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Co-Sleeping & Mother-Baby Bonding


Infant sleep has become quite a thriving industry these days. I can’t even count the times I’ve heard other moms talking about “sleep training”, and this method or that method to get little ones to sleep on their own. I wish you could have seen what their faces looked like when I told them about “my method” for getting babies to sleep through the night. Like, how dare I respond to my baby’s cries with cuddles, or heaven forbid, cuddles in the parental bed. I’m doomed, now my baby will never learn to sleep alone, she’s going to be in our bed until college! Yet interestingly enough, neither social ideology nor wakeful babies have ever caused me lack of sleep. My babies have always slept snuggled up in-between the dear husband and I, and it’s always been as simple as that. Our choice to co-sleep wasn’t based on any fancy studies or fads, it was just what felt right to us…and how we got the most sleep. It was only recently that I came across some interesting studies with long-term evidence on the benefits of co-sleeping, and whether you co-sleep or not, I think this is interesting information every parent should consider…

There is a wealth of evidence that supports co-sleeping as an integral part of mother-infant bonding. Science now confirms what mother’s instinct has always told me- Nature prepares mothers and babies to commence their attachment immediately after birth. As soon as a natural birth takes place, hormones that are a part of the birthing process stay at high levels in the mother and baby’s bodies, and play a crucial role in forming the bond between mother and baby. Two of the major players in this hormonal cocktail are oxytocin, the hormone that creates bonds, and prolactin, often referred to as “the mothering hormone”. If this balance of hormones is allowed to function immediately after birth through skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby, they are exquisitely and chemically primed to fall in love with each other.


Fortunately, whatever the birthing experience and moments just after turn out to be, nature allows more than a single chance to cement the foundation for a loving relationship, and strengthen the bonding process. Learning to love is an on-going process for mother & baby, and hormones continue to play an important role day and night. For example, as a mother breastfeeds her baby she receives doses of the hormones prolactin (which has a calming effect on both mom and baby) and oxytocin (which stimulates the milk ejection reflex). Endorphins (pleasure hormones) are also released during breastfeeding which promote bonding & encourage the mother to continue breastfeeding. The endorphins are also transferred through the mother’s milk to her baby, giving the child a sense of contentment as he or she breastfeeds. Since prolactin levels are highest during the night, it makes sense to consider that when a mother is close to her infant at night, it may elevate the love she feels for her baby. Perhaps without pressure to teach babies to sleep through the night as soon as possible, mothers could appreciate nighttime breastfeeding as an extra opportunity to bond with their babies. (Click here for more information about the benefits of breastfeeding at night.)

Research verifies that mothers and babies feel best when they are close to each other, however any mother who has snuggled her baby against her skin while nuzzling her face into her infants baby-fine hair doesn’t need a research study to tell her that. Mothers and babies are hardwired to the experience of togetherness, day and night! One argument in favor of continuous mother-baby togetherness maintains that infants get to know and bond with their mother through all of their senses- eye contact, the sound of the mother’s voice, the sweet taste of her milk, her touch and her smell. This bonding through complete “mother-baby togetherness” simply cannot fully take place when an infant is left to sleep alone in a crib at night, or worse, allowed to “cry it out” for the sake of “sleep training”.

Attachment, the process of learning to love, is a behavioral system that operates 24 hours a day. It doesn’t deactivate during sleep, where infants spend up to 60% of their time. Obstetrician Michael Odent states “It takes only the most elementary observation to see that a baby needs its mother even more during the night than in daylight. In the dark, the baby’s predominant sense- sight- is at rest. Instead, the baby needs to use its sense of touch through skin-to-skin contact, and its sense of smell.”

Co Sleeping

According to many experts, co-sleeping is a safe and even potentially life saving option, as long as parents provide a safe sleeping environment. Professor James McKenna at The University of Notre Dame has extensively studied mothers and babies both co-sleeping and sleeping separately. His research shows what co-sleeping mothers will attest to: When mothers and babies sleep together, they tend to get into the same sleep cycle.Even mothers who are deep sleepers were aware of their babies’ positions and would move to avoid lying on them or impending their breathing. Although babies spent more time in deep sleep and aroused more frequently (although not necessarily waking completely), their mothers actually got more sleep than mother-baby pairs sleeping in separate rooms. As a researcher of SIDS, Professor McKenna explains that these small transient arousals may lessen a baby’s susceptibility to some forms of SIDS, which are thought to be caused by failure to arouse from deep sleep to re-establish breathing patterns.

