I don't think most parents go into bed-sharing willingly, clear-eyed, and on purpose. For most it's a slow decent, started by a hesitant agreement to let your kid sleep with you after a particularly bad dream or fever, and the next thing you know you've formed a new habit. Once you realize it's not just a couple-of-days thing, you might start to wonder if the whole bed-sharing thing is OK. So, should you sleep in a bed with your toddler? In fact, is even a one-time-deal, "only because you had a bad dream and need a little comforting" arrangement a good idea?
As a parent, I've found it difficult to find the balance between my natural need to be my child's empathetic nurturer, and when I've let go of too many boundaries and to a fault. Turns out, I'm not alone either. As noted in Psychology Today, many parents worry that bed-sharing in toddlerhood could lead to negative consequences later in life.
A study published in the journal, Pediatrics, in 2011 looked at mothers and their children (ages 1, 2, and 3 years) and concluded that there were no negative associations between bed-sharing in toddlerhood and children's behavior and cognition at age 5 years of age.
The physical safety aspects of bed-sharing with a toddler (i.e. soft bedding, blankets, and pillows in the bed) are not so much of a concern, either. By the age of 1, a child is believed to no longer be at risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). As Baby Center states, "by definition, SIDS doesn't happen after a child's first birthday."
It is, important, however, to keep in mind other factors behind why a child might be bed-sharing. Dr. Michelle Berkovitz, an assistant professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, in an article for WebMD warns: "We would want to know if the family is bed-sharing because they are choosing to do it, are they forced into it, and whether both parents are on the same page."
So, if it is neither unsafe nor emotionally and psychologically harmful, is their a benefit to bed-sharing with your toddler? Some experts think so. Sleep expert James McKenna, in an article for Baby Center, says:
"Researchers around the world have discovered that children who sleep share are more independent, more outgoing, and more confident. As adults, they have higher self-esteem, better stress-management skills, and are more comfortable with intimacy than adults who slept alone as young children."
Still, where your child lays their head at night is just one of many, many factors that go into the overall picture of a child's wellbeing and development. Most parents would likely agree that the best night's sleep for everyone is when each family member is in their own bed. (Although, and again, what works for one set of parents or family will not necessarily, or ever, work for all parents and families.)
Unfortunately, some of us parents don't exactly have a choice in the matter (i.e. we have a toddler who refuses to sleep unless they've got their feet in our face and their head in our partner's face). For us, at least we can "rest easy" knowing that sleeping with our toddler won't have any harmful effects on our child in the long run. Our face bruises, though? Well, that's another story.