The Best Co-Sleeper

With research indicating that more than half of all parents' bringing their babies to bed with them at some point, purchasing a product that makes co-sleeping safe and more comfortable should be a no-brainer. After consulting with the nation's top infant product safety and sleep experts, we concluded that the Arm's Reach Clear-Vue Co-Sleeper ($140), with its exceptional ventilation and adjustable legs, is the product that does the best job at the most reasonable price.

With your little bundle's safety at stake, we spent almost 40 hours talking to the experts, studying the latest research on infant sleep safety (Did you know that infants need extra air movement when sleeping?), pouring over hundreds of user reviews, and putting the top offerings on the market to the test. The Arm's Reach Clear-Vue Co-Sleeper rose to the top as the best pick for parents wanting their child to sleep as close to them as possible while not breaking the bank doing so.

First, a forewarning: The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and other organizations strongly discourage infants from ever sleeping in the same bed with their parents. A study by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission published in 1999 found that placing babies to sleep in adult beds puts them at higher risk for suffocation or strangulation. A new study found that bed-sharing increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) by five times.

While a good night's sleep may be a top priority, safety should always come first. Here at The NightLight, we strongly recommend that parents follow the AAP's guidelines for safe infant sleep, which include "room-sharing," that is, having baby sleep in his own crib positioned near the parents' bed. "The AAP does not recommend any specific bed-sharing situations as safe," according to the organization's 2011 policy statement. "Moreover, there are specific circumstances that ... substantially increase the risk of SIDS or suffocation while bed-sharing."
"Bed-sharing" is defined as when an infant shares a bed with an adult, while "co-sleeping" technically refers to a sleeping situation where baby is in his own bed that's attached to an adult one. However, in recent years, "co-sleeping" has become an all-encompassing term for both types of sleep situations. Our product pick is a true "co-sleeping" bed that that separates baby from his sleeping parents and gives him his own safe sleeping space. While the editors at the NightLight don't endorse "bed-sharing" products, we know that some parents will use them anyway. So we've added our safety findings below (See "A bit on in-bed positioners") to help you make an informed decision.

"Co-sleeping is a personal decision that shouldn't be taken lightly," says Julie Vallese, managing director of public and government affairs at the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association "The pros and cons really need to be weighed." Whether or not you've chosen to co-sleep full-time or just when you're at wit's end, there are guidelines you should follow to make the practice as safe as possible, including never bedsharing if either parent is a smoker or has has been drinking, doing drugs or is taking medication that affects alertness, never using adult bedding with an infant in the bed, and never allowing an infant to sleep on a waterbed or pillowtop mattress. (Click here for a full set of co-sleeping safety guidelines.)

Who Needs a Co-Sleeping Bed

The No. 1 goal of all new parents is getting baby to sleep through the night. We've all been known to resort to just about anything: singing, dancing, pulling an all-nighter in the swing, and even loading up baby for a drive around the block. Sleep deprivation breeds desperation. Sometimes that even means bringing baby into the bed with you at night.

Despite stern recommendations against co-sleeping and bed-sharing, one study found that more than 50 percent (yes, half!) of parents in the District of Columbia, at some point, were bringing their babies into bed with them. Other parents choose to co-sleep right from the start. A recent study showed that in 2010, 14 percent of parents said their infant "usually" shared their bed — a figure that's up from 7 percent in 1993. Co-sleeping, according to the proponents at the Attachment Parenting International Research Group, benefits babies in a number of physical ways, including more stable body temperatures, regular heart rhythms and fewer long pauses in breathing. They also believe that co-sleeping encourages breastfeeding, bonding and the overall emotional well-being of the baby.

So, if you've read all the fine print and have decided to co-sleep — or if junior's been in your bed a few too many times recently — but you're still kind of freaked out by the idea, there are products on the market to help calm your fears. There are two types of co-sleeping products — bedside sleepers and in-bed positioners. Bedside sleepers are free-standing bassinets with one side that attaches to the side of an adult bed, usually the mother's side. The side closest to mom folds down, a design that allows easy overnight access to baby. In-bed positioners are like little nests placed in the middle of parents' bed that give babies their own designated sleeping space and are designed to keep mom and dad from rolling over baby.