Professor McKenna advises, “From an evolutionary and biological perspective, proximity to parental sounds, smells, gases, heat and movement during the night is precisely what the human infant “expects”, and in our push for infant independence, we are forgetting that an infant’s biology cannot change quite as quickly as cultural child-care patterns.”

So for all of the co-sleeping mamas out their who are enjoying precious snuggles, and sharing sleep with their little ones, the research is affirming:

  • Touch and proximity are essential parts of bonding.
  • The hormones that enhance bonding are most effective during nighttime breastfeeding.
  • Continued breastfeeding maintains the release of hormones essential to mother-infant bonding.
  • Co-Sleeping is safe, and can even help prevent SIDS
  • Mothers and Babies benefit from being together and sleeping together!

So if despite the evidence, you too are getting crazy, confused looks from other moms (or family members), take comfort in knowing you are doing what’s best for you and your baby, and creating a lasting bond that will last a lifetime.

Have you ever been given funny looks from other moms for co-sleeping with your little one? I’d love to hear your stories and thoughts, as co-sleeping mamas, we need all the support we can get!

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  1. I love cosleeping!! I have never been ashamed or tentative to admit it to anyone. I think it’s cruel to put a newbaby in a bed by themselves and especially in another room. I’ve gotten the comments about how it’s not safe but I know the people who made them mean well and just don’t know better. So I don’t take it personally. This is a great post, thanks for sharing and for all of the info.
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  2. Tiffany @ Home Grown Families says:

    I made a comment on FB once about my 2 year old waking up and coming from her bed {in my room} to mine. {I give her the option of where she wants to sleep at night ans sometimes she picks her own bed. It’s fine because I have 2 other kids that still sleep with me.} My friend commented to be careful of letting her sleep with me because it could establish bad habits. I replied that I actually practice co-sleeping and she will be welcome to sleep with me for as long as she wants. The other 2 that sleep with me are 8 and they show no signs of wanting to stop. :) People don’t understand.

    • Thank you so much for sharing! Sometimes I feel like the outcast practicing attachment parenting when all of my friends have bottle-fed babies who have slept in their own crib since birth. They just can’t understand why I would possibly want to go through”all of the extra trouble”. So yep, you summed it up perfectly, unless you have practiced co-sleeping & attachment parenting, I really don’t think you can understand it. I don’t judge other moms, and I wish they would do the same in return. Kidlets grow up too fast, and I LOVE the closeness attachment parenting brings :)


  3. I’ve been co-sleeping pretty much since my daughter was fresh out of the womb. Unfortunately, while in the hospital the nurses wouldn’t allow it because it was “unsafe.” I thought leaving her alone in her bin was unsafe because she kept rolling over and getting the swaddling blanket in her face. At least if she was next to me I could make sure she was alright. Then at the pediatrician’s office I kept hearing, “do NOT allow your newborn to sleep in the bed with you!”
    She’s 11 weeks now and I love having her in the bed with me. I know that I wake up enough to make sure she’s alright in the night. When she’s hungry she’ll hit and kick me until I wake and feed her, then she’ll fall back asleep. She does all of this with her eyes closed. Honestly, if she were in another room I wouldn’t get as much sleep as I do. I have all of the crib stuff I could possibly want, but I think I will probably really only use that for naps during the day, but for now she sleeps on her play mat or her bouncy chair if she isn’t with me.

    • Some medical professionals are pretty ignorant abour co-sleeping, but way to go listening to your inner voice. Your daughter is lucky to have a mama like you, and you’ll cherish these special moments forever. Keep up the great work, and thanks for sharing.


  4. Mary Dailey says:

    I would never advocate co-sleeping with your baby until the baby is much older. I know someone who did that and rolled over on in tiny son in his sleep and he suffocated. An older baby might have the strength to physically move you enough to wake you up, but a tiny infant can’t. It’s not worth taking the chance because it’s something you never get over. The fact that I smothered my own baby would haunt me for life.

  5. My kids are older now but I still let my daughter (5) sleep with us on occasion. I know she won’t be small forever and I want to enjoy that special time.
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  6. We are a co sleeping family — I am glad that you wrote this very informative article! Moms in my classes constantly ask me about co sleeping and wonder why it is so taboo when it feel so natural. Your research will offer them good advice ; ) Just last week there were 2 moms in a matter of 2 days asking me what they should do and I encourage them to listen to their instincts. I won’t lie… I’m glad that we are on the verge of ending co sleeping… my dd is 6, she sleeps in her bed, ds1 who is 4 1/2 sleeps in his bed, and ds2 is 2 1/2 and we going to night wean (again!) soon so I think the transition will come with that. I need to have my bed back again, but know co sleeping is what got me through having 3 kids close in age.

