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Monday
Aug292011

Sleep with Your Baby! A (Passionate) Argument for Co-Sleeping 

Co-sleeping, or the family bed, by definition is exactly what it sounds like it might be: sleeping together as a family in one bed -- mom, dad and children. 

There is nothing like sleeping with a baby. The yummy smell, the teeny smooshiness, the ease of rolling over to nurse or feed in the night, the bond it creates for the family, and the sweet face first thing in the morning. Over half the world's population sleeps with their baby. So why, in this country, do more people not do it??

Though co-sleeping is common in most parts of the world, research conducted here in the U.S. (where co-sleeping is widely regarded as odd, if not dangerous) is heavily influenced by the relatively high value Americans place on independence, technology, consumerism, and parents’ needs for time and privacy. Many American parents do not consider it because they fear it will cause them sleep deprivation, yet every scientific study concludes that parents who bring their babies to bed sleep longer and better. And every scientific study of infant sleep confirms that babies benefits from co-sleeping. The assumption that co-sleeping inhibits independence is pure cultural mythology.

The many benefits of sleep sharing

*Infants who sleep near to parents have more stable temperatures, regular heart rhythms, and fewer long pauses in breathing compared to babies who sleep alone.

*Infants who sleep safely nestled next to parents are less likely to succumb to the tragedy of SIDS.

*Co-sleeping infants virtually never startle during sleep and rarely cry during the night, compared to solo sleepers who startle repeatedly throughout the night and spend 4 times the number of minutes crying. Startling and crying elevates levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, and releases adrenaline, which increases heart rate and blood pressure, and interferes with restful sleep.

*Less sleep-deprived parents. Not being awakened suddenly and completely from a state of deep sleep to attend to a hungry or frightened baby.

*Many mothers and infants achieve nighttime harmony, meaning babies and mothers get their sleep cycles in sync with one another.

*Children who share sleep with their parents are actually more independent than their peers. They perform better in school; have higher self-esteem, and fewer health problems.

*Many parents who co-sleep feel that they become more attuned to their baby and child, and that sensitivity to the needs and patterns of their baby translate into daytime sensitivity as well.

*Not only does sleep sharing benefit the baby as a result of the touch, stimulation and relaxation that comes from the security of knowing mom is close, but mama’s milk supply is also regulated through hormones when she sleeps within an arm's reach of her baby.

*Co-sleeping and unrestricted night nursing can be called natural family planning, as the return to fertility for a nursing woman whose child nurses exclusively and co-sleeps can often be delayed up to a year after the birth.

*For parents who are separated from their baby while working during the day, sleeping with their baby at night allows them to reconnect and make up for missed touch time during the day.

 

A common question co-sleepers are asked is about maintaining a sexual relationship with one's partner. The answer here is simple. Go someplace where the baby is not. Yep, that’s it!

Co-sleeping can present itself in many forms and people may not even realize they’re doing it! My friend’s son came into their bed every night in the wee hours, yet she flatly denied they practiced The Family Bed. I just laughed. Co-sleeping does not necessarily mean bed sharing either. A "sidecar" or bedside sleeper is an ideal way to meet parent’s need for rest and their baby's need for co-sleep. Keeping a bassinet in the parents' room is another option. Creative solutions for co-sleep are abundant in our consumer-friendly culture.

If you’ve decided to go for it, I’d suggest use a large bed (king, only because those little ones tend to grow quickly!) or a sidecar arrangement, with a three-sided crib clamped flush to the mother's side of the bed and the mattresses set to the same level. You can also put your bed on the floor and add a twin size mattress right up against it.

In any arrangement, the bed must eliminate the possibility of the child falling out. This can be done using a mesh guardrail, or by pushing the bed flush against the wall, making sure there are no crevices which could entrap the baby. Avoid using heavy comforters or pillows near the infant. Babies should not be overdressed, as the warmth of the mother will be shared with the child.

New parents often worry that their child will get so used to sleeping with them that he may never want to leave their bed. However, like weaning from the breast, infants DO wean naturally and on their own from your bed. The time in your arms, at your breast, and in your bed is a very short time in the total life of your child, yet the memories of love and availability last a lifetime.

If all of these benefits were not enough, when you sleep with your child, and you happen to have a babe that mumbles in their sleep, you get a little glimpse into what’s going on in their brains! My 2 year old, who was obsessed with Springsteen, rolled over one night and said “Bruuuuuce.” Priceless.

Sources:

McKenna, J., et al, "Experimental studies of infant-parent co-sleeping: Mutual physiological and behavioral influences and their relevance to SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome)." Early Human Development 38 (1994)187-201.

C. Richard et al., “Sleeping Position, Orientation, and Proximity in Bedsharing Infants and Mothers,” Sleep 19 (1996): 667-684.

Touch in Early Development, T. Field, ed. (Mahway, New Jersey: Lawrence Earlbaum and Assoc., 1995).

Seven Benefits of CoSleeping By William Sears, M.D.

 

What are your thoughts and experiences? Share!

Comment here if you have questions of your own or email me and I’ll do my best to answer. Check back here every Monday for the latest Ecobaby topic!  

Xo Melanie

 

 

 

 

Reader Comments (5)

We have co-slept with all 4 of our children. Right now we have the 2 1/2 yr old in our room in her bed and an almost 3 mo old in our bed. And it feels SO right!! I love it!! My baby can nurse whenever she needs to and I dont even have to get out of bed. She never cries at night and she always looks so peaceful sleeping nestled next to my breast. We have a 10yr old and a 7 1/2 yr old who also co slept and we had 2 kids in our room at the same time with them too. One in a bed in our room and one in our bed. We have only had 2 years where we did not have a baby in our room. That was the space between our 2nd and 3rd children, due to the fact that there was almost 5 years between them. I know for a fact when the day comes and there are no more sweet little people in our bed it will be a very sad day!!
Aug 30, 2011 at 10:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterMandy
We have always co-slept with our children, even before we knew it was called co-sleeping. I just loved being around my babies so much, it was just what I wanted to do. Although I bought cribs for my first two, I am not going to even bother with our third.
I always hear the argument about rolling over on the baby, which I guess I can see, but DH and I sleep together every night and he never rolls over on me. You just sense them there.
We just drove across the country and in one of the states, there was a billboard with a picture of a bed with the words "More babies died here last year" or something to that affect. I was shocked by this claim. I can't imagine being told that my family bed is a threat to my child's life. It's like saying holding your baby too much will spoil them- who comes up with this crap????
Aug 30, 2011 at 10:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterOmMama
beautiful picture!!
great blog. and we co-sleep too. priceless to have your baby close
Aug 30, 2011 at 1:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterNadine
Thank you for this article! My son is 16 months old and has slept in our bed most of his life (he did the bassinet thing for a couple months at the beginning.) It just feels so natural to have him in bed with me and my husband...especially for me. I work full time and go to the gym after work. If I didn't sleep with my son at night, I would hardly see him on weekdays! Co-sleeping offers us the closeness that we don't get during the day. Also, yes, the intimacy between me and my husband is not squelched---only relocated!

I've blogged a bit about my own adventures in co-sleeping with my toddler: http://onbecomingmommy.wordpress.com/2011/06/13/a-longish-note-about-co-sleeping/

Also, love the photo! Thanks again for sharing!
Aug 31, 2011 at 6:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterNikki
We have a family bed with our two (soon to be three!) children, which means that I literally spend 22 hrs a day with them, every day... and I wouldn't have it any other way :)
Jun 15, 2012 at 6:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterMissy

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