Our recommendation, from Arm's Reach, is a bedside sleeper, not an in-bed positioner.

Co-sleeping products are designed to be used by infants from their first night at home through about 5 months of age, or until baby starts pushing up and rolling over.

What Makes a Good Co-Sleeping Bed

Keeping in mind that safety is the No. 1 priority when choosing a co-sleeping product, we began our research by looking for recommendations from credible media experts and sources. We found that there's just not much guidance out there on the subject. Consumer Reports Bassinet Buying Guide didn't offer much guidance except saying to avoid co-sleeping as advised by the AAP. And we were quite skeptical of a list of best co-sleeping products from a website called Bestcovery because there were no credentials listed for the writer/reviewer. Other than that, it was just crickets from leading parenting magazines and websites.

The next step was to contact the top agencies that help ensure products used by infants are safe, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the Juvenile Product Manufacturers Association (JPMA), to ask them about co-sleeping products. In January 2014, the CPSC approved U.S. standards for bedside sleepers (not in-bed positioners) that were based on international standards created by ASTM, an organization that has helped established more than 12,000 product standards used globally. The international standards for bedside sleepers, which were established in June 2012, are known as ASTM F2906. The CPSC standards go into effect in July 2014. Nychelle Fleming, public affairs specialist and team lead for the for the CPSC's Safe Sleep Outreach and Education program, says the federal agency is also monitoring in-bed positioners and will investigate if a safety incident arises. So far, none has.

Meanwhile, the JPMA, a national trade organization that certifies more than 2,000 products for expecting moms, babies and preschoolers after they've passed vigorous safety testing, launched a certification program for bedside sleepers in January 2012 but doesn't currently certify any products, explained Julie Vallese, managing director of public and government affairs at the JPMA. There is no JPMA category for in-bed positioners. (For the record, the JPMA's official stance on co-sleeping is this: An infant should sleep in a fully functional, properly assembled crib, preferably in the parents' bedroom, according to Vallese.)

We found co-sleeping products on the market that convert to bassinets and play yards and others that can be used as travel beds. Some models even have lights, vibration and sound. While these bells and whistles could come in handy, they're simply not necessary and shouldn't be a deciding factor when choosing a co-sleeping product.

For us, low cost was also an important selling point — not because we're cheapskates but because you just won't be using this product for very long.

How We Tested

With a lack of clear direction from reputable media and and U.S. government regulations still in flux, we reached out to the nation's top infant-sleep experts to get their take on the market's offerings. Their clear-cut favorite: the bedside sleeper, specifically ones manufactured by Arm's Reach Concepts, which is the only company that manufactures bedside sleepers in the United States and has trademarked the term "Co-Sleeper." I also reached out to Arm's Reach and learned that all of their products meet the safety standards put forth in ASTM F2906 (as well as ASTM F2194, the international standards for free-standing bassinets.)

The Arm's Reach Co-Sleeper entered the market in 1997 and immediately won an innovation award from the JPMA. Unlike a traditional bassinet, the Arm's Reach Co-Sleeper is an infant bed with one side that attaches to an adult bed, a setup allows a parent, usually the mother, to be literally within arm's reach of her newborn. The design makes nighttime nursing and soothing easier. All of the Co-Sleepers convert to free-standing bassinets, and some convert to play yards. (Nice features? Yes. Necessary? No.)

"Arm's Reach basically established a brand new product category that didn't exist before," explains Sharon Forspan, spokeswoman for Arm's Reach. The product gained popularity through word of mouth and the support of breastfeeding support groups such as La Leche League, she says.

Almost immediately after the Co-Sleeper's introduction, two of the world's leading authorities on co-sleeping — James McKenna and Dr. Williams Sears — began recommending the products and now they both formally endorse the products.

