This week we are thrilled to feature an excerpt from What Your Pediatrician Doesn’t Know Can Hurt Your Child: A More Natural Approach to Parenting by Susan Markel, M.D with contributions from Linda F. Palmer. Shared sleep has been a popular topic of conversation in the birth and parenting community – learn the benefits of this practice and enter to win one of two copies of the book here:
Probably nowhere do modern Western cultural expectations and the reality of babies’ needs conflict more than in the area of sleeping behavior. Babies and their parents sleep together in approximately 90% of the world’s population. Co-sleeping is simply the “norm” and has for thousands of years. In the U.S., more and more parents are ignoring warnings of “spoiling” their infants and other dire condemnations of the family bed. Instead they are trusting their instincts and are keeping their baby warm and safe at night exactly where nature intended – right next to them. In a poll conducted by Parenting magazine, 42% of parents responded that they share sleep with their infants at least part of the time.
We cannot “spoil” our babies by always responding to their needs. Babies have an inborn need to be touched and held. They enjoy having physical closeness day and night, and this kind of connection is essential for avoiding stress. The previous chapter discussed how being carried in a carrier or sling during the day Meets a baby’s needs for warmth, comfort, and security. This dependence does not diminish when the sun goes down.
Many well-meaning family members, friends, and physicians will suggest practices that foster separation between you and your baby in what are largely misguided attempts to force your child to become independent. Practices such as sleep training, scheduled feeding and “crying it out” only add to your child’s distress. Babies whose cries are soothed quickly, for example, tend to cry less, not more.
Bed Sharing Benefits
Mothers sleep with their children to monitor them and keep them safe, to facilitate breast-feeding, and simply to be near them.
Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh interviewed caregivers who believe that benefits of bed sharing outweigh concerns and warnings, including those of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Parents identified many benefits of bed sharing:
- Allows both parent and child to sleep better.
- Provides convenience of tending to baby’s needs without getting up.
- Gives comfort to parents who enjoy following the tradition.
- Promotes a strong sense of bonding between parents and their children.
Babies who sleep with their parents remain connected to them throughout the night. When they awaken, they can feel the presence of their parent or hear their parent breathing in the dark. Reassured, they go back to sleep.
Co-Sleeping is the infant and caregiver sleeping within sensory range of each other (within the same room). Bed sharing means that the infant sleeps in the adult bed with at least one parent. A 2005 policy statement by the AAP on sleep environment and the risk of SIDS condemned all bed sharing as unsafe. However, bed sharing is common, and those parents who regularly do so find it to be natural and enjoyable. It is never the bed sharing itself that is unsafe by the way in which it occurs – certain factors are considered to impair safety, such as when a parent’s reaction time is somehow weakened, as it would be by drugs or alcohol. A baby co-sleeping with a smoking parent is also a factor associated with more deaths. Soft mattresses, sofa-sleeping, and fluffy bedding must be avoided.
Despite our society’s reverence for independence and the belief that children will not become independent unless we force them, babies whose early dependency needs are met are more likely to become trusting, emotionally secure, and independent when they are ready.
Human infants need constant attention and contact with other human beings because they are unable to look after themselves. For perhaps millions of years, infants as a matter of course slept next to at least one caregiver, usually the mother, in order to survive. Unlike other mammals, they cannot keep themselves warm, move about, or feed themselves until a relatively long time after birth.
Co-sleeping encourages breast-feeding by making nighttime breast-feeding more convenient, and the combination helps babies fall asleep more easily, especially during their first few months when they wake up in the middle of the night.
The AAP counsels that breast-feeding is an important factor in SIDS prevention and acknowledges that bed sharing facilitates breast-feeding and mother-baby bonding.
The AAP admonition that a breast-feeding infant never sleep in the mothers’ bed appears to be an ironic contradiction that in practice is likely to have an adverse effect on breast-feeding and serve to increase the rate of SIDS. When a baby is nursing frequently during the night, it is much easier for mothers to nurse for a while and then fall back to sleep with their babies. Mothers who have to get out of bed to nurse can be expected to suffer significantly more fatigue getting fully awake to fetch the baby and then putting the baby back to bed after each feed. Breast-feeding in these cases is more likely to be diminished or given up altogether.
Enter to Win A Copy of What Your Pediatrician Doesn’t Know Can Hurt Your Child: A More Natural Approach to Parenting
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Susan Markel, M.D., is an American Board Certified Pediatrician with extensive experience in newborn care and lactation, as well as all aspects of general pediatric care. As a consultant to parents of children of all ages, from newborn through adolescence, her ability to communicate and empathize has helped many families in times of emotional transition. She has appeared on many live television broadcasts, and she has been invited to speak at parenting conferences world-wide.