by Mizin P. Kawasaki, MD
is co-sleeping? Co-sleeping is a family
arrangement that enables children to sleep with their parents. The term "family bed" has been coined by
others, and Tine Thevenin has written a popular book about this subject.
is a very natural part of daily life for many families throughout the world. It is a cooperative effort that encourages
family well-being. This article will
attempt to dispel some myths about co-sleeping.
Myths about co-sleeping
It is perverse for parents and children to co-sleep in the same bed.
parental bed is stigmatized as a den of sin and desire, even though most
parents, particularly parents of a newborn, use the bed primarily for
sleeping. The majority of healthy
adults, which includes parents, sleep in bed so that they may feel rejuvenated
upon awakening in the morning. Sexual
activity in the parental bed is a real and healthy occurrence, but sleeping is
the predominant activity in bed.
enables parents and children to sleep together in the same bed and there is
nothing perverse about this in healthy families. In reality, perversity is perpetrated by
those persons who never received the nurturing stimulation of loving and caring
interaction that an activity like co-sleeping offers.
developmental neuropsychologist and cross-cultural psychologist, Dr. James W.
Prescott, has researched criminal behavior for over two decades. He has challenged the law enforcement
community to present him one hardened criminal who was breastfed for over two
Prescott is convinced that there is no hardened criminal who would meet that
qualification. The reason is that the
individual who has been loved unconditionally and nurtured will develop into a
humane being. It is unlikely that he
will develop into a callous and inhumane criminal or a pervert if he received
the benefits of healthy human interaction, such as breastfeeding, carrying, and
majority of parents who wish to co-sleep with their children are healthy,
humane beings. They love and respect
their children not only as their charges but as fellow human beings. The parents recognize their youngsters’
inability to fend for themselves, and they do their best to respond wisely to
their youngsters’ needs. Responding to a
child’s need to co-sleep with her parents is not perverse at all: it is perverse to ignore a child’s needs.
A child needs to sleep alone through the night.
must consider that a child who is lovingly cared for throughout the day would
need to be as close to the same caregiver, her mother, during the night. If so, how can a young child be excluded from
the parental bed?
parents were co-sleeping in the same bed before the arrival of their firstborn
child, is there any reason that the baby should not join them in the same
bed? Even if a baby seems to prefer
sleeping alone, it is highly questionable whether she should sleep alone. The fact is that human babies need human
contact around the clock, be it day or night.
infants are born in a highly immature and dependent state because they are only
“half-done.” As Ashley Montagu has
written, the human infant is remarkably immature because her gestation in the
womb encompassed only the first half of her true gestation.
brain of the human fetus grows so rapidly and to such a large size in the womb
that the baby must emerge after nine months of gestation. Otherwise, neither the baby nor the mother
could survive childbirth. The baby’s brain
continues to grow quickly after birth, such that its volume more than doubles in
the first year. This fact alone
indicates the enormous amount of learning and maturation that occurs during infancy.
around the age of nine to ten months, the baby will begin to move about on her
own by crawling, and this is a milestone that marks the end of the gestation
outside the womb. In other words, from the time of birth until
the infant crawls about on her own, she completes the growth and development
that should but cannot occur in the womb.
Montagu has written that the baby needs “a womb with a view” after birth. This external womb can be best provided by a
loving and caring mother who attends to her baby’s various needs. The baby is a highly dependent being,
especially during the first year of life, whose needs must be satisfied in
order for healthy maturation to occur.
healthy newborn may sleep more than sixteen hours per day, and a great deal of
that time can and should be spent close to her mother’s body. A young baby can be carried in a sling or baby
carrier during the day. A mother who
maintains her baby close to her body provides the stimulation that will foster
healthy growth and development outside the womb.
closeness between mother and baby can and should ideally occur at nighttime
also. A baby will most likely feel
comfortable and at ease if she is snuggled close to her mother. A mother’s loving presence also assures the
infant of tactile stimulation, which is important since it plays an important,
but often unrecognized, role in encouraging the infant to breathe deeply.
cause of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) remains unidentified, but the
prevalent theory is that vulnerable babies, usually those under the age of one
year, may breathe shallowly and fall into apneic (nonbreathing) states. In Neonatal Intensive Care Units, preterm
infants may be afflicted with apnea spells.