McKenna, an anthropologist at the University of Notre Dame and author of Sleeping with Your Baby: A Parent's Guide to Cosleeping, told us that "Arm's Reach Co-Sleepers have had all the proper components from the start — the baby can sleep separate, but Mom can drop down the side to access her baby for soothing and nursing." He also firmly believes in the product's safety: "The fact that it's been on the market for decades with probably 1.5 million units sold without any deaths or accidents is a big selling point." He says the materials and substances used in the Arm's Reach Co-Sleepers meet all the crib and bassinet safety standards.

Dr. Sears, a vocal co-sleeping advocate and author more than 40 parenting books including The Attachment Parenting Book and new The Healthy Pregnancy Book, is also an on-the-record fan: "The Arm's Reach Co-Sleeper brand bassinet allows parents and babies to have their own bed space, yet still be within touching distance of each other. Besides enhancing bonding between parents and their baby, the Arm's Reach Co-Sleeper brand bassinet provides night-time security that benefits a growing baby's emotional development. Sleeping within arm's reach makes night feedings easier."

We also talked with Kim West, family therapist who, as The Sleep Lady, has doled out sleep advice to thousands of parents in person and in her book The Sleep Lady's Good Night, Sleep Tight, also recommends Arm's Reach's bedside sleepers to her clients. (She also used one with her infant.). "It's convenient — you can nurse and touch your baby. It has wheels to move through the house. It can convert to a free-standing bassinet so you can move them farther away if you choose."

And the doctors at Nemours KidsHealth suggest that parents "Buy a device that looks like a bassinet or play yard minus one side, which attaches to your bed to allow you to be next to each other while eliminating the possibility of rolling over onto your infant." (This isn't a formal endorsement of Arm's Reach, but, like I mentioned, Arm's Reach is the only company that makes bedside sleepers in the U.S.)

Parents, too, love Arm's Reach bedside sleepers, with their products taking four of the five top-seller spots in their category on Amazon and getting rave reviews there and on BabiesRUs.com.

And in another positive sign, the JMPA spokeswoman we talked with told us that Arm's Reach is planning on participating in the JPMA's certification program as soon as the CPSC finalizes its federal standards for bedside sleepers.

We'd be lax not to tell you that in 2011, Arm's Reach cooperated with the CPSC for a voluntary recall of 76,000 of its bedside sleepers manufactured between September 1997 and December 2001. The recall described this hazard: "When the fabric liner is not used or is not securely attached, infants can fall from the raised mattress into the loose fabric at the bottom of the bed-side sleeper or can become entrapped between the edge of the mattress and the side of the sleeper, posing risks of suffocation." While there were no injuries reported, there were 10 cases of babies falling from the sleeper or getting trapped between the sleeper and the adult bed.

We spoke to the Arm's Reach spokeswoman about the recall. "As our products are frequently passed around among friends and family members, parts and instructions tend to get lost," Forspan said. "This was a recall to alert consumers to check for parts and to make sure they've installed the product correctly." Indeed, the products that were named in the recall were at least a decade old, and there no injuries have ever been reported associated with Arm's Reach bedside sleepers.

Our Pick

Knowing that our experts unanimously recommend (and many parents favor) a bedside sleeper for co-sleeping and that Arm's Reach is the only maker of them, we took a closer look at the company's offerings.

While all Arm's Reach Co-Sleepers meet the ATSM standards, we wanted to narrow it down to the best pick for parents, based on safety, for obvious reasons, and price, simply because your baby will need a new spot to sleep at about 5 months, the age when most babies can push themselves up and roll over. And why splurge on the best-looking Co-Sleeper when it will probably never leave your bedroom?

The Best Co-Sleeper

Arm's Reach sells 10 varieties of Co-Sleepers. Most aren't very stylish, with the exception of the real-wood Sleigh Bed Co-Sleeper and the Cambria, which features dark wood trim with quilted fabrics. The other Co-Sleeper models come in very basic colors — think shades of cream, tan and brown, plus a few options in pastel blues and greens. Prices also vary widely, from $150 to $360.

