Many parents outfit entire nurseries and cribs with the best of intentions, believing that their newborn will sleep his infancy away in perfectly coordinated bliss — in his own bed. The reality often turns out to be that junior ends up in bed with mom and dad, and for some, it’s just the way they like it. Many parents plan to have a “family bed” as some call it, or practice co-sleeping with their children as a personal preference.
Though the term co-sleeping may be new, parents have been sharing a bed with their children since the beginning of time, and surely, it remains a normal practice in many places throughout the world. Our obsession with the co-sleeping debate is easily explained by our cultural fixation with independence and personal self-fulfillment, coupled with a desire to raise well adjusted children. Busy schedules, big houses, and nay-saying experts interfere with what many consider a time-honored, time-tested, “normal” way of life. Our culture has come to accept that, in general, a baby belongs in a crib or bassinet, not only for her best interest, but also for the parents’.
Advocates of co-sleeping believe that the benefits are significant. The most obvious is the bonding that results from co-sleeping. Taking a baby into your bed makes breastfeeding more convenient, because the mother does not have to leave the bed to feed the baby, allowing her to remain in a state of semi-sleep. Co-sleeping also synchronizes the mother’s and baby’s sleep cycles. Proponents claim that babies fall asleep more readily, and both mother and baby get more total sleep overall.
Two major advocates are supporters of “attachment parenting” and respected pediatrician Dr. William Sears, author of numerous parenting books. Supporters cite studies claiming that children who are products of co-sleeping homes have higher self esteem, are more positive as children and have higher rates of a general sense of satisfaction with life. Studies have shown that mothers and babies fall into a face to face sleeping position, which can stimulate the baby, helping to regulate the baby’s immature nervous system. They believe that this helps prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), because the carbon dioxide a mother breathes out in exhaled air can be a respiratory stimulant to the baby.
Two powerful organizations, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), have issued statements discouraging co-sleeping. They believe that adult beds are no place for infants due to two major dangers: strangulation and suffocation. They cite a report that from January 1999 to December 2001, more than 100 children under two died while sleeping in adult beds, although co-sleeping does not account for cause of death.
For those against co-sleeping, the risks are many. Waterbeds, soft mattresses and blankets can potentially suffocate an infant, as well as the possibility of becoming wedged between a mattress and a wall or headboard. Adults or other children in the bed could possibly roll over and suffocate the infant. Finally, strangulation is a risk from slipping through a footboard or headboard. Although many opponents claim that co-sleeping increases SIDS, there have been no conclusive studies to show an increased risk.
Many opponents believe that, emotionally, co-sleeping is detrimental to the child. They believe that a child who becomes accustomed to sleeping with a parent will become clingy and needy and will not transition well to a regular bed. Another logical conclusion is that a child who falls asleep by his parent’s side will have a hard time falling asleep on his own later on.
If a parent makes the decision to bring his or her child into bed for co-sleeping, there are many safety precautions to take. Most importantly, make sure that both parents are in agreement in order to avoid issues down the road. Neither parent should be intoxicated or under the influence of drugs, whether prescription or otherwise.
Smoking has been linked to an increased risk of SIDS, so under no circumstances should your child be exposed to second hand smoke. Bedding should be firm and lightweight, and pillows should be kept away from the baby. A king-sized bed is preferable, as it gives the occupants room to breathe.
When co-sleeping, it is smart to keep other children out of the bed, because they will not be conscious of the baby as mothers and fathers tend to be, even while asleep. Keep the bed warm, but not hot. Check out your headboard and footboard to see if there are any potential areas of danger, and never have an infant sleep in a waterbed. For some, co-sleeping may be an easy, natural choice — just use your best judgment to see what works for you and your family.