Babies: Not Designed to Sleep Alone

By Dr. Jay Gordon, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Read more from Gordon at

The official position jointly proposed by the CSPC and the crib manufacturers' lobbyists will cost many babies their lives. Here's why:

Babies sleeping on a safe surface with sober, nonsmoking parents respond to their parents, and the parents respond to them. The chance of SIDS occurring in this situation is as close to zero as we can measure. For better or worse, most babies have never sneezed in their parents' beds without their parents knowing it. How could they possibly stop breathing without our immediately being aware of the problem and quickly stimulating them back to a regular, safe respiratory pattern?

Babies in a crib or in a room away from their parents will breastfeed less and are at greater risk of infections, including life-threatening ones. We have politely begun calling crib death "SIDS" (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) to remove the stigma many parents have felt about their use of cribs. If there were a disease or cause of infant fatality called "chair death," we would certainly think twice before placing our children in chairs in a separate room for eight or ten hours.

The medical profession, as it often does, is approaching the entire idea of the family bed backward. A baby in the same bed with his or her parents is surrounded by the best possible surveillance and safety system. It must be the responsibility of the manufacturers and proponents of cribs and separated sleep to prove that such disruption is safe, not the other way around. The combined wisdom and experience of governmental "experts" is dwarfed by that of James McKenna, Director of the University of Notre Dame's Mother-Baby Sleep Laboratory. His research and writing explain very clearly that no sleeping situation is 100 percent safe, but that many more babies have suffocated in cribs than in beds shared with their parents.

In 23 years of pediatric experience, I have never had a case of SIDS in my practice. I might be a pretty good doctor, but I'm not that good. Vitally, all of the families I have cared for sleep in the same bed with their babies for either the entire night or the major part of it. These families succeed at breastfeeding and succeed at raising babies and children with fewer episodes of ear infection, pneumonia, and other illnesses than they would be expected to have, according to medical texts.

Newborn babies breathe in irregular rhythms and even stop breathing for a few seconds at a time. To put it simply, they are not designed to sleep alone.

Jay Gordon, MD, FAAP, IBCLC, is the author of two books, Good Nights: The Happy Parents' Guide to the Family Bed (and a Good Night's Sleep) and Listening to Your Baby: A New Approach to Parenting Your Newborn. Gordon practices in Santa Monica, California, and is proud to be the first male to become a certified lactation consultant. His website is


  1. I want for my baby to sleep in bed with me, but with my son, when he was about 9 months old, I let him sleep in my bed once and he fell off. I had no idea until he started crying. I don't think I have that instinct...

  2. Crystal - what about using a side-sleeper? Sometimes they are called 'side-cars' or 'side-beds'. Or, you could just put his bed or his crib next to your bed :)

    Many parents put their bed mattresses up against the wall (in a corner) and baby sleeps on the inside so s/he cannot fall off.

    Right now we have a 2 bed mattress sets (on the floor) pushed together against the wall so that our son can sleep on the inside and not crawl off in his sleep.

    If you are a breastfeeding Mom you DO have 'that instinct' but there are safe ways to sleep by your baby - and you have to do what you feel is best and safest for him. :)

    I have seen several mothers take 1 rail off their crib, put the mattress at the same level as their bed, and push it up against their bed. This turns the crib into a side-sleeper!! Pretty creative and it works! I will try to find some pictures of this to post...

  3. Here is a helpful conversation thread between mothers who have made their cribs into side sleepers so they can keep their baby nearby at night:

  4. Being a new mom, I was nervous about the baby sleeping with me. The very first night I realized how much easier it is especially since I am breastfeeding. Me and my child get almost a full nights sleep even though she still has frequent night feedings. A friend who isn't breastfeeding or co-sleeping is constantly complaining about how little sleep she gets each night. I was worried about the baby (or me) falling out of the bed so I bought a bed rail that fits my queen bed from someone off craigslist. It was cheap and I will be able to use it when she has a big girl bed. Anytime my baby moves during the night I wake up and feed her or adjust her position, then fall right back to sleep. I hear so much flack from my peers about how she needs to learn independence and that I am going to roll over on her. But the way I see it is, she was with me for 9 months I'm not going to abandon her now as she begins her transition into this world. She will have plenty of time to grow up, why force her to now.

  5. When is it best to move the baby out of the bed with you?

  6. What about during the day when babies are sleeping? I have a friend whose baby died of SIDS while she was at work. Very sad.

  7. Very sad indeed, for a baby to die when alone without his/her mom nearby to regulate respiration/cardiovascular activity during the day. Yet another reason babies are simply meant to be close-to-mom's-heart (literally!) 24-7 during their first years of life.

    Even during daytime naps - many mothers choose to nap near their little one, have him/her sleep on them in a wrap/sling [Babywearing:] or complete activities nearby their sleeping little one.

    Hopefully we see radical changes made in North America that support this basic *need* in the human mammal.

    Theresa - most people in cosleeping situations have found that children will naturally gravitate toward sleeping on their own, or in their own 'big bed' at some point in childhood. Recommendations have been made that little ones should sleep by their parents until at least the age of 5. [This article is one such piece of research on the age/timing of cosleeping:]

    But some children seem to desire to sleep on their own earlier, and some not until the pre-teen years. Each child is different and should have his/her needs attended to on a caring, empathetic basis.

