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Sleep Sharing

Babies and mothers are designed to sleep next to one another. Why? For one thing, sleep sharing makes breastfeeding simple: When your baby wants food, you simply turn over and start the meal. No crawling out from under warm blankets, trudging down the hall, picking up your baby, settling into a rocking chair, and then nursing. If you share a bed, neither of you has to fully wake up, and that makes falling back to sleep easier for you both. Another bonus: When your baby stirs in the night, you can soothe her to sleep before she has time to become fully awake. And a soothed, relaxed baby sleeps more and cries less.

Cries less? Yes. Studies show that babies who are in close contact with their mother cry less. Not less frequently, but for shorter periods of time. When your baby wakes, you can comfort her before she has time to work up a full head of steam.

Sleep sharing lets you touch your baby more, and all that skin-to-skin contact is good for her physical, intellectual, and emotional development. You'll feel good, too -- and so will your partner. Dads who sleep share say they feel closer to their baby as a result.

You can better monitor your baby when you're sharing a bed -- no more lying awake wondering whether she's still breathing in the next room. With your baby beside you, you'll soon learn what each whimper, sniffle, or cry means and know how to react. Studies published in Pediatrics and Sleep found that mothers who routinely sleep with their baby become more sensitive to their infant's behavior and needs. In turn, they feel more emotionally secure about parenting.

Studies funded by the National Institutes of Health show that babies who sleep with their mother nurse twice as much and three times as long as babies who sleep by themselves. And breastfeeding moms who sleep-share get as much sleep as breastfeeding moms who sleep alone. The quality of their sleep is better, too. Since babies who nurse more often and for longer periods of time get more milk, they also benefit from a natural immune-system boost. All that extra milk can help your baby grow faster, too.

Finally, sleep sharing can be a precious gift of time for you, your partner, and your baby -- especially if one or both parents work. Instead of having just a couple of hours after work to spend together, you can relax, knowing you have the whole night ahead of you.