  7. I’m a firm believer in doing what works best for each person and keeping your sanity:) I co-sleep with my baby girl and wouldn’t do it any other way. I couldn’t sleep when she slept in the crib because I was constantly waking up to check on her for the breathing test! Lol! It’s very convenient for my breastfeeding. But most importantly, I just love being able to enjoy these precious moments and quick time that she still enjoy and loves to snuggle with me. I highly doubt I’m going to have a hard time separating her when the time comes but I guess I’ll just cross that bridge when I get to it!!:) but in the meantime, I will treasure her sleeping on me, next to me, rolling on me and smelling her baby scent and keep building this bond that grows for each day I get to do it!!:) thanks for sharing the article!!! Love it!

    • Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I also believe parents should always follow their instincts, and do what works best for their family. You sound like an amazing mommy, enjoy this special time with your little one!


  8. I couldn’t sleep without my babies next to me at night. I find I become so tuned in to them, that I actually wake moments before they begin to stir. They never have a chance to fully wake before I latch them on and we both fall back asleep. No babies crying in the night, which is a good thing, since there is generally at least one, if not more, children sharing our room at night!

    I understand that some mothers have a fear of rolling on their babies in their sleep. Evidence shows that this is not a real danger when co-sleeping happens under safe conditions (baby is breastfed, no drinking or drug use, mother is not severely sleep-deprived). For me personally, my fear of losing my baby to SIDS while s/he is sleeping separately from me is far greater than my fear of rolling on him/her.

    P.S. There has been increasing evidence that breastfeeding creates a set of sleeping behaviours (sleep position, matching stages of sleep, etc.) that actually protect the infant from being suffocated by the mother. Cases of co-sleeping suffocation are overwhelmingly in situations where someone other the mother is sleeping with the baby, safe sleep conditions aren’t observed (bed/bedding isn’t safe), drinking or drug use is involved….but the one factor that seems to be present in nearly every case is that the baby was not breastfed in the night. This isn’t a breast vs. bottle argument, it’s just something that is becoming increasingly evident. Based on this evidence, if I had to bottle feed at night for whatever reason, I would personally choose to have my baby in a bed pushed up next to my bed so that we could see, touch and smell one another, but not have him or her nestled in next to me.

  9. Kelly A. Tanner says:

    We co-sleep and breastfeed. The two really go hand in hand. I have not parented any other way and couldn’t imagine anything different feeling “right”. It all came natural to me. I wasn’t even sure what my parenting style was until I brought my oldest son home from the hospital. I just couldn’t rest without him by my side and he was so much happier there. Now I have another baby and it’s the same way. Thanks for a great co-sleeping post.

  10. Jennifer Johansen says:

    We’ve been co-sleeping with our daughters since the first one was born almost four years ago now. I can’t imagine doing anything different!

  11. I prefer the idea of a crib that attaches to the bed or is simply in the room, co-sleeping can be unsafe for some babies.

  12. For the first month or so my 3 1/2 month old co-slept full time with me. She literally wouldn’t sleep unless she was attached to me somehow. My previous 2 wanted to sleep with me much longer then I was comfortable with (just my own personal sleep needs not a judgement on what’s best for all families) so I was a bit concerned. In spite of my concerns I went with it because I wasn’t about to let her cry. She is a great sleeper now! Most nights I put her to bed in her bassinet next to our bed and she sleeps there for the first 4 hours of the night. I hear her wake up to be fed before she even has to cry and I pull her into bed with me where she nurses back to sleep. If I wake up I put her back in her bed. If not she stays with me. She’s happy, I’m happy. :) No worries about other people’s expectations. Just doing what works for us.

  13. I co-sleep sometimes. Although I only breastfed for 2.5 months, I’ve noticed my daughter sleeps more contentedly when she’s with me. Sometimes I like my bed to myself though….so we’re not 100% co-sleeping….but quite a bit. I think parents have to find what works best for them and their babies. For all you parents who co-sleep 100% of the time…how do you find time or deal with intimacy?
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  14. I enjoyed reading this. I am trying to find more information on mothers instincts to rouse a deep sleeping baby. I am a mother of three all of which I have breastfed and coslept with, my youngest and current co-sleeper is 15 months old and breastfed. It has happened twice to me now where I have woken extremely paranoid to check, move and rouse him while he sleeps. It seemed as though he was not breathing. I put my hand on his chest and felt nothing, no movement of breathing, quickly I give him a soft nudge and he breathes. Not sure if I am being over paranoid but I am thankful for co-sleeping and maternal instinct I am able to protect my baby during sleep.

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