The immediate remedy applied by nurses is a mere touch to the apneic
vigorous tactile stimulation may be given to those infants who do not respond
to a light touch. The usual result is
that the infant begins to breathe normally again. Since even healthy young infants may breathe
shallowly, there may be greater cause for a mother to be close by in case a
little tactile stimulation will encourage the baby to breathe more deeply. Co-sleeping provides the baby with the skin
to skin contact that may encourage deeper breathing.
Parents should not be inconvenienced by their baby’s needs during the
the night, an infant awakens frequently because her sleep cycle of about 50-60
minutes is shorter than an adult’s, which is about 90 minutes. Many parents find this normal infant sleeping
pattern to be bothersome since it does not correspond with their own sleeping
pattern and need for sleep.
seems that some parents may consider their baby’s different sleep pattern to be
bothersome. In fact, they may think that
the baby is trying to manipulate them by awakening more frequently. Thus, a baby’s normal sleeping pattern, which
is part of her healthy infant development, may be misconstrued to be an
infant’s conscious attempt to interfere with her parents’ sleep.
must be stressed that a healthy baby does not consciously and willfully
interfere with her parents’ sleep. A
healthy baby experiences tremendous changes after birth, and her body must
adapt itself to the challenges of functioning independently of the womb. Truly, the first year of life is comparable
to a gestation outside of the womb, as Ashley Montagu has written so
the baby’s immature digestive tract. In
the womb, there was no need for ingestion, digestion, or elimination. Outside the womb, though, there is a definite
need for these bodily functions to begin operating. The baby must eat and provide his growing
body with nourishment.
baby’s mother produces the ideal nourishment for the newborn: colostrum.
The colostrum is important and vital to the well-being of the newborn,
for it provides the perfect substance to help activate the baby’s digestive and
immune systems. Colostrum is a laxative that helps to clear
out the meconium in the baby’s digestive tract and it is rich in lactoglobulin
which provides the baby with immunizing factors against various diseases.
amount of colostrum produced in the first few days of life is only
approximately 50 cc (the equivalent of 10 teaspoons) per day. The amount may be small, but it just right to
encourage the healthy development of the infant’s gut and immune system. The benefits of breastfeeding are incalculable
to the infant, and they may be transmitted to the breastfed baby throughout the
day and night.
one understands the importance of breastfeeding, how is it possible to withhold
breast milk from the baby, except when one truly cannot nurse because of severe
physical disability, the need for medications that may pass through the breast
milk, or an infectious state that precludes breastfeeding? It may seem inconvenient that mothers need to
nurse throughout the day and night, but this is a cultural perception of what
is completely subjective. The person who
believes that nursing a baby is inconvenient may willingly get out of bed to
heat up a bottle of infant formula several times a night. In contrast, another mother may willingly
nurse a hungry infant during the night but would feel inconvenienced by the
need to get out of bed to fetch a bottle of formula.
may be politically incorrect to state the obvious, which is that the
mother-infant pair should be inseparable during the early years of life. This is especially true during the first year
of life because young babies need to breastfeed frequently, regardless of the
time of day.
the newborn period onward, a mother’s breast milk changes moment to moment to
accommodate the baby’s growing needs.
The two lives of mother and baby are intimately entwined in a mutually
cooperative and beneficial relationship.
The activity of breastfeeding provides the optimal nourishment and
physical intimacy for the baby’s healthy growth and development.
also encourages the communication of love between the baby and her mother. Many
mothers become motherly and loving as a result of the hormonal influences brought
about by breastfeeding. They enjoy
mothering and breastfeeding as responsibilities and not as inconveniences.
