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Mayim Bialik: Why we let our children sleep in our bed

Two kids, no cribs... no problem? Sharing a bed with your kids isn't the norm in the U.S., but former "Blossom" actress Mayim Bialik explains how it works for her family -- and why she doesn't think it's so weird.

Denise Herrick Borchert

By Mayim Bialik, Ph.D., TODAY Moms contributor

We sleep with our two kids. They are 5 and 2, and I have never owned a crib or a bassinet. Our family bed consists of two futons on the floor side by side: one with black sheets, the other adorned with knights, castles and dragons. We don’t co-sleep, which means sleeping in the same room; we sleep in the same bed. That’s called bed-sharing.

I know some of you think it’s unsafe. I know some of you think it’s unhealthy. I know some of you think my spoiled, coddled kids will never outgrow it. And let’s just be brutally honest: I know you think it’s weird.

Unsafe. Sleeping with your children is not unsafe. It’s actually really safe and really smart: you know the condition of your child at any time at an arm’s length. There are well-established guidelines for how to sleep safely with your baby. When you sleep with your baby, you know if they are coughing, congested, starting to fuss, or if they’re too cold or too hot. A mother’s body is designed to adjust to help her newborn achieve optimal body temperature; talk about smart! Rolling onto a baby is an exaggerated fear that is not based on any research. It is not hard to make a bed safe for a baby. Either put it on the floor or get a bed rail to keep your little one from rolling out. So it looks ugly? Sorry. So does my tummy after two kids.

Unhealthy. Sleeping with your baby facilitates easier and less stressful breast-feeding, which is the healthiest thing you can do for your child in the first year of life. Sleeping with your baby stimulates hormones that encourage bonding, reduce anxiety and depression, and increase the chances that you will establish a strong supply of breast milk. The vigilance a new mother has for her baby is programmed into our DNA. Mammals sleep with other mammals; we are supposed to do it. You don’t sleep alone, why should babies and children?

Outgrowing it. Do you know any 18-year-olds sleeping with their parents? Nursing? Using a pacifier? Wearing a diaper? I didn’t think so. Early dependence on our parents for comfort, warmth, safety, and love at night, as well as in the day, is natural and normal. Children outgrow the “need” when they are developmentally ready to do so. There is no evidence that children who sleep with their parents are whiny, clingy, spoiled, or less able to become productive, sensitive and caring adults. On the contrary, families who sleep together report feelings of security, closeness and trust that I think our society could use more of.

Weird. There is nothing inherently weird or wrong about sleeping with your children. It feels good to cuddle, doesn’t it? Babies and kids think so, too. It’s NORMAL. Worried about your fantastic sex life taking a hit? Find other places to have sex besides your bed. End of story. If your kid kicks, get a bed attachment like the Arm's Reach co-sleeper. If you are such a light sleeper that you feel homicidal every morning, I am not going to tell you that you have to sleep with your kid. Do I sleep as well with my kids in our bed as I would without? No. But it will be over soon, and it’s not weird to want to be close to your children when their physiological and psychological development dictates that they need to be held close.

The Lowdown. We used to have one futon for me, my husband and baby No. 1. Then I got pregnant and we added the “big brother” futon where my husband and the soon-to-be “big brother” started sleeping. Invariably, when baby No. 2 arrived, I slept with both boys. The family bed is the great unifier: It’s the place we are all equal. Even when our first son’s role in the family shifted because of the newborn, when the sun went down, we were all equal in our one big bed. These days (and nights), my husband sleeps in the knights and castles bed with our older son, and I sleep with our younger son. A few nights a week, our older son bounces over to “my bed” and returns to my husband for morning cuddles as I nurse our younger son into the new day.

The moments we share in the dawn I would not give up for anything: the whispers, the giggles, the just-awakening dreams and musings of a very small person who is happy and safe in my arms. “Mama, I’m going to sleep with you even when I’m a teenager” was whispered to me before my eyes even popped open last week. I simply laughed; little does he know how undesirable that would be for all involved!

The moments we share after we recite the Jewish blessings of nighttime are also precious to us -- watching our boys go from awake and fiery to restful and angelic: asleep at last. I find myself gazing at those faces many times a night; a reminder that although my husband and I may not be perfect, the boys who carry our names might just be. And that’s a reminder that gives us comfort -- all night long.

Mayim Bialik starred in the early-1990s television show “Blossom” and currently appears on the CBS sitcom “The Big Bang Theory.” She earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience from UCLA in 2007, and wrote her thesis on Prader-Willi syndrome. The spokesperson for the Holistic Moms Network and a certified lactation educator, Bialik is writing a book about attachment parenting, and she has two sons, Miles, 5, and Frederick, 2. She blogs regularly at TODAYMoms.com.

Want more Mayim? Read her blog at Kveller.com.