We all know the dangers of co-sleeping with babies and small children. It can result in suffocation, strangulation and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), none of which seem like a sensible trade-off for a quick snuggle.
And let's not forget the awkward exchange you and your partner will share if and when the mood is right.
So, why do it?
According to Susan Stewart, a professor of sociology at Iowa State University, despite the risks—and lack of privacy—associated with co-sleeping, many parents continue to sleep with their children well into their toddler years.
In her new book, “Co‑Sleeping: Parents, Children and Musical Beds,” Stewart interviews 51 moms and dads that co-sleep with their children and shares the lengths they've gone to avoid being labeled in society.
For example, several of the children started out on their own bed but ended up sneaking into their parents' room in the middle of the night. This often led to parents relocating to a couch or child’s bed to get a good, squish-free night's sleep.
In other households, kids were allowed to sleep on the floor of their parents’ bedroom; either on a mattress or in a sleeping bag. In one instance, the mother slept on a mattress next to the child’s crib so she could remain close (at a safe distance) while another family admitted that they never even took the crib out of the box.
Talk about helicopter parenting!
Stewart believes that the competition among parents (in America) to raise the perfect child might explain why families hide the fact that they co-sleep. In reality, the shame and stigma associated with co-sleeping is so great, that half of the parents either denied or avoided discussing it altogether.
“There is a lot of pressure," says Stewart. "Everybody thinks they know how to parent better than everybody else."
Her book includes data from the National Sleep Foundation that links poor sleep to anxiety, reduced work productivity, aggression, obesity, poor school performance, lower marital happiness and increased mortality.
“Parents are exhausted," says Stewart. "They’re stressed, and honestly, it’s often easier to co-sleep.”
But what about dad? Is he just supposed to bury that wood somewhere in the backyard when the kids aren’t looking?
When asked, most parents agreed that, although there was some interference, physical intimacy was not a major issue. As for emotional intimacy, Stewart’s data suggests that it offered busy parents a chance to spend quality time together as a family. This is great news if there aren't enough beds to go around and the decision to co-sleep is economically unavoidable, but it would be hard for any marriage to survive—long term—without intimacy, and we all know how temporary solutions work.
My advice? Make a rule: Don't come a-knockin' if the headboard's a-rockin'.
RELATED: Long-Term Impact of Co-Sleeping