Should Co-Sleeping Be Outlawed?

Milwaukee wants to make bed-sharing illegal. This report looks at this complex reasons for and factors. According to this report, every case of a baby dying in bed in Milwaukee in the last year and a half had one common factor. Can you guess which one?

  1. Adult Drinking
  2. Other Children in Bed
  3. Baby Formula Fed
  4. Sleeping on a Sofa

Watch the video to find out.

Clearly that statistic doesn’t mean that breastfeeding your baby is a guarantee of safe co-sleeping. But many common activities involve risk, including driving, co-sleeping and sleeping in cribs. All we can do is weigh levels of risk and choose what suits our family.

It’s not easy being a parent.

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Interview with James McKenna on Babies and Sleep

Unsafe Suggestions?


  1. I have thought for a while now (5 yrs?) that co-sleeping is my generations dirty little parenting secret. Everyone does it from time to time, nobody cops to it. I mean, I did, but I was always the crazy one who did it on purpose, all the time.

    And the AAP makes me just crazy–all their advice is contradictory. Nurse exclusively for six months, but introduce solids between 4 and 6 months. Don’t share a bed with a baby, but nurse exclusively for six months and keep them close by, in the same room. How do they think the night nursing happens??? (I do, of course, know women who would GET UP and SIT UP and nurse several times per night. This makes my neck just ache in sympathy.)

    • I wasn’t expecting such a strong response from readers! We’ll have to wait and see.
      ima2seven, no permission needed, if it’s just the video a link back here isn’t even necessary since it’s not my work (but would still be appreciated).
      Kate, forbidding co-sleeping just means that just means that nursing moms are more likely to fall asleep on the sofa, which is less safe.
      se7en, other locales were mentioned (but not Australia).

  2. I am all for the family bed. When Ev was a baby, he wouldn’t sleep otherwise and neither would we. Weighing it out, it made perfect sense. He stayed until he was about 3 I think. Then he was fine. I think it made for a MUCH happier family and a MUCH better parenting experience.

  3. I guess I won’t be moving to Milwaukee anytime soon and luckily neither will most of the world!!!

  4. This is truly horrifying. The overlegislation going on in the US these days is “soft tyranny.” I hope to repost this, with your permission.

    Thanks again; just love what you do.

  5. Maybe Milwaukee should focus on policing the more pressing issues like child abuse and neglect and alcoholism… before they start spying on loving parents as they sleep cuddled up in bed with their babies?!

  6. Interesting that he says that much of the difference is where the baby is positioned while sleeping rather than the breastmilk itself.

    On the rare occasions we co-slept, either the baby was in a position to latch easily or the baby slept on my husband’s chest. In either case, the baby was kept far from blankets and pillows, and our mattresses are quite firm.

  7. smoking in the house with your children should be illegal (actually smoking should be illegal), and co-sleeping while drunk should be illegal.

  8. LeahGG – AMEN! Don’t get me started, I alredy have WAY too much to say about this co-sleeping thing.

    I don’t think bottle feeding is the cause, just a common factor. I think there are a lot of other factors that coincide with bottle feeding and lead to unsafe conditions. More uneducated people bottle feed. These people may be working different shifts, making less money so they may not even have a crib. They may have different friends and family caring for the baby who may not have the same sensitivities to baby’s breathing and crying as a mother, especially a nursing mother. (I have been bottle feeding my 6-month old since she was about 4 months and I am much less sensitive to her cries and those of my other children than I was when I nursed my other kids.) Unfortunately, it is a prevalent view in certain circles (like the demographic the video mentions) that breast feeding is gross. It disgusts me how easy it is to bottle feed. It is unnatural, more expensive, and a real pain to wash all those bottles. If only you needed a prescription for formula… maybe that would get the message across that nursing is not a choice it is the default. Then husbands and older relatives might be more supportive. When I as in the hospital in Israel there was a 6 day old in the next stall and the young Israeli mother insisted that nursing is not healthy! (She said this to my husband when he was taking a shift in the hospital and I was going crazy schlepping to the hospital to bring my baby pumped milk.)

