Q: I wanted to revisit your advice against co-sleeping with your child after divorce. You've said you don't advise it. A month after my ex and I broke up, I found out I was three months pregnant. I am breast feeding and it's just so much easier to co-sleep while breast feeding. My doctor supports it. Why is it not good ex-etiquette?
A: Co-sleeping is a personal choice, and despite the possible pros you might imagine, research suggests parents should not sleep with their infants in adult beds because it puts babies at risk of suffocation and strangulation. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends room-sharing with parents, not bed-sharing. Room-sharing, according to the AAP, is a way to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). There are quite a few things parents can do, like sleep on a firm mattress, and not smoke, that will ensure the safety of their child if co-sleeping is chosen. A quick check on the Internet is a great place to find other safety tips.
From an ex-etiquette standpoint, co-sleeping with older children after a break-up is what we have addressed before and can be especially problematic. If your child is used to sleeping with you and is calmed by sleeping close, then when you become serious with an adult partner and he or she begins to sleep over, your child will most likely be relegated to their own room. Not used to sleeping alone, it may be difficult for them to sooth themselves during the night, plus the child may identify the change with the parent preferring the new partner and resent both the parent and the new partner as a result.
Breaking up is an emotional time and it's natural to want to sooth our kids when things seem so topsy-turvy. Night is a particularly vulnerable time and things that most parents might do, like scoop their children into their bed during a thunderstorm or after a bad dream have to be carefully considered once you no longer live with their natural parent.
Truth is, parents are constantly making judgments as to what is best for their kids and this decision is no different than any other. Understand going in how the decision to co-sleep can potentially affect your child and make your judgment with their best interests in mind.
Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation, and the founder of bonusfamilies.com.