Because the Arm's Reach bedside sleeper is really just a crib with one side that attaches to an adult bed, we quickly eliminated the models that included thick padding all around the sides. Why? In 2011, the AAP issued new guidelines urging parents not to use bumper pads in infant cribs. The AAP said there's no evidence that crib bumpers keep babies from being hurt and instead boost the risk of suffocation, strangulation or entrapment for young infants too weak to move or turn their heads when something blocks their breathing.

We instead looked for models with the most mesh siding. Why? Mesh lets air circulate around baby's sleep environment, and poor ventilation while sleeping has been linked to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), with the current thinking being that "rebreathing" exhaled carbon monoxide could be to blame.

Keeping in mind that price is a factor on a product you'll be using for about five months max, here are Arm's Reach models we ruled out based on price and too much padding: Ideal ($225), Mini Arc Convertible $200, Sleigh Bed $360, The Original ($220), Cambria ($210), Mini Convertible ($200), and Mini ($170). (Some of these models have been retired but are still sold on some websites.)

Our pick, the Arm's Reach Clear-Vue Co-Sleeper has mesh panels all the way around, helping baby breathe easier and letting you keep her in sight from all angles. It also rings in as the cheapest of Arm's Reach Co-Sleepers at $165. Another model, the Mini Arc (and its shorter sister the Euro Mini), feature the same mesh and a comparable price tag ($170). But if your bed is taller than 24 inches, you'll be shelling out $18 for leg "extenders" to make the Co-Sleeper even with your bed.

The Clear-Vue's legs extend on their own and fit beds that are 26 inches, 28 inches and 30 inches tall. Of course, if you have a bed shorter or taller than that, the Clear-Vue won't work for you. So the Mini and Euro Mini are perfectly good bedside sleepers.

Who Else Likes It

Parents who own the Arm's Reach Clear-Vue Co-Sleeper aren't shy about their love for it — on Amazon.com, Walmart.com (there are two listings there), Diapers.com the bedside sleeper ranks 4.5 stars or highter. Here's a sampling of their comments:

"Overall, very satisfied with this co-sleeper, and I'm glad I didn't fork out the extra dough for one of the fancier models because this has met all of my needs so far."

"It's sturdy and yet light enough that it's easy to wheel around the house to use in our bedroom at night and naps in other parts of the house."

"I wanted a small co-sleeper that would double as a portable bassinet, so I could easily move the baby from room to room. This fits the bill. It is just the right size for the first few months. It attaches securely to the bedside by means of long straps under the mattress that snap via a plastic buckle into the co-sleeper. This allows easy access to baby for nighttime nursing without getting up."

"It is easy to use, portable, and perfect for having next to the bed. Does not take up much room and there storage places to put blankies, diapers and other necessities!"

A Bit on In-Bed Positioners

The Best Co-Sleeper

We didn't rule out in-bed positioners without checking them out. One of our experts, McKenna, isn't fan. He fears the products will create a false sense of security – and that parents could become lax and accidentally roll over baby or cover him with a blanket. But plenty of parents use them and like them. Note: They work best in king-sized beds. If you and your bedmate are average-size (or bigger) and sleep in a bed any smaller, it's going to be a tight and probably, uncomfortable, fit. (Keep in mind that overweight parents are discouraged from sleeping in the same bed with an infant.)

But if you're set on an in-bed positioner, we like The First Years Close and Secure Sleeper. I popped one into my queen-size bed (sans baby) to check the fit. It felt like I was sleeping against the wall in a twin bed. I appreciated that the sides were low enough to that I could see baby's sleep area and reach inside with ease. I also liked that I could see my partner on the other side. Unlike Arm's Reach bedside sleepers, this little nest folds up for travel. As far McKenna's concern that a parent could roll over the baby while using a in-bed positioner, I don't see how that's possible with The First Years Close and Secure Sleeper. The sides are high and rigid enough to prevent that. Our new-mom product tester whole-heartedly agreed, adding: "After a Caesarean, any leaning or extra effort was a huge deal. It was easy to get baby in and out of this sleeper. There was sturdy mesh lining in all the right places." Amazon users give it 4 out of 5 stars and Walmart.com users give it 4.5 out of 5.