    If you’re not nursing, why co-sleep? I would never have slept if I didn’t co-sleep with my first daughter. She nursed all night long. I didn’t sleep deeply for 5 months until I followed my mom’s advice to let her cry herself to sleep in her crib. When we nursed to sleep I knew my milk would stop when she stopped sucking, unlike a bottle which can continue to flow and lead to a dangerous situation if baby is propped with bottle and a sleeping caregiver (please correct my if that’s just myth I keep hearing.) My son just didn’t need to sleep with me. He nursed for 13 or 14 months, slept in a crib, and I got to sleep deeply with my mattress topper and blankets. From what I understand, bottle fed babies don’t wake as frequently to feed and they can’t safely be fed by a sleeping parent, because the bottle will keep dripping. So what’s the point? If it’s just for the closeness, can’t you get this safely with a “co-sleeper” (a type of bassinet that goes next to the bed)? If it’s because the parents is too tired to get up or can’t afford a crib, these are safety issues that lead to dangerous situations without all the positive effects safe co-sleeping can bring.

    One last thought – it sounds like the cops in Milwaukee are labeling too many things co-sleeping. Co-sleeping is a mom choosing to sleep with her baby, hopefully it is an educated choice in conjunction with a firm mattress, no blankets, etc. It is NOT a boyfriend or drunk mother accidentally falling asleep with a baby, G-d forbid!

  9. Yosefa:
    I rarely propped bottles, and never so that I could sleep. I did it 2-3 times so that I could prepare food when I was in a huge rush, and once or twice when I hadn’t eaten all day, sat down to nice fresh food, and the baby started screaming. In every case that I propped bottles, the baby was at least 3 months old and could bat it away if it started to choke him/her, and I had eye contact the whole time. Bottle propping is kind of scary. I almost always held bottles until the kids could hold them themselves. (or passed my baby off to a willing friend or relative).

    As for formula feeding, the message really needs to be changed, but I don’t think formula is a bad thing – it’s just being seriously overused. A very strong lactation advocate once said that in the animal kingdom there is no such thing as formula… My response was that in the animal kingdom a pup that doesn’t latch properly or doesn’t get adequate milk from its mother DIES. I like the human way better.

  10. Interesting video. No, not moving to Milwaukee anytime soon! (nor planning more babies).

    I kept my later two babies in bed with me for at least the first two weeks. I had problems with severe lack of sleep with my oldest (and resulting depression). No such problems with my later two. I remember being quite aware of the baby. The bassinet was also right next to the bed, so it was easy to move the baby, too.

    Why people legislate one thing instead of outlawing drinking or cigarettes or whatever – who knows.

  11. The reasons for co-sleeping go beyond just night nursing–some babies are very high-touch and actually settle themselves better when they are right next to another person. My son stopped nursing about 9 months ago, but many mornings we find him nestled in between us (doesn’t even wake me); he has always been far less restless when he’s sharing a bed with someone else. He’s 4 now so I am not as attuned to him as I used to be. 🙂

    I actually have tendonitis in my shoulders from co-sleeping and keeping my body in various positions around my babies. If only it could prevent me from being awakened for middle of the night bathroom runs!

  12. observer says

    Kate, it’s perfectly possible to generally nurse the baby exclusively for at least 6 months, and generally not co-sleep. I did it with 5, B”H. Mid night feeds were almost always in bed – either lying down or reclining against several pillows. I’ve never understood why the alternative to co-sleeping is always presented as putting the baby far away, when that’s totally unnecessary.

  13. @ Yosefa, the idea that bottle fed babies don’t wake as frequently is a nice one, but not necessarily true. (Also that feeding solids will cut down on night wakings.)

  14. i’m sure i mentioned to you that a couple of years ago nyc (i forget which agency) had a publicity campaign against cosleeping.

  15. observer says

    Kate, good point about the solids. In fact, in some cases, it seems to make things WORSE, because of the baby’s system is not ready to handle it, it may create discomfort that will keep the baby from sleeping as soundly.

  16. Safranit says

    I’m probably the only one here who co-slept in Milwaukee….(hmm…if I had a record for that would Israel have not allowed me to make aliyah….but police records is a separate issue…)

    I agree the issue is more the alcohol and smoking than anything else. I co-slept for the first 3 months (and was given the ok by my Milwaukee ped.) and all three of them were in bed with me while nursing for as long as they night nursed. If I fell asleep, they stayed, if not then I’d put them back in their crib. I really think it is unnatural for a child to be alone in a bedroom.

