Bedsharing: right or wrong?

From the BBC,  Wednesday, 14 August, 2002 :

Children who share their parents' bed do not develop psychological problems later in life, a study suggests.

Research carried out in the United States has found so-called "co-sleeping" is healthy and has no long-term impact on child development. Parents often receive mixed messages as to whether they should allow their children to sleep with them. Co-sleeping is not something we would issue advice on.

Some psychologists believe the practice can contribute to sleep disorders and psychological problems. But others strongly support it, saying it strengthens the relationship between parents and their offspring and increases the child's capacity to love later in life. Emotional maturity Dr Paul Okami and colleagues at the University of California Los Angeles first asked parents to report their child's sleeping arrangements. According to that survey, 35% of parents allowed their children to sleep intermittently with them at the age of five months. Just 9% reported regular bed sharing. By the time children reached five years of age that figure had dropped to 6% and by the age of six it was just 3%. The researchers found that co-sleeping did not lead to sleep disorders. Children who had shared their parents' bed at five months were no more likely to have problems sleeping at the age of two or three compared to those who had slept alone. Similarly, at the age of six, these children did not show noticeable differences in their behaviour or emotional maturity. The authors also found no evidence to suggest the children were preoccupied with sex, as some opponents of the practice suggest.

'Unfounded' fears

The children were assessed again when they reached 18. The researchers found that again they showed no significant difference compared to those who had not shared their parents' bed. Both groups were able to relate to parents and adults in general in much the same way. The researchers also found no evidence of a link between bed sharing and use of tobacco, alcohol or hard drugs. It also had little impact on whether the child was sexually active, engaged in violence or crime, or whether they were suicidal. Writing in the journal Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, Dr Okami said the study had shown that some fears about 'co-sleeping' were unfounded. "[It did] not support fears that bed sharing would lead to psychosexually troubled relationships later in childhood and adolescence, behaviour problems and difficulties in peer and intimate relationships or early childhood sleep problems." Linda Turner of the UK's National Childbirth Trust welcomed the study. She said: "It is not a huge study but it is long term and it certainly adds to the body of evidence." She added that co-sleeping is a personal decision for parents. "Co-sleeping is not something we would issue advice on. It is very much a personal choice."

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