Myth #4: A child is not harmed by forcing her to
sleep alone through the night.
are babies who may sleep through the night, but every young baby is unique. Each has a different temperament with
variable needs. Parents who would readily
embrace the baby who sleeps on her own ought to behave similarly toward the
baby who cannot sleep alone.
light of the individuality of babies, parents need to be tolerant and
understanding. Not all babies can sleep
alone at night and to attempt to make these youngsters sleep alone is
unhealthy. It is analogous to trying to
force a circular block to fit into a triangular opening. It cannot be done without damaging the
circular block and the fit will never be right.
this point, we are not discussing inanimate objects but living human
babies. Dr. Richard Ferber, a sleeping
expert well known to the general public, promotes the mistaken belief that
young babies and children can and should be taught to sleep alone. He
has popularized a method that purports to succeed in getting any youngster to
sleep through the night.
method entails separating one’s baby from any human touch before the baby
begins to nod off to sleep. The baby is
required to remain alone, accompanied only by inanimate objects such as
pacifiers and stuffed animals. The baby
is placed in the crib and great importance is attached to the baby’s visual
registration of the crib as her sleeping place.
Dr. Ferber recommends the baby to be isolated for gradually increasing
lengths of time, with mechanical precision.
Montagu remarks that the clock is one of the premier symbols of the dehumanized
condition of humankind. It is unsurprising that Dr. Ferber depends
completely upon the clock to ritualize a young baby’s separation from the
loving parents upon whom she depends. It
is evident that the baby’s dependency is a human one and that Dr. Ferber’s
efforts to break that human dependency are inhumane.
who have endured listening to their baby cry for even one long minute
understand the torture of hearing their baby suffer. If parents are so tortured, then one can readily
imagine how the baby is even more tortured.
Yet parents are asked to be patient and to endure the baby’s crying so
that she will learn to sleep through the night.
one stops to think whether or not this is reasonable, one would aver
unequivocally that nothing could be more unsound than tormenting one’s own
baby. A young baby cannot speak and
articulate her pain, but she can cry. If
a baby’s own parents ignore her cries, who else will heed them? It is clear from the bestselling nature of
Dr. Ferber’s book that millions of parents are willing to ignore their own
are parents who use the Ferber method with such zeal that their neighbors have
intervened by calling the police to report child abuse. The irony is that many parents think that
they are doing something right and good for their baby by forcing her to sleep
on her own through the night, even if that means the baby cries for hours.
mortifying as intervention by the police or a neighbor may be, parents should
be able to reflect upon what exactly they are trying to accomplish. Parents must listen to their own consciences
and hearts even though today’s child experts and medical practitioners inform
them that a baby can be left crying and unattended for prolonged periods of
Prescott has criticized the cruel nature of regimenting a baby’s sleeping
habits and he criticizes the Ferber sleeping regimen. He notes that parents who follow Dr. Ferber’s
advice ignore not only their baby’s cries but other disturbing behaviors that
indicate the severity of the baby’s distress.
his book, for example, Dr. Ferber acknowledges that babies will engage in
repetitious and stimulating behaviors, like head banging, body rocking, and
head rolling. He considers these behaviors
to be normal. Dr. Prescott, on the other hand, disputes
this dismissive interpretation of these behaviors.
Prescott offers a more sensible understanding of the damage the baby may
experience as a result of engaging in repetitious and stimulating behaviors. He has researched the vestibular-cerebellar
complex in the brain, an area that is not generally well understood. He describes the vestibular-cerebellar complex
as being the “environmental umbilical cord” that keeps a baby bonded to her mother.
Prescott notes that the vestibular sensory fibers are fully myelinated at
birth, which implies that the nerves transmit information to the cerebellum as
fast as they will in the future. The system is also functional during pregnancy
since the fetus evidently receives vestibular sensory stimulation by floating
and moving about in the womb.
Prescott contends that the well-being of a baby is determined by two different
systems that work in conjunction with each other. First, the baby needs the touch and intimacy that
is provided by activities like breastfeeding and co-sleeping. Second, the baby also needs the body movement
that arises from being held and carried. A baby who is carried by her mother frequently
receives the correct sensory stimulation for the healthy development of the
must imagine how distressed a baby is if she does not wish to sleep alone but
is forced to because her parents believe that this is the right thing to
do. The baby is left crying alone in her
crib, and she is abandoned by her parents who wait behind a closed or slightly
ajar door with a timer in hand.
may be resolved to endure their baby’s crying.
This is a scenario that is repeated in many homes each night with the hoped
for consequence, which is teaching the baby to sleep alone.
should consider, however, the baby’s needs.
