Before your baby arrives, you obsess over the kind of crib, bassinet, or co-sleeper to purchase. Then you get home from the hospital and, perhaps despite your best intentions, end up with an extra little person in your bed. And, for some strange reason, on the nights when your baby sleeps with you are the nights they actually sleep. So if you've asked yourself, "Why does my baby sleep better in my bed?" know that not only are you not alone, but science actually has an explanation.
One of the advantages of bed-sharing, as outlined on the site Kelly Mom, is that babies often get more sleep when they bed-share. Since they're already right next to you, they don't need to fully wake up in order to breastfeed, bottle-feed, or simply be comforted. You're already right there, so you can nurse, feed, or comfort your baby before they even fully wake up (and sometimes before you even fully wake up, too).
According to Dr. James McKenna, author of Sleeping with Your Baby: A Parent's Guide to Cosleeping and bed-sharing advocate, babies sleep better in your bed for a simple reason: they are biologically supposed to. In his article for the site neuroanthropology.com, he posits that, "Instead, irrepressible (ancient) neurologically-based infant responses to maternal smells, movements, and touch altogether reduce infant crying while positively regulating infant breathing, body temperature, absorption of calories, stress hormone levels, immune status, and oxygenation."
This is a mouthful, sure, but it is reminiscent of what researchers have been saying about the positive physiological effects of skin-to-skin contact between moms and babies, especially when it comes to regulating oxygen levels and body temperature. McKenna advocates strongly for bed-sharing, but only under very specific, safe practices (outlined in his article, and further, in his book) that ensure that there are no suffocation or other safety hazards to baby.
Dr. Sears, another proponent of bed-sharing, believes that the practice helps babies go to sleep better, and stay asleep better, because they feel protected and safe during a vulnerable time of the night. On his site, askdrsears.com, Sears says, "Being parented to sleep at the breast of mother or in the arms of father creates a healthy go-to-sleep attitude. Baby learns that going to sleep is a pleasant state to enter (one of our goals of nighttime parenting)."
But Dr. McKenna and Dr. Sears are two of the few (and perhaps controversial) "experts" who carry the bed-sharing torch. The majority of childcare health experts specifically warn parents and caregivers not to bring babies with them to their beds to sleep. According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome still takes the lives of over 3,500 babies each year despite years of warnings for safe sleep practices. In an effort to reduce these sleep-related deaths, the American Academy of Pediatrics' updated their safe sleep practices to include specific recommendations about bed-sharing, room-sharing, and sleep surfaces.
According to the site Healthy Children, these updated guidelines include never placing your baby to sleep on a couch, sofa, or arm chair; and a recommendation for room-sharing (i.e. keeping baby's sleep area in the same room as yours for the first six months to the first year of your baby's life). As Healthy Children points out, room-sharing can decrease the risk of SIDS by 50 percent. The guidelines also warn parents to only bring babies into bed to feed or comfort them, and to return babies to their own sleep space immediately thereafter.
Sure, the warnings are there, but the reality is that many mothers continue to bed-share because, well, it is easy and it feels so damn good. Thankfully, the new guidelines from the AAP take this reality into account. As National Public Radio notes, the AAP's new safe sleep practices now advise mothers who choose to bed-share (or who fall asleep by accident while nursing), to make sure their own beds have a firm mattress, a tight fitted sheet, and that any hazardous items, such as pillows or loose sheets or blankets be removed from the infant sleep area. Thanks for being real, AAP.
The site Baby Center has another good point about why babies (and parents) might sleep better when bed-sharing: it is a great way to connect with the parent who they don't get to see as much during the day. The site goes on to say, "Co-sleeping can particularly enhance closeness between the father or other partner and the baby, who don't have the physical connection that a nursing mother and her baby do or may simply have less time to spend together during the day." The physical closeness, beyond making baby feel cozy, can also potentially help your baby feel emotionally connected to their other parent.