Ah, let the disagreements ensue!  Gasp! Shock! Horror!  I plan to sleep with my baby.

But come on.  Being the research librarian I am, you didn’t think I would make this statement lightly did you?

Co-sleeping, family bed, sleep sharing.  It is called many things.  When my parents were raising kids it was assumed to be the worst possible thing you could do to children to let them into your bed.  It was considered spoiling.  But, babies sleeping with their parents is done by more people the world over (over 90% of the world co-sleeps – see Young, J. (1998). Babies and bedsharing…. Cosleeping. Midwifery Digest, 8, 364-369.) and for centuries before the idea of spoiling infants came into vogue.  Let’s look at some of the misconceptions about co-sleeping.

  1. They’ll never learn to sleep on their own.
    • How many college kids do you know that take their parents to their dorm?  I think when people say “never” they mean later than crib-kids.  Well yeah.  My litmus is not how old johnny was when he slept in his own bed.  My only goal is how long is it beneficial to my specific child.  Some kids want a “big-kid” bed all on their own. Others need help adjusting to sleeping alone. The goal is to listen to your kids needs and be willing to do what is best for them and the family.
  2. I’ll roll over and crush my infant.
    • Fortunately, this is very rare and almost always linked to substance abuse like smoking or drinking.  Normal, aware mothers, and healthy, full-term babies don’t die from smothering.  Do you roll off the edge of the bed when you sleep?  No? That’s because the human mind is aware even while sleeping.  Furthermore, babies don’t lay there and silently get suffocated.  If a child is healthy he will put up quite a fuss to having his breathing cut off.  This is research-based information.  The University of Notre Dame has done a great deal of research on healthy sleep.  Check out this article for more information.  Also, co-sleeping has been shown to reduce the risk of SIDS due to people who sleep together syncing their sleep cycles (true of adults and children).  Because SIDS is often the result of a child that can not rouse themselves from a very deep sleep, learning from the parents’ breathing patterns helps maintain healthy sleep/wake cycles.  SIDS rates in Asian countries, where cosleeping is often the norm, are significantly lower than those in western society (Thevenin, T. (1987). The family bed: An age old concept in child rearing. Wayne, NJ: Avery Publishing Group, Inc. ).
  3. My kid will be spoiled or dependent on me for all his needs.
    • This idea is completely silly to me.  Spoiling implies manipulation.  How can we think an infant could manipulate us into getting what they want?  Why is meeting our kids needs supposed to make them be dependent for all time.  I don’t get it.  But, if that seems normal to you, let’s look at the research:
      • children who “never” slept in their parents bed there was a trend to be harder to control, less happy, exhibit a greater number of tantrums. Moreover, he found that those children who never were permitted to bed-share were actually more fearful than children who always slept in their parents bed, for all of the night.  (Heron P. Nonreactive CO-sleeping and Child Behavior: Getting a Good Night’s Sleep All Night Every Night. Masters Thesis, University of Bristol, Bristol, United Kingdom , 1994.)
      • children who cosleep until age 5 have higher self-esteem.  (Crawford, M. Parenting practices in the Basque country: Implications of infant and childhood sleeping location for personality development. Ethos 1994, 22;1:42- 82.)
      • solitary sleeping children were harder to handle (as reported by their parents) and who dealt less well with stress, and who were rated as being more (not less) dependent on their parents than were the co-sleepers!  (Heron P. Nonreactive CO-sleeping and Child Behavior: Getting a Good Night’s Sleep All Night Every Night. Masters Thesis, University of Bristol, Bristol, United Kingdom , 1994.)
      • co-sleeping children report greater life satisfaction in adulthood.  (Mosenkis, J The Effects of Childhood Cosleeping On Later Life Development 1998.
        Masters Thesis. University of Chicago. Department of Human Development.

There are other myths out there, but these are the main ones of found.  Our society has strict standards for infant sleep that are completely unrealistic.  I am as much FOR co-sleeping based on the research as I am AGAINST other methods.  Let’s talk briefly about that.

Cry it out is the method encouraged by many “sleep experts.”  Basically your “teach” babies to sleep alone through giving them increasingly long times to cry.  Some babies only cry for 5 minutes and take to sleeping alone well.  Other parents plug their ears while their baby cries for 3 hours or cries until they throw up.  You are encouraged to never “give in” to the child’s crying.  The lure of this method is that it works.  Of course it works.  If you cry long enough you will eventually pass out from exhaustion too.  The whole point of this is that your child won’t be “dependent” on you for sleep.  Of course they won’t.  They will have learned that you won’t come no matter how long they cry.  

I feel adamantly about this because of my own sleep experiences as a child.  I had awful night terrors when I was about 6 years old.  I repeatedly got up and went into my parents bed.  I was recently watching a talk show where a “sleep expert” said a similar child was manipulating his parents.  I can tell you, and so can my mom and dad that this is simply not true.  My fear of sleep was much greater than my fear of punishment from my parents (who were only trying to be good parents based on current recommendations).  I NEEDED something.  I wasn’t being a brat or being spoiled.  What I ended up needing was comfort from someone I loved.  I sleep with my wonderful sister until I was 11.  I needed that.  All kids don’t.  But, I know I want to tailor my parenting to my kids needs and not what a book tells me.


5 thoughts on “Co-sleeping

  1. I so totally agree with you! Besides, it’s your baby and you kow what’s best. I always thought it was weird that western families insist on putting their tiny infants in a totally separate room. It makes me think of primitive cave people putting their babies in separate caves. Not natural. I slept in my parents’ bed until I was 5. I wouldn’t have had it any other way and they were happy to get the rest. My sister was on her own from the time she was a small infant. They were much stricter with her since she was the first child and they were trying to stick to the rules.


  2. Hi Paige –

    I so totally agree with you. I didn’t intend to co-sleep initially but it turned out to be what jasper needed and wanted. And we both adore it.

    But yeah, you get a LOT of crap for it, from most people. Being armed with research to support your ideas is a great thing. Lots of people claim to be AP friendly, but the co-sleeping issue usually shows whats really what.


  3. My daughter slept with me until she was almost 2 years old. (23 months). Then we found out we were expecting and my hubby and I started encouraging her to sleep alone–her cot is in our room. THIS IS A NIGHTMARE. Every night is a battle trying to encourage her to sleep alone. I don’t know what I’m going to do with another baby on the way. Sleeping with a nursing toddler on one side and a newborn on the other is NOT an option! We are doomed…


  4. Pingback: Sharing Sunday #9 « Free Your Parenting

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