The family bed, where everyone sleeps not only in the same room but in the same bed, has worked for generations of babies in other cultures. Although this practice is less common here, some parents find it very practical. If your baby still wakes several times a night for food or comfort, for example, you may find it easier to keep her in the same bed with you. For this reason, a family bed makes the most sense when your baby is very young and still feeding around the clock.
Of course, your baby may still wake you up if she's in bed with you, but you won't need to wake up as fully as you would if you had to go to her room and get her. And she may just wake, snuggle up closer to you, and fall asleep again on her own. A family bed can in this way offer your baby a special degree of warmth and security.
Yet family beds have drawbacks, too. The lack of privacy means that you and your partner will have to find a separate place to do your own cuddling. The lack of privacy may also make you feel hemmed in: Even when you're both sleeping, you won't have any refuge from your baby.
Avoid very soft mattresses and waterbeds, which can result in accidental smothering. In addition, the waves created by your movement in a waterbed may throw your baby off the bed.
A family bed probably has a psychological impact on your baby, too. Unfortunately, there's no consensus about what that impact is. Some say the family bed causes more sleep problems; others say it reduces them. Some say that because, even when asleep, the baby is never alone, a family bed may increase separation anxiety. Others insist that the special sense of warmth and security created by the family bed decreases separation anxiety.
Some parents worry about the potential hazards of the family bed. What if you roll over on top of your baby? Well, unless you're drunk or an extremely heavy sleeper, you probably won't. A lingering consciousness will prevent you from crushing or smothering your child. But for argument's sake, suppose you do roll over on top of your baby. One of you will surely notice. If it's you, you'll wake up and move over; if it's your baby, she'll start screaming, and then you'll wake up and move over.
Although the risk of accidentally smothering your baby is slight, it can--and very rarely does--happen. (Many more babies die of SIDS in their own cribs than die of suffocation in their parents' bed.) Nonetheless you should take this possibility, however slight, into account when deciding whether to invite your baby into your bed.
The final drawback of the family bed is the ever-looming question: How long will this go on? Once you've established a family bed, it will be very hard to get your baby to agree to sleep anywhere else. The older she gets, the more entrenched this habit will become. Why would she agree to sleep in her own cold, lonely crib or bed when she can enjoy the cozy closeness of sleeping next to you?
Despite the drawbacks, some parents feel perfectly comfortable with the advantages of a family bed. But before you try it yourself, think about it carefully and discuss it fully with your partner. Keep in mind that it's a virtually irreversible decision. So don't simply give in to your desperation for uninterrupted sleep by taking your baby into bed with you on a regular basis.