Why Co sleeping shouldn’t have a Bad Name

It’s the middle of the night and as a new mom you are exhausted. You lay down to nurse your baby and fall asleep. Finally, you get a few hours of sleep in a row. However, you have started something you never wanted. You let your baby in your bed, or co-slept, or whatever you want to call it.

Suddenly the feeling of a good night’s sleep is pushed out by the thought of failure. In all your conversations with friends and family you were warned of this weakness, as it was implied. When you discussed co sleeping with them it drew eye-brow raises and worried looks. How would you and your husband have any intimacy? Privacy? You wouldn’t have any. They’d never get out of your bed, they had said. And the negativity just kept right on coming…

Why is there is a stigma against co sleeping anyways? Although there are groups who support co sleeping, the majority at large, including many pediatricians, are against it. Co sleeping, or even letting your child in bed at all during the night, may as well be outlawed in some circles of thought.

But, why? When Dr. Sears has said that in countries where co sleeping is the norm the SIDS rate is lower than other countries or even unheard of? Therefore, if it is not a safety issue, it must be a social one. One which needs some discussion. Here are seven reasons why co sleeping shouldn’t have a bad name.

7 New Research Shows SIDS may be associated with inner ear problem

Because a recent article was published stating cosleeping is attributed to over 74 percent of infant deaths from 2004 to 2012, it’s important to discuss the safety of cosleeping. First off, the article failed to prove that safe cosleeping was being practiced; which has many wondering about the validity of its findings. Regardless though, there has been new, and very