What if the baby only seeks the comfort, love, and warmth of her
mother’s embrace? How is she able to
receive the healthy stimulation that will soothe her if her mother will not
carry her or be nearby in bed?
a baby does not receive such stimulation, she may engage in self-stimulation
that purports to compensate for the lack of healthy stimulation that she
requires for satisfaction of her needs.
Whereas a simple hug or embrace would provide just the right kind of
stimulation the baby needs, the baby resorts to complicated forms of
self-stimulation, like head banging, body rocking, and head rolling.
Prescott’s perspective on self-stimulating behaviors in babies offers a better
understanding of the abnormal nature of a baby’s repetitive body
movements. Those babies who engage
repeatedly in such movements are deprived of the healthy stimulation that would
obviate the need for such drastic self-stimulation.
Very importantly, Dr.
Prescott also notes the fragility of the young baby’s brain. Abnormal body
movements in infancy may have potentially damaging effects upon the delicate
blood vessels in the brain, as well as the developing brain neurons and
Myth #5: The
mother-infant bond is not impaired by the Ferber method.
physical consequences of using the Ferber method have been discussed, but there
is also the risk of breaching the trust that exists between mother and
baby. A mother who has carried her baby
in the womb has an undeniable bond with her baby, yet the intervention of
medical procedures and hospital birthing have contributed to undermining this
essential human bond.
is no bond more important in human life than the mother-infant bond. An infant is intimately connected to her
mother in the womb and outside the womb.
The Ferber method, unfortunately, helps to break down the healthy
mother-infant bond because it separates the baby forcibly from her mother.
Kennell, and Klaus have studied infant-mother bonding for decades. In their book Bonding,they present evidence that the newborn and mother should be in
intimate contact immediately after birth. Under optimal circumstances, every healthy
newborn should be dried quickly and placed promptly onto her mother’s warm
has shown that the baby, if left undisturbed on her mother’s abdomen in a quiet
environment, initiates a precise sequence of events. After being dried and placed on her mother’s
abdomen, a healthy newborn gradually crawls up her mother’s abdomen, finds the areola,
and latches on to suckle. This finding confirms the importance of a
mother’s availability from the immediate newborn period onward.
the breasts are available, then the baby will seek to nurse. On the contrary, a mother’s absence from the
newborn’s immediate environment makes it difficult for the baby to latch on to
the breast and learn to suckle at the breast.
this perspective, it is imperative for the baby and mother to be placed
together immediately after birth since the baby possesses the capability to
initiate breastfeeding. As Ashley Montagu
has pointed out repeatedly, capability is only potential whereas ability is
fulfillment of that potential.
If a newborn is not kept
near her mother, then she may have difficulty manifesting the capability to
breastfeed. Regrettably, the separation
of infant from mother is the norm for most hospital births.
The research cited by Klaus,
Kennell, and Klaus also clarifies how simply a newborn can be satisfied by remaining
close to her mother. For instance, she
can feel the warmth of her mother’s skin as she lies comfortably on her
The need for skin to
skin contact is in the immediate newborn period, and it does not disappear
after only a few weeks or months after birth.
In fact, it remains a profoundly important human need throughout one’s
Montagu wrote a detailed and thoroughly researched book in 1971 called Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin.
The human need for touching has since
been corroborated by many researchers.
It is evident that a child’s need to be physically close to her loving
parents, especially her mother, is real and highly beneficial.
is truly regrettable that as we approach the 21st century, there is a woeful
disregard for the mother-infant bond despite the abundant research that has
indicated otherwise for several decades.
Forcing a baby to sleep on her own is not conducive to enhancing the
mother-infant bond. Pity the poor babies
and mothers whose mutual trust is breached, often unwittingly, by the
overwhelming push to get a baby to sleep alone through the night. It would be less harmful to the baby if her
parents lost a little sleep instead.
Myth #6: Parents will never get a good
night’s rest with a baby in their bed.
the contrary, most co-sleeping families find that everyone sleeps better with
the content baby in the same bed. This
is particularly true for the breastfeeding mother since she does not need to
leave the bed to nurse her baby.
