Of all the sleep methods that a family can use, the ones that put parents and children in the same bed are generally the most frowned upon. Whether a new mom bed-shares with her baby or a larger family uses a "family bed" for more than one kid, chances are they'll get some disapproving looks from time to time. However, if more parents knew how having a family bed affects kids later in life, they might be slower to judge when they hear that a family shares one bed.
There are many reasons a family might try this sleep method. Maybe they bed-shared with their first baby, and never felt the need to try anything different when they had more kids. Maybe they enjoyed the extra sleep and not having to actually leave the room during the night. Whatever the reasons for a family bed are, it's a valid nighttime choice and one that actually has its fair share of benefits for the kids involved.
But first, lets clear up the slight difference between bed-sharing and a family bed. Although they're essentially the same thing, according to Kids Health, the difference lies in the age and number of kids involved. More often than not, bed-sharing refers to a parent (or parents) sleeping in the same bed as just one child or a baby younger than 1 year old. The family bed, on the other hand, usually implies that there is more than one child and no one under the age of one. According to the Mother Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory, there should never be other children in the bed if there is an infant present.
As long as the proper safety guidelines are followed, a family bed can be a very positive experience for both parents and children. According to the Natural Parents Network, children who sleep close to their parents are more independent as they grow up. In his book Good Nights: The Happy Parent’s Guide to the Family Bed and a Peaceful Night’s Sleep Dr. Jay Gordon noted that solitary sleepers are generally more dependent on their parents than children who share a family bed.
Sharing a bed can foster trust between the whole family as well. As Parenting noted, the more attached children are to their parents (a word that generally rubs our independence loving society the wrong way) the more trusting they are later on and generally have a more connected family dynamic. A family bed can also help establish heathy sleep habits and help kids adjust better to social situations since they'll feel comfortable and accepted at home the aforementioned Natural Parents Network article noted.
As far as possible negative effects are concerned, as long as the proper safety guidelines are in place, one study from the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics found that there were no negative associations between a family bed during toddlerhood and the child's behavior at 5 years old.
Sleep, like most things, is different for every family and to some, a family bed is the most convenient and healthy solution for a good night's sleep.