  17. MIL, don’t most peolpe in the world (India& China) practice co-sleeping?

  18. Mrs Belogski says

    I am currently co-sleeping with my baby, who turned one today (yay!). Although the other (6) children have often ended up in my bed, i have always previously started the night with them in a cot, whereas this time i have abandoned the idea for the time being and just put him to sleep in my bed. B”H, i am the least tired i have ever been while nursing a baby as neither he nor i have to wake properly to feed him in the middle of the night, there is no tracking down the crying, trying to resettle him in his cot or disturbing the other children. Even my husband mostly doesn’t hear him when he wakes up. The baby doesn’t use a pillow, but I put pillows between him and the edge of the bed so he can’t fall out. Now he sometime shares my quilt and sometimes uses his own blanket, but when he was younger i was more careful to make sure he had his own covering. As Ariela said – for most of history and in most cultures co-sleeping has been the norm.

  19. Until a couple of hundred years ago most people didn’t have much choice.
    Mrs. B., I also remember the huge difference between starting off the night in bed with the baby and starting in the middle.

    Another thing, I always noticed that when I slept next to my children or toddlers, they ALWAYS made contact. If I rolled away, they rolled with me. They may have only touched me with a finger or foot, but they didn’t ever move away from me willingly.

  20. I nursed exclusively all my kids for six months and only briefly coslept with my third. I need my space in bed and I really didn’t like having a body next to me. I got up and nursed in a rocker. It was hard, but sleeping with a small body next to me was harder.

  21. Abbi, I also did not enjoy having my first baby in bed with me. After a couple of children I began to enjoy it and appreciate it. There was not a lot of touching in my childhood home and I believe that was part of it.
    I’m not suggesting that co-sleeping is something that everyone can, or should, get used to.

  22. I miss sleeping with my baby or her sleeping cuddled close while I’m awake, but she sleeps better by herself. Let’s not suggest that what they did 200 years ago is better or more natural. There is a relative in my family tree who rolled over onto her baby. Thank G-d today most people who don’t fill the co-sleeping prerequisites can afford, and have space for, a bassinet.

    It is unfortunate that after the advent of formula there was a drastic increase in the number of moms who told their doctor they were “unable” to nurse. But there were also some babies who’s lives’ were saved because they had no other access to food.

  23. Co-sleeping was my salvation. It was my only guarantee toward being human the next day, whether as a SAHM or as a working mother. My girls did start out in their own cribs, but at that first whimper in the middle of the night they came into bed with me to nurse, snuggle and snore (boy, could my delicate little angels snore!). I wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep without the wonderful aroma of baby’s breath.

  24. Maybe there should be a warning on formula containers that babies who are formula fed should not co-sleep


  25. I realize this may be a bit off-topic, but I’ve always wondered something about moms who co-sleep with children for many months: what about the impact on her relationship with her husband? How are they supposed to have a loving, romantic relationship (and any possibility of having more kids in the future) if the child is always in bed with mom?

  26. Anonny:

    Most moms who co-sleep bring the baby into their bed when the baby wakes up in the middle of the night and wants to nurse. This allows for “alone” time with hubby for the first part of the evening. It also allows mommy to get more rest in the night overall, which means she has more energy and ability to take of herself and her husband, rather than being up all night with baby and then too exhausted to even look at her husband for months on end.

  27. I find it fascinating that advice about co-sleeping is all over the map in the US.

    Personally I was quite against the idea and would never have tried to co-sleep if my midwives had not insisted I learn to nurse my daughter laying down as it would be the best way for me to get enough sleep. But they gave us many options for ‘co-sleeping’; and as it works out, the best for us was (and is) to have our little one sleep in a crib next to our bed. That way if she needs nursing or cuddles in the middle of the night we merely have to sit up and reach for her in the dark.

    Not that I haven’t fallen asleep nursing her (and it is more likely to happen in the middle of the night when I bring her into bed and I lay down while she nurses.) But usually I find it more comfortable to sleep at least part of the night without a tiny person next to me. Although this may be just because our bed is too small and I am too large (I am six feet tall, and my feet already hang off our double bed unless I lay diagonally…)

  28. My kids mostly slept in their own beds, and only slept in ours when they seemed to be getting up over and over again needing comfort or nursing.