Awakening from sleep is difficult, but much less cumbersome than
actually getting out of bed.
breastfeeding, a mother becomes highly attuned to her baby’s movements and can
learn to identify her baby’s various needs fairly rapidly. This enables her to return to sleep that much
may wake up often throughout the night and seek the warm physical presence of
loving parents. There may be times,
however, when parents may not enjoy sleeping with a baby in their bed. More often than not, complaints are generated
by parents who need to sleep in order to work early the next morning.
baby may kick or move about during her sleep, which may result in the disruption
of her parents’ sleep. The scenario can
be particularly trying when both parents work outside the home, and they both
require a good night’s sleep. The need
for parents’ sleep is obvious, but who is heeding the baby’s need to receive
comfort and nurturing at nighttime?
should be understood that the concept of a good night’s sleep takes on new
meaning for parents after the arrival of a newborn. In reality, many mothers are already accustomed
to experiencing interrupted sleep because they might have had nighttime urges
to urinate throughout pregnancy. In a
sense, many mothers are prepared to undertake breastfeeding at nighttime.
put, a baby’s need to breastfeed on demand is demanding. Breastfeeding requires a mother’s willingness
to nurse her baby at all hours, regardless of frequency. Thus, a mother may learn that sleeping for
two hours continuously is wonderfully refreshing. Although interrupted sleep may be difficult,
most mothers learn to adapt to frequent awakenings.
who are committed to nursing their young babies on demand will rest when they
can. They may nap alongside the baby
during the day, return to sleep after nighttime nursing sessions, and diminish
the demands of social activity outside the home. More than anything, they will cherish their
children’s infancy, which is so brief.
the same time, a supportive and helpful spouse may take on more active roles in
helping with household chores. In other
words, a nursing mother needs the cooperative efforts of the entire family in
order to fulfill her unique role in her baby’s life. Motherhood may last a lifetime, but its
responsibilities are most demanding during a child’s formative years.
households in which the father is the sole income provider, there is a simple
solution to resolve a father’s inability to sleep if the baby’s movements,
nursing sessions, or diaper changes disturb his sleep. The father can sleep in another bed. He may sleep better, and his wife will not
have to worry about disrupting his sleep.
radical as this approach may sound, it is actually a practical way to
prioritize the mother-infant breastfeeding dyad. This is especially true during
the first year of a baby’s life. On
another note, perhaps by recognizing the importance of breastfeeding and
co-sleeping, a father can adapt to his baby’s schedule.
parents comprehend their baby’s dependency and adapt themselves to fulfill
their young baby’s needs. A young baby
has needs that must be satisfied by those who love and care for her. The extremely immature and highly dependent
infant needs a tremendous amount of loving care and affection throughout the
day and night.
baby’s needs are not controlled by the artifice of clocks and schedules. Co-sleeping parents abide by the unwritten
rule that their responsibility is to provide the love, support, and
availability that their baby needs to not only survive but to develop and grow
into a healthy human being.
Co-sleeping and the satisfaction of a baby’s needs will spoil the baby.
parents worry that if they place their baby’s needs over their own needs or
desires, they will spoil their baby.
Relatives, friends, neighbors, and even strangers admonish parents about
not co-sleeping for fear of spoiling their baby.
may even become sheepish about admitting to co-sleeping with their baby, no
matter how young or little she is.
Parents who co-sleep and fulfill their baby’s needs are placed into a
defensive position about their child-rearing ways. The implication is that co-sleeping will
spoil a child.
Montagu has written many treatises on the significance of love. He writes:
love can never harm or inhibit; it can only benefit and
freedom and order. Love has a firmness
and discipline of
for which there can be no substitute. No
child can ever
spoiled by love, and there are few if any human problems
cannot be best solved by its application.
the needs of a young baby certainly does not spoil her but fulfills her as a
human being. Human beings are born
highly dependent and need the assistance of a loving being to care for
them. In the majority of cases, that
loving person should be the child’s mother.
is the absence of a loving caretaker that creates the spoiled temperament,
which reveals an inability to be satisfied. The spoiled temperament would not develop as
profoundly if a child is loved and cared for well during her early years.
persons would opine that a baby who enjoys co-sleeping with her parents every
night must be manipulative. It is sad
that a baby may be characterized as being manipulative when it is obvious that
she is completely dependent and unable to fulfill her own needs. Even the youngest baby is deemed a willful
creature by some. Such a terrible
misunderstanding of a baby’s loving nature is the product of longstanding
prejudice against young children.
contrast, Ashley Montagu has described a baby to be a highly organized being
who is capable of learning to love and to be loved. A healthy baby will seek fulfillment of her
needs in a loving and cooperative manner unless she is taught otherwise by
those who care for her. If parents
understand the sensitive nature of their young baby, then they will not cast
aspersion upon their baby’s character.
