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The Family Bed

Why is sleeping with your baby controversial?

Deciding whether or not to bring your baby into your bed isn't controversial, it's individual. We believe that there's no "right" or "wrong" place for infants to sleep and that every family needs to formulate a nighttime arrangement that works for them. Sleep-sharing (the term we prefer to "the family bed," which conjures images of a jumble of kids on the bed, with Dad and the family dog perched precariously on the edge) certainly isn't for everyone. Many babies sleep just fine on their own from the start. Others need the security of sleeping with their parents while they make the transition to life outside the womb and can be comfortably eased into solo sleep after a few months. Still others are perfectly content to sleep on their own early on and need the added security of sleep-sharing only when they're older. The point is, wherever parents and babies get the best night's sleep is the right place for them.

Mothers and fathers who do choose to sleep with their baby, however, can rest assured that this isn't some strange new invention. In fact, sleeping apart from an infant is a relatively new concept. In industrialized countries, the majority of babies slept with their parents until about 100 years ago, and in many traditional cultures the practice never stopped. A book on childcare written in the 19th century, for instance, states that "there can scarcely be a doubt that... a child will thrive better if allowed to sleep beside its mother and cherished by her warmth than if placed in a separate bed."

William Sears is a contributing editor of BabyTalk. His wife, Martha Sears, is his frequent coauthor.