In many parts of the world, it’s a given that children sleep in a room separate from their parents. But is that the healthiest approach? Many experts say that the more natural, healthy way is for children to sleep in the same bed as their parents in their earliest years of infancy.
Granted, this practice, called “co-sleeping” has its share of detractors. The notion of separate cribs for infants is, after all, pretty deeply ingrained in the culture of industrialized nations. However, the advantages of co-sleeping far outweigh any disadvantages. Here’s why.
Makes breast feeling easier and more natural
When a baby sleeps next to its mother, it can breastfeed without the mother fully awaking. This is particularly so because the mother doesn’t have to get up and walk to another room. By making breastfeeding easier and more convenient for everyone, it makes it more likely that the mother will extend breastfeeding longer, thereby increasing the benefits it has to the child.
Helps prevent infant deaths
Co-sleeping allows parents to respond much more quickly when their child is in danger. This is important, given the number of children that are killed in crib accidents. But perhaps the more preventable danger is sudden infant death syndrome (SIDs). This irregularity in breathing isn’t uncommon during a child’s first few months, and having an adult nearby can help alleviate it; the proximity of a parent can help give the child cues to take a breath after exhaling.
Reduced stress for nighttime childcare
When a child lies sleeping next to his or her mother, the child doesn’t have to cry excessively for its mother when it needs her. This allows everyone to go back to sleep faster afterward, which reduces stress and allows longer, more restful sleep. That in turn lowers stress levels into the next day, and allows parents to be more patient, loving, and understanding with their child.
Risks are minimal, outweighed by advantages
People who argue against letting children sleep in the same bed as adults often argue that it can make it easier and more tempting to sexually abuse a child. But research generally says that increased connection and bonding with a child results in lower chance of sexual abuse. And conversely, leaving a child alone to sleep in a separate room can actually make it easier for one parent to abuse a child without the other parent knowing. And although some detractors of co-sleeping also claim that parents can roll over and suffocate a child, experts say that this is really only a significant risk when sleeping on a waterbed or if the parent is intoxicated. Furthermore, if a child is suffocating for other reasons, such as an asthma attack or from being choked by a piece clothing, the co-sleeping parent is in a far better position to respond quickly.
Fosters greater trust and love between parent and child
One of the greatest advantages of co-sleeping is in the bond it helps build between parents and children. Nighttime can be scary for children. By keeping your son or daughter close to you through the night, it sends the message that you are there to protect them any time of day. After all, why should a child need your presence any less just because the sun went down?
Attachment Parenting : Instinctive Care for your Baby and Young Child, by Katie Allison Granju. Copyright 1999, Pocket Books.
The Natural Child: Parenting from the Heart, by Jan Heart. Copyright 2001, New Society Publishers.