Fulfilling a baby’s needs does not lead to spoiling; it is the neglect
of her needs that leads to spoiling.
Co-sleeping interferes with parental intimacy and marriage stability.
are many reasons responsible for the collapse of more than half of modern
marriages. The presence of a child in
the parental bed, however, cannot possibly be a major factor in all these
failed marriages. If anything, it is
probable that the family that makes the efforts to co-sleep is a more cohesive
and cooperative family unit.
co-sleeping involves flexibility, perseverance, and sacrifice. These also lead to a successful marriage. How could it be that the effort to nurture
one’s needy baby during the night can actually harm the parents’ marriage?
may be detrimental to marriages if one spouse, usually the husband, believes
strongly that co-sleeping is wrong and unnecessary. This same spouse, though, would believe
equally as strongly that he has a right to sleep comfortably, next to his
is intriguing that the same man cannot perceive that the snuggling and
affection that he deserves is the same as that required by the nursing baby or
the older toddler. The need for human
touch and affection transcends age, and one would expect the adult to
understand that his young child has an even greater need to be closely and
warmly attached to her mother during the night.
Co-sleeping discourages a baby’s independence.
responsibility of providing the loving care that every baby deserves is one
that should not be onerous, but cultural values emphasize a baby’s need for
independence. It is almost as if parents
view childhood as a burden.
else are there so many stories and cartoons that depict parenthood as an
endless series of tedious diaper changes and sleepless nights? Defying this stereotyped view of parenthood,
co-sleeping parents choose to make child-rearing a mutually positive and
fulfilling experience for both themselves and their baby.
not choosing to separate their baby from themselves, co-sleeping parents are
sparing their baby the grief of abandonment, isolation, and hopelessness. The baby who is placed in a crib far from her
mother’s touch, smell, and breasts is a baby who is, in a sense, in solitary
an aside, it has been noted that solitary confinement, the absence of any human
contact, for jailed inmates is considered to be the most barbaric and inhumane
punishment. It must be stressed that the
young and needy infant has no means to remonstrate with her parents, other than
crying. Regardless, child behavior
experts admonish parents to respond selectively to a baby’s cries. Even the parents of the tiny newborn receive
this callous advice. Such insensitive
advice is cruel, and one wonders why young infants should be treated in such a
parents today are aware that the push for a baby’s early independence is one
that is fraught with problems. Often, a
baby is left to cry alone in despair as parents try to determine if the baby
can comfort herself. Depriving a young
baby or child of loving maternal care exacts a toll on her well-being. Ashley Montagu writes the following:
Unless the child has been firmly grounded in the
discipline of love and interdependency, he is damaged in his ability to develop
clear and definite judgments concerning people and things, and his ability to
form such judgments as an adult is seriously handicapped. As adults the judgments of such persons tend
to be blurred and vague. Their decisions
about the world, people and things tend to be characterized by doubt,
suspicion, uncertainty, misgiving and unsureness. They vacillate, in short, they tend to see
the world through a mist of unshed tears.