    To cosleep, however, does not necessarily mean to bedshare. Cosleeping could mean just sleeping near by your baby, toddler, or young child. It does not need to be on the same surface to have physiological benefits. See more articles on this subject here:

  8. I get a lot of weird looks and comments when people find out we co-sleep with a number of our children, especially when I become pregnant and people assume my hubby and I are having sex next to our little ones in the same bed. My answer to this is that our bed is for sleeping, reading, conversing, and general nice cozy interactions - it is not a den of desire. There are many different areas of the house to get intimate in and it lends to creativity and even more mindfulness (helpful for birth control when you have to wake up enough or plan enough to move little ones all to different rooms, or relocate ourselves (you don't put off getting out the condom or diaphragm as much...)and you can be more alert and aware in the experience with your partner. Sleepy sex is great but not always possible or desired. So, co-sleeping doesn't mean exposing your littles to sex in their bed! I love co-sleeping - we all sleep better , wake up in loving embraces and generally the benefits outweigh the occasional kick in the heads or side...

    A great transition from sleeping with parents is to sleeping with sibs if there are any and they are willing...

    *pull out couches in study or den make for great little impromptu love nests.

  9. Great article. I re-blogged it here: thanks

  10. Could sleeping in a bed afford the baby to be sleeping on an incline?

    This is obvious as the baby is on the adult pillow so could the angle of the baby be more important?

    Gooogle "Inclined therapy"

    The Foundation For Sudden Infant Death Syndrome turned their backs on this vital research.

    Is a baby horizontal in the womb?

  11. I had a big family and nursed all of them as you recommend...the first was a challenge because (I believe) we are such an unnatural culture and I had to evolve into trusting my own intrinsic perspectives and experiences as a nursing mom who could feel the 'naturalness' of cuddling my babies in the family bed. I think women who want to do this should share with moms who have a great attitude, are no longer torn between two very different realities and trust their 'instincts' and intelligence in doing what we have been designed to do. Isn't it strange when you think about it that of all the mammals some modern cultures have created such a strange, unnatural way of thinking. I think it is fundamental to a whole philosophy/way of living. best wishes...this is wonderful to read...thank you.

  12. Andrew - babies who sleep next to mom are NOT on an adult pillow. Typically, they are on their side next to her body - under her arm, by her breast. Sometimes they are on their back, still close to her, but with no pillows or blankets on/touching them (as these could be cause for over heating or loss of oxygen/blockage of air way). Safe sleep sharing for infants does not *look* the same as typical Western sleeping arrangements for adults.

    However, that being said - I do believe there is something quite true about the research on incline (or simply NOT being supine to sleep) and the fact that babies are not in stationary supine positions while developing inutero.

  13. When me and my wife had a baby, we had her sleep in the same bed as us. I believe that we're able to give her more protection that way, and we'll easily be able to attend her needs anytime during the night.

  14. I have Co slept with all my babies...currently sleeping with my 6 month old and 2year other 3 children are all in their own beds....I love the stories I have to share with them r/t Co sleeping....and my 16 year old son will still fight for his right to lay beside me and cuddle during a our busy world it opens a door of intimacy

  15. Co sleeping for our family was so natural, from the moment each baby was born they joined the family bed, the biggest it got was a super king and a double mattress side by side on the floor. All my babies (3 boys) slept well, breastfed until 4 years old. I had wonderful sleeps, never had to get up in the night, They are growing up now, the last two have just left the family bed by their own choice, they are 12 and 8, I have an amazing bond with each of them. Co sleeping is such a safe, beautiful choice, despite all the pressure out there it is the most natural way to raise a secure, confident baby.

  16. I currently sleep in the same bed with my 4 month old and 2 year old. Both of my children, since day one, have all slept through the night with the exception of nightly feedings. I feel that they're more safe being within arms proximity rather than being in a crib in a different room, or even across the same room. I wake up to every movement and peep they make. However, I am afraid to let their pediatrician know that we co-sleep because it is so shunned upon in our culture. I have read that most of the world practice co-sleeping and that North America is the only one who doesn't practice it. Coincidentally we also suffer one of the highest baby mortality rate. As for SIDS, although I am not a doctor and this is merely just my own personal theory, is not so sudden but is actually due to lack of oxygen whether it be from the fact that babies can stop breathing for a moment because of irregularity, or because they are placed in a crib and then left alone for several hours without a watchful eye. However, I am not saying that everyone should co-sleep, as there are rules one must follow, or simply some sleep too hard. It all depends on the person and whatever works for them.

  17. I slept with all of my three boys until they were at least a year old. My now 16 month old now sleeps in a room with his two older brothers. He wouldn't let me turn over after he stopped nursing....even after he was a year old. I couldn't even remove him from the breast. He would scream and wail and I wouldn't get any sleep. Otherwise, he'd still be sleeping with me. :(

  18. Glad I found this article! I keep my 7 week old in bed with me all night and I exclusively breastfeed him. Aside from the convenience factor of just picking him up without getting out of bed and putting him to the breast, I find that having him so close to me feels much more natural than having him sleep anywhere else. At some point he will sleep in his own bed, but I enjoy the closeness co bedding creates. I feel in my heart it's what's best for both of us right now.

  19. I totally agree with all of this. I do not drink or smoke so maybe that is why but I wouldn't have it any other way than our current cosleeping situation. Not to mention because I had to begin work 3 weeks postpartum it was our only chance at skin to skin (also easier for night feedings), and it has been great for maintaining my breastmilk supply. It is maternal instinct to now suffocate your child during sleep and although it's not supposed to be considered "safe" I still have my pregnancy C shaped pillow around the edge so just in case, when is in that side I don't have to worry about him rolling off. Every method and technique works differently for the unique family but cosleeping works best for us, and I'm so happy. Breastfeeding is a bond but I feel cosleeping is honestly an even deeper one for us cuddling and holding him while he sleeps peacefully ever night. We have a crib from a family member in his room without a mattress still, he is 4 months.. It's not important to us although family and even our pediatrician doesn't suggest it-but as it was said above, when the time is right he will sleep on his own but in my heart this is what we as a family are doing.

  20. When is the time to move the baby to her own room?



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