If you're into "extras," then the mom-invented Baby Delight Snuggle Nest Surround will interest you. It's quite similar to The First Years Close and Secure Sleeper in size and features, but comes with music and womb sounds. Of course, you'll pay a little extra — $58.

The Competition

Summer Infant's By Your Side Sleeper ($45) and the similar Rest Assured Sleeper ($76) both take up a lot of room in bed, and the sides are so high, you'll find yourself sitting up in bed to soothe and nurse. The Baby Delight Snuggle Nest ($73) has an open end and some parents have reported that baby wiggled out.

We also considered the following products, but can't recommend them for co-sleeping/bed-sharing for safety reasons:

LulyBoo Baby Lounge To Go ($50): While not marketed specifically as a co-sleeping product, parents could be tempted by to toss this into their bed. Don't. The sides aren't sturdy enough to prevent parents from rolling over them.

Use

When using the Arm's Reach Clear-Vue Co-Sleeper, or any other co-sleeping/bed-sharing product, it's crucial for your baby's safety that you follow the manufacturer's instructions for assembly, installation and usage to a T. In addition, always be sure to follow safe co-sleeping practices.

Wrapping it Up

From the safety features to the cost and the fact that experts just can't get enough of this and other Arm's reach bedside sleepers, the Arm's Reach Clear-Vue Co-Sleeper is the clear choice for most parents — whether they plan to co-sleep or just want some piece of mind during those nights baby joins them in their bed.

Sources

1. Interview, Julie Vallese, managing director of public and government affairs at the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association.

2. Interview, Nychelle Fleming, public affairs specialist and team lead for the for the Consumer Product Safety Commission's Safe Sleep Outreach and Education program.

3. Interview,James J. McKenna Ph.D., co-sleeping expert and professor at the Mother-Baby Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame.

4. Dr. William Sears via Ask Dr. Sears website.

5. Interview, Sharon Forshpan, Arm's Reach Concepts owner and spokeswoman.

6. Interview, Kim West, The Sleep Lady.

7. "Co-sleeping Safety," PhD in Parenting, January 2009.

8. "CPSC Warns Against Placing Babies in Adult Beds; Study finds 64 deaths each year from suffocation and strangulation," Consumer Product Safety Commission, September 1999

9. "Bed sharing may increase risk of SIDS by five times,"CBS News, May 2013.

10. "Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)," KidsHealth from Nemours.

11. "ASTM F2194 - 13: Standard Consumer Safety Specification for Bassinets and Cradles," ATSM International.

12. "POLICY STATEMENT: SIDS and Other Sleep-Related Infant Deaths: Expansion of Recommendations for a Safe Infant Sleeping Environment,"Task Force on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, American Academy of Pediatrics, October 2011.

13. "Roughly 14 percent of infants share bed with adult or child," National Institutes of Health, September 2013.

14. "More parents sleeping with babies despite suffocation risks," Rob Stein, The Washington Post, January 2003.

15. "Infant Sleep Safety: What the Research Tells Us,"Attachment Parenting International, February 2009.

16. "Bassinet Buying Guide,"Consumer Reports, January 2014.

17. "CPSC Approves New Federal Safety Standard for Infant Bedside Sleepers" and "Bedside Sleepers,"Consumer Product Safety Commission, January 2014.

18. "Co-sleeping and your baby," KidsHealth from Nemours.

19. "Arm's Reach Concepts Recalls Infant Bed-Side Sleepers Due to Entrapment, Suffocation and Fall Hazards,"Consumer Product Safety Commission, April 2011.

20. "Get bumpers out of cribs, doctor group urges,"Parenting magazine via CNN.com, October 2011.

21. "Fan in Baby's Room Lowers SIDS Risk," Tara Parker-Pope, New York Times, October 2008.

Kim Hays is a former senior editor at Parenting and Babytalk magazines currently working as a freelance writer and wrangling her elementary-school age twins.