They are characterized by an inability to enter into the feelings of
others because, when they were young, no one cared enough to enter into theirs.
baby deserves to experience love and interdependency that will encourage her
well-being. Unfortunately, many parents
believe that withholding their love will lead to their baby’s development of
discipline and self-control. The
opposite, however, is the result. It is only
through receiving unconditional love and the satisfaction of basic human needs that
a baby begins to learn how to love and relate to others.
anything, the problem in today’s society is that babies experience far too much
unhealthy independence. It is the kind
of independence that makes individuals feel that they are alienated and unrelated
to other human beings. This sad and
unhealthy view of life leads such persons to believe that their actions have no
consequences, either for themselves or others.
is only through the experience of healthy and humane child-rearing practices
that such a sick type of independence will not be fostered. There is a time to emphasize independence in
children and that is when they are past their formative years.
first three years of life are a special time to explore the wonders of human
interdependency, when a young child can freely love her parents and be loved in
return. With that strong foundation of
love, a young child can weather a tremendous amount of difficulty later in
force a young toddler to experience alienation, lowered self-esteem, and the
privation of love when she will inevitably need to face the same later in
life? If a child is given the foundation
of unconditional love early in life, her encounters with sorrows and mishaps
will be that much easier to endure later in life.
Once a family co-sleeps, the child will never leave the parental bed.
are many families who co-sleep with the proviso that the child leaves the
parental bed when she is old enough. The
question is how old is too old?
parents believe that a two-year-old is old enough to sleep alone, whereas
others believe that a pre-adolescent should still co-sleep. Obviously, it is a matter of family
preference and circumstances. The most
important issue is whether or not the child feels secure and content about the
decision to leave the family bed.
the child feels secure enough to leave the parental bed, then it is fine to do
so. On the other hand, if the child does
not, then there is little reason to force the child to leave the parental
are cultures world-wide that practice co-sleeping until the child reaches
puberty. It is a way of life that is not
unusual or questioned. In light of
Western mores, most families hesitate to co-sleep with their children beyond
the preschool years.
the child does not agree to stop co-sleeping, then a gradual weaning from the
parental bed may be accomplished by placing another bed or mattress adjacent to
the parental bed. Eventually, most
children leave the parental bed voluntarily.
children who do not wish to leave the parental bed often have sound
reasons. A primary reason is that there
is family discord, and a child may need to be reassured. This may occur after an argument or when the
family unit is unstable.
whose parents are divorced are affected by the trauma of their parents’
separation. Co-sleeping with one parent
or the other may provide solace to the child.
Unexpected illness may also lead a child to cling to the parental
are unlimited reasons children may offer to remain in the family bed. In the final analysis, there is little reason
to deny young children the opportunity to co-sleep. Co-sleeping provides the comfort,
reassurance, and love that many human beings seek at any age.
Practical Measures to Safeguard Co-sleeping
parents take measures to assure the baby’s safety in their bed. Some parents lay the mattress or futon
directly on the floor, so that there is no danger of the baby rolling off while
the bed is elevated, a bedrail may be placed on the open side of the bed. It can be covered with a soft cloth, in case
the baby abuts the railing. If one side
of the bed sits adjacent to a wall, parents should make sure that there is no
space for the baby to get wedged between the side of the bed and the wall.
baby should not be placed upon a waterbed or on a mattress that is so soft that
there is a chance of suffocation. The
mattress should be firm and clean. The
baby should not sleep on a soft pillow.
parents may be concerned about accidentally rolling on to their babies and
smothering them. This concern has been
directed primarily toward obese parents, and it is reasonable to assume that a
morbidly obese parent may indeed weigh heavily upon a small infant.
Thevenin points out in her book The
Family Bed, however, that mothers are highly attuned to the activity of an
infant nearby, and the baby is capable of signaling her distress by crying and
using her arms and legs. It is unlikely that a mother would not awaken
from her sleep to respond to her child’s distress.
a mother has profound difficulty awakening from sleep, or a parent is truly
obese, then perhaps placing the baby in a cradle or bassinet nearby would be
more advisable than co-sleeping.
are some other practical measures parents can take when co-sleeping. The area of the bed upon which the infant
sleeps can be covered with a simple flannel-backed waterproof pad to minimize
cleaning of sheets in case the baby spits up or a diaper leaks.
infant who is very active and kicks off her covers should be appropriately
dressed so that she will not get cold during the night. A baby should not be
bundled tightly because she might wind
up face down on the mattress and have difficulty turning her head.
is recommended that a baby sleep on her back.
Parents who do not enjoy having their covers kicked off may decide to
use separate covers while co-sleeping. Ultimately,
parents decide for themselves whatever works best to make co-sleeping a safe
and comfortable experience for all the family members.
April 19, 2006
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