### Exploring the Impact of Co-Sleeping on Infant-Parent Relationships

This article is part of our series on Infant Sleep and its Impacts on Development, created in partnership with the journal Infant Behavior and Development. The research highlighted in a_ special edition focuses on how infant sleep influences cognitive, social, and physical development, as well as strategies for parents and practitioners to support healthy sleep habits and development during infancy.

Essential points for caregivers

  • Co-sleeping, which involves infants sharing a room or bed with parents, is a common practice globally but varies in cultural acceptance. While less prevalent in the U.S., attitudes toward co-sleeping among parents differ significantly.
  • Major pediatric organizations, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, do not recommend bedsharing. Research in Western societies suggests that prolonged co-sleeping (bedsharing, roomsharing, or a combination) beyond six months can lead to challenges for both parents and infants.
  • Our study revealed a correlation between co-sleeping and increased sleep disruptions among parents, particularly mothers, irrespective of the cultural context where co-sleeping occurs.
  • Co-sleeping was also associated with heightened co-parenting stress and lower quality of bedtime parenting practices, which may be more pronounced in cultures where co-sleeping is less accepted.
  • Infants’ sleep patterns did not show significant differences based on co-sleeping arrangements.
  • Ultimately, decisions regarding co-sleeping with infants are personal choices. If parents opt for co-sleeping, it should be done safely following AAP guidelines, with an emphasis on nurturing the parental relationship.

Article highlights:

  1. The complexity of parent-infant sleep arrangements
  2. The impact of infant sleep arrangements on infant, parent sleep quality, and parenting behaviors
  3. Co-sleeping associated with poorer maternal sleep and parenting challenges
  4. Cultural specificity in the effects of parent-infant co-sleeping
  5. The critical importance of promoting co-parenting and ensuring safe and healthy sleep practices

1. The complexity of parent-infant sleep arrangements

The debate around how parents should structure their infants’ sleep, whether they should sleep alone or co-sleep with parents, is multifaceted and influenced by various factors. Cultural norms, safety concerns raised by medical experts against bedsharing, evolutionary perspectives advocating for bedsharing, individual beliefs, practical considerations, and the age of infants all play a role in shaping these decisions.

In Western cultures, infant sleep arrangements tend to evolve during the first year, with initial tendencies towards co-sleeping that may change over time, posing challenges in defining co-sleeping practices accurately.

Decisions about infant sleep locations and durations are not solely based on what is best for the baby but also consider the family’s well-being. Studies suggest that parents who co-sleep may face challenges in their marital and co-parenting relationships. Mothers who co-sleep tend to experience more nighttime awakenings and sleep issues compared to those who opt for separate sleeping arrangements for themselves and their infants.

2. Impact of infant sleep arrangements on infant, parent sleep quality, and parenting behaviors

To explore the interplay between parenting, infant, and parent sleep on family dynamics, our recent research analyzed the sleep patterns of 124 U.S. families with infants aged one, three, and six months. The majority of parents were White, married or in a partnership, in their thirties, with infants primarily girls. Most parents had completed high school education, with many holding a bachelor’s degree or higher. The median family income was $65,000.

Using activity monitors and video recordings, we assessed nighttime sleep patterns, emotional interactions between mothers and infants, and co-parenting dynamics. Our findings indicated that:

  • Mothers, especially those who co-slept, experienced poorer sleep quality.
  • Co-sleeping had varying effects on fathers’ sleep quality compared to fathers whose infants slept separately.
  • Infants’ sleep quality did not show a significant association with sleep arrangements.
  • Mothers who co-slept reported lower positive co-parenting experiences and displayed reduced emotional availability towards their infants during bedtime interactions.

Our results align with existing research, highlighting that persistent co-sleeping can lead to poorer parental sleep quality, particularly affecting mothers, and contribute to increased co-parenting stress and reduced emotional availability towards infants during bedtime routines.

3. Co-sleeping effects are culturally specific

The study was conducted in the U.S., where persistent co-sleeping is generally not endorsed. Parents who choose to co-sleep in such cultures may face criticism for engaging in a practice deemed potentially harmful to infants, despite our findings not indicating any negative impact of co-sleeping on infant sleep.

Criticism of co-sleeping practices often stems from cultural norms rather than empirical evidence. Replicating the study in a culture more accepting of co-sleeping could provide insights into whether the outcomes differ.

The association between co-sleeping and heightened parental sleep disturbances, particularly among mothers, is likely universal across cultures. However, the links to co-parenting distress and reduced maternal emotional availability during bedtime interactions may vary based on cultural acceptance of co-sleeping practices.

4. Promoting co-parenting and safe sleep practices is paramount

While our findings suggest that co-sleeping parents may be at a higher risk of family distress compared to those who opt for separate sleeping arrangements, not all co-sleeping parents experienced heightened co-parenting stress or showed reduced emotional availability towards their infants at bedtime. Some parents who co-slept maintained a healthy relationship with each other, indicating that their choice of sleep arrangement did not compromise their interpersonal dynamics.

Hence, as long as parents adhere to safe sleep guidelines, the decision to co-sleep may not pose significant challenges if both partners are aligned in their preferences and take proactive steps to prioritize each other’s sleep and nurture their relationship.

References

  • Teti DM, Fronberg KM, Fanton H & Crosby B (2022), Infant sleep arrangements, infant-parent sleep, and parenting during the first six months post-partum, Infant Behavior & Development, 69
  • Worthman CM (2011), Developmental cultural ecology of sleep. In El-Sheikh M (Ed.), Sleep and development, Oxford University Press

This article was originally published on CHILDANDFAMILYBLOG.COM and is shared here with permission.

You Might Also Like These From The Good Men Project


Join The Good Men Project as a Premium Member today.

All Premium Members enjoy an ad-free experience on The Good Men Project.

For a $50 annual membership, you gain unrestricted access to The Good Men Project. Engage in all calls, groups, classes, and communities.

With a $25 annual membership, you can participate in one class, one Social Interest group, and access our online communities.

Opt for a $12 annual membership to join our Friday calls with the publisher and online community.

Register New Account

Need more details? Check out the full list of benefits here.