willing to continue the family bed until he naturally gives it up, fine.

Mindell: You can move an older baby or toddler into his own bed. Tell him that if he's in bed and quiet, you'll check on him in five minutes. Or say that you have to do a chore and you'll be right back: The first night it's a quick chore like getting water; then advance to a longer chore, such as doing the dishes.

Dr. Ferber: If your child has always slept in your room, don't just suddenly put him in his room, shut the door, and leave. Stay in his room until he falls asleep to help get him used to the new space; then when you go to bed, sleep in his room. Over a period of a week to several weeks-depending on the child-you can start putting him down and then leaving the room.

Dr. Sears: First put a futon or toddler mattress at the foot of your bed, to get him used to sleeping on his own. For a few weeks, lie down with him there until he falls asleep and then climb into your own bed. When he's used to this, start having him fall asleep alone on the futon. After a few weeks, move the futon into his own room. If he wants to come back to your room, take it as a sign that he isn't ready for nighttime weaning.