Baby Sleep

Baby In Bed: Co-Sleeping

Co-sleepingUntil the 19th century, co-sleeping was a common practice and in virtually all households in just about every country, an infant slept in their parent’s bed. This method of sleeping was the norm and not only was this done to keep the infant warm and snug at night, but since breastfeeding was the only method used to feed a baby, the mother was able to rest or even doze as her baby fed. 
 
In the 19th century, however, childcare experts began to frown on this and develop strong opinions on this apparently -barbaric’ practice, and due to their criticism and insistence, a number of newborn infants were quickly made to sleep in their own crib and the crib was moved into their own room (the nursery). From then on, the infant was removed from their mother’s warmth and smell, and mothers began the pyjama patrol – late night feeds, fumbling in the dark and continual longing for a good night’s sleep.

There are, however, many cultures which still practice co-sleeping and today, a lot of new parents are now beginning to explore the benefits which this age-old and very natural method of sleeping has to offer. Parents are now wondering if co-sleeping is a helpful solution for sleep deprivation and by using a single family bed; the whole family can enjoy a peaceful night’s sleep.

 

The advantages of co-sleeping are vast and these advantages include:

  • Breastfeeding mothers who sleep with their infants will enjoy a lot more uninterrupted sleep than mothers who have their babies sleeping in another room;
  • Medical professionals and experts are in agreement that co-sleeping, significantly reduces the risk of SID or Sudden Infant Death;
  • Studies which were conducted on children who slept alone and children who slept with their parents indicated clearly that children who co-slept were, in general, far more content and were also a lot less anxious than children who slept alone. In addition, when infants were made to sleep alone, they grew up less independent, displayed more behavioural problems and shied away from intimacy. On the other hand, children who slept with their parents in the family bed from birth tended to be less needy or dependent, and also showed a greater sense of self worth and increased confidence;
  • Besides the obvious emotional long-term benefits for the child, co-sleeping was also proven to be advantageous for the mother who chose to share the bed with her infant, as mothers who co-sleep have lower stress hormones and the baby’s stress hormones are also reduced, which is one of the reasons why the baby will grow up with a greater sense of independence and better confidence.
  • Studies were also conducted into the functioning of co-sleeping babies and it was found that these babies had stable body temperatures, regular heart rhythms, and there were a lot less lengthy pauses in breathing when compared to babies who slept without their mother.

As with any parental decision, co-sleeping is a personal choice and many parents may find that this method is not the ideal option for them. If a mom is in full support of co-sleeping (or visa-versa), it is important to discuss co-sleeping with her partner, as there are a number of men may not feel comfortable with the proposed sleeping arrangements.  A lot of couples may also feel that co-sleeping with their infant will have a negative impact on intimacy and this can have harmful consequences on their own, personal relationship. Keeping mom and baby happy is not worth causing a rift in a marriage or relationship.

Parents are urged to be open and honest about how they feel and make their feelings and thoughts known before co-sleeping is decided upon.

Other parents may worry that co-sleeping poses risks for the wellbeing (both physical and emotional) of their baby. The physical risks to the baby may include suffocation or becoming wedged between the headboard and mattress. If the necessary precautions are taken, such as ensuring that there is no gap between the headboard and bed and that the bed is pushed up as close as possible to the wall, this risk will be reduced. By removing any potential smothering hazards, such as scatter cushions, continental pillows, stuffed toys, etc, the risk of suffocation is also reduced.

When it comes to emotional wellbeing, parents are often concerned that weaning the child off co-sleeping could lead to problems for the child at a later stage, however, the decision to move a child into their own bed, is usually done gradually and from the age of 2 or 3, and at this age, a child can be reasoned with and parents can help to wean the child in the least disruptive method possible.

 

When co-sleeping is not a good idea

  • Parents who smoke in their room and in their bed are advised against co-sleeping.
  • A parent who is intoxicated or under the influence of drugs should never co-sleep with their infant.
  • If one parent is against co-sleeping, it is not a good idea. For this method of sleeping to be beneficial to all, couples should be in full agreement of the sleeping arrangements.

 

Alternatives to co-sleeping

For the infant, a bassinette or crib alongside the bed will help parents to enjoy longer intervals of sleep. The baby will still be close enough for moms to react to their needs.

When the baby outgrows their crib, many parents find that a mattress placed next to their bed works well for all. The child feels secure and the needs of the child can be responded to quickly.

Families and couples are urged to find sleeping arrangements or use sleep training methods that best suit their lifestyle and which best fit their needs. Co-sleeping is a controversial matter and parents who opt for co-sleeping will quickly discover that many people (from medical professionals, well meaning friends, family members, etc.) have strong views and opinions on this age-old sleeping arrangement. At the end of the day, co-sleeping may work for you or it may not be the perfect fit for your family!

 

 – Kathy Baron

 

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