    We sleep poorly when they’re in our bed or even in our room, so we actually put the second one’s bassinet in the living room for several weeks while we were waiting for him to sleep well enough not to disturb the first.

    My bigger question for those who really believe in the family bed (as opposed to those who use cribs/bassinets but pull the baby into their bed to nurse sometimes and let them stay) is what do you do with a baby who goes to sleep early when you go to sleep later, and they are absolutely not safe in an adult bed alone (because babies absolutely fall off of adult beds, even if there are guard rails.)

  29. @ Annony, there are beds in other rooms, couches, etc. Or some babies are ok to move elsewhere without disturbing their sleep.

    @ LeahGG a few things:

    1. Keep in mind that in the US a lot of people in the family bed state of mind are using at least a king size (US twin + US twin) or larger, so there is a lot more space.
    2. I know of a lot of people who did not have bedframes, but rather just mattress(es) on a carpeted floor, so you’re talking only 8 inches or so off the floor.
    3. When my older one refused to sleep in a crib but was too restless to be safe on our bed, we put her on the carpet in our room to start, then during the night she’d come up and nurse. Both my kids were in a toddler bed as soon as they could safely get out of it (14-15 months). I could never been comfortable sleeping on the floor (even carpeted), but my kids never minded–they’ll even sleep on the tiles here on just a thin blanket. They’re made of tougher stuff, I guess.

  30. Observer says

    For those who use the “family bed”, you are absolutely correct. It absolutely does present a problem.

    Kate, even an 8 inch drop can be a problem, although much, much safer than from a regular bed. As for the kins size bed, it really is pretty useless in the context of leaving a baby to sleep alone. LeahGG is completely correct, and it is something that most family bed advocates ignore.

  31. Observer:
    8 inches is a problem? Do you have evidence for that? Let’s not exaggerate risks.

  32. an 8 inch fall onto a child’s head will certainly not feel nice. If they fall awkwardly, they could split a lip or twist a shoulder.
    Obviously, it’s nowhere near the danger of falling off of a full-height bed, but I don’t think I’d feel safe leaving either of my kids somewhere where they could take an 8-inch spill while sleeping. The mattresses they sleep on in gan are about an inch thick, and they only put kids who are already crawling on them (as opposed to in playpens).

  33. Errikkaa says

    The solution to that problem is ridiculously simple and I’ve done it for nearly 9 years… I have a rail on my bed. No one has ever fallen out of my bed.

  34. Errikkaa: My niece fell out of a bed with a guard rail on one side and a wall on the other. She somehow slipped down to the bottom of the bed. It wasn’t a very high bed, but the floor was a tile floor and the sound her head made connecting to that floor has never left me. There was no serious damage, but she cried for over an hour. That was 14 years ago, and thinking about it still upsets me, though I’m sure she’s long since forgotten about it.

    I wouldn’t trust a side rail.

  35. Errikkaa says

    I’m sorry that you had that scary experience LeahGG – as you said, thankfully your niece wasn’t injured. I’m presently co-sleeping with my 5th baby and I wouldn’t change it for the world. Each of my children co-slept with me for different periods of time and each child had their needs fulfilled AND I got my rest too. I cannot imagine a situation where a child sleeping next to me would be in danger of rolling out and I wouldn’t leave them unattended.

    I trust myself and I feel as safe as possible using the bed-rail. Children can fall out of bed with or with out an adult present. My 4 older children sleep in their own beds in their own bedrooms… who’s to say that is safer?

  36. I think something we can learn from this discussion is that co-sleeping is a conscious decision that should be made with the risks in mind and with precautions taken. It shouldn’t be made out of sleep deprivation or drunkenness. I believe the fatality statistics are skewed from babies accidentally falling asleep in unsafe situations where the guardian had no intention of “co-sleeping.” I loved sleeping with my first daughter for 5 months, but with my youngest baby I slept more deeply and I didn’t feel safe. I’ve heard guardrails are very dangerous for young babies who could get caught between the rail and the bed. The safest, in my opinion, is the co-sleeper bassinet that attache to the adult bed, even if the child is in the bed half the night, rolling into the bassinet would be safe.

  37. observer says

    Yes, 8 inches is a problem. Not as bad as full height, of course, but depending on how the child falls, especially to a hard floor, it can be a real issue. Others have given examples, I’ve seen some, as well.

    You need to be very careful with guardrails. The wrong size can let a child slip through – or get stuck. Neither is a great outcome.

    I wasn’t impressed with the video, but that’s not to say that it makes sense to brush of the real issues. Anyone who is contemplating co-sleeping at any level should take honest stock of the issues and what they can do to mitigate them before making a decision.

    • observer, the younger the child the greater the risk. Very small babies should be more protected. But at some point babies will need to negotiate a few inches of height and risk falling. Also, a quick survey of crib recalls will show that cribs are far from risk-free. It makes me uncomfortable to set rigid rules about where babies can sleep based on relatively low-risk behaviors. Nothing is risk-free, and at some point guidelines become interfering and judgmental.

  38. observer says

    It’s always been possible to purchase safe cribs. Of course, you can’t assume that just because something is on the market, it’s safe. Every crib recall that I can think of was for something that parents could have checked for.

    It’s true that eventually, a small drop is going to be unlikely to present any real issues. However, the older a child gets, the less use co-sleeping is anyway- it’s in the most dangerous stages that the child is most likely to be waking up multiple times during the night.

    I’m not suggesting that co-sleeping should be outlawed. I AM suggesting that parents need to give a good hard look at the real very real issues present and mitigate the risks if they believe that it’s still the overall best choice. Those co-sleeping advocates who dismiss or minimize the issues make that much harder.

  39. Just thought I’d pop in and give my 2 cents worth. I live in the US, and have coslept with all 3 of my children. My youngest is now 16 months and is sleeping in the bedroom with the other 2 boys. I coslept with him until a couple months ago.
    I have to say, when he was younger and couldn’t roll over yet and he would fall asleep earlier than my husband and I, I would have him on our bed, which is pushed up against a partial wall and our closet, which had the crib in it. So one side of the bed was completely against the crib and wall, with a dresser against the foot of the bed. I shoved a blanket into the gap along the wall/crib side, even though it wasn’t much of a gap, but I made sure it was filled so baby couldn’t fall through or get a foot stuck or something. On the other side I propped up pillows. Never had a problem. Now obviously when baby started being able to roll over we made sure one of us was in the room. But he usually didn’t go to sleep that early anyway and one of us was usually working on the computer in the room too. We’ve never had one of our kids fall off the bed as a result of being unsupervised(us not in the room). They have fallen off a couple times while we were in the room! Of course that was when they were more mobile.

    As far as being intimate, when our babies were very little, we didn’t have a problem with them being on one side of the bed(the side against the wall) with a pillow between us and them while we had our time. Also, when they got older, 5 or 6 months or so, we could just put them to sleep in the crib or on the floor in the next room. It really isn’t much of an issue.
    Seems like people make such a huge issue over the intimacy thing, but what did people do for thousands of years when there was no electricity to heat their homes, and many people had one room homes where they slept with all of their kids in bed with them?? Obviously they found ways to be intimate. Doesn’t always have to take place at night either (;

    I’d say that co-sleeping is more natural if it was the norm since the beginning of time. I definitely do not judge those who don’t co-sleep though, because we’ve grown up in a society that frowns upon that and breastfeeding.

    If we had grown up in the days when co-sleeping was common, then I think many people that have fears about it today, wouldn’t have as much reservation about it. It would be natural in our way of thinking, just like breastfeeding would be if there was no other option. (But it is good to have that option if there are real problems with breastfeeding). But they did have some options long before formula too (wet nurses, goats milk, cows milk???)

    • I also thought I should add, that I believe at least in Bible times, they actually had mats on the floor for they’re beds, not like what we have today. So if that’s the case, then they wouldn’t have had the issue of baby falling off the bed, which is definitely a legitimate concern today, especially once baby is more mobile.

  40. How can I get my baby to watch this video? She doesn’t get it 🙂


  1. […] Mother in Israel has a provocative and well-discussed post called Should Co-Sleeping be Outlawed? […]

  2. […] Hannah Katsman is a mom of six, including two soldiers, and has counseled nursing mothers for over ten years. Her work with young families inspired her websites: A Mother in Israel on parenting, and Cooking Manager to help home cooks save time and money. Click here to see Hannah’s 9 Reasons to cook with your kids as well as more about co-sleeping here: Should Co-Sleeping Be Outlawed? […]