Many new parents may anguish over the decision to co-sleep or not. There’s so much information online, not to mention the opinions of friends, family and random nosy parkers, that your head may start spinning! Ironically, you can take comfort in the fact that this may not even be your decision to make, since finding out whether co-sleeping is right for you and your family may only actually be possible after the baby’s birth. Most new moms will attest that they made all kinds of parenting plans that never came to fruition, simply because circumstances and baby’s unique needs tend to rather dictate your actions. So the question arises: is co-sleeping a good idea?
It May Turn Out Different to What You Thought
According to a Californian mom quoted on parenting.com, she swore that she wouldn’t co-sleep but now spends every night in bed with her 5-month-old daughter: “During my pregnancy I studied controversial topics, such as co-sleeping, and thought I knew what I would do. But children set their own schedules. I never understood that having a baby means giving up complete control.”
Sleeping Alone is a New Thing
Interestingly, co-sleeping is a non-issue in most of the world, with sleeping separately being a relatively new concept emanating from Western culture since the 1800s. For many centuries bed-sharing was the only way, before medical advancements and economic affluence led to the idea of sleeping apart from your newborn. In fact, in many cultures co-sleeping is still the norm, primarily in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The article “Co-sleeping around the world” explains the cultural significance in Japan beautifully: “Japanese parents (or grandparents) often sleep in proximity with their children until they are teenagers, referring to this arrangement as a river – the mother is one bank, the father another, and the child sleeping between them is the water.”
Sleep Study Advice
Proponents of co-sleeping contend that when mom and baby are close, both rest more soundly. Since the baby is right beside her, mom does not need to get up to feed, cuddle or soothe it. Recent sleep studies quoted by Dr Sears suggest that co-sleeping has numerous benefits for baby and mom, most notably the special connection that is forged through their sleeping bodies interacting harmoniously on a primal level.
Doubtless a baby needs a loving parent’s reassurance and closeness to feel secure at night. In fact, according to Attachment Parenting International, the term co-sleeping actually refers to sleeping in “close proximity,” which means the child is on a separate sleep surface in the same room as the parents. Bed-sharing, also called the “family bed,” describes a sleep arrangement where the family members sleep on the same sleep surface. This practice is recommended only for breastfeeding families using API’s Safe Sleep Guidelines.
What About SIDS?
It benefits to look at the reasons why sharing a bed with a baby is considered a bad idea in many circles. First and foremost is the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) and fatal sleep accidents, where an adult may suffocate a sleeping baby. When sleeping with a child, taking any kind of pain medication (as moms invariably need to do after C-sections) is a no-no, as is any alcohol consumption and obviously smoking as well. If you decide to co-sleep, you need to be entirely vigilant about it, which may be a tall order during that newborn haze!
What struck me about the long list of precautions necessary to co-sleep is the general recommendation to not use any pillows. Baby may sleep happily and peacefully next to me, but without my trusted pillow, what kind of sleep will I get?
That may sound terribly selfish, as does the idea that co-sleeping may interfere with the parents’ relationship. Even though baby may rule your world after its arrival, and rightly so, relinquishing the emotional and physical intimacy of the matrimonial bed can cause a great deal of additional stress to both parents.
Furthermore, critics maintain that co-sleeping can also emotionally smother a child and foster unhealthy dependence. If baby is used to your presence to sleep, it may be extremely difficult for them whenever they do need to sleep by themselves, creating an entirely new set of problems.
Is Room Sharing the Answer?
Nevertheless, the American Academy of Pediatrics does encourage room-sharing (sleeping in the same room but on separate surfaces) in its policy statement regarding SIDS prevention, but it recommends against bed-sharing with infants.
Room-sharing seems to be the obvious compromise. The “pro” arguments for co-sleeping are often practical in nature, focusing on having baby nearby for feeding at night. Or it may simply be the result of the instinctive desire to bond with your newborn and keep them close to you as much as possible.
For this a co-sleeper crib is ideal, as it can be set up next to your bed, keeping baby within arm’s reach. It also ameliorates other risks associated with co-sleeping, since the baby, in essence, has its own bed as an extension of yours. A cradle next to the bed works the same way – you can simply reach your hand out to comfort the baby or rock the cradle. This way you get the benefit of closeness without the risks associated with bed-sharing.
The other alternative is, of course, to have a bed for mommy (or daddy) in baby’s own room, which shields the not-on-duty parenting partner from the little one’s crying and other disturbances. This bed can also double up as a comfortable surface for feeding, playing and changing. A clever choice would be a single bed that can graduate as baby’s toddler bed in a few years’ time.
Personally, even though we did not co-sleep as babies in our family, I remember fondly how my mother would come sleep with me in my bed as a toddler when I had a nightmare. The value of that bonding experience is indisputable – it made me feel special, loved and nurtured in a way only a mother’s presence can to a child. However you decide to manage you and your baby’s sleep, rest assured that every family is unique, and trust yourself to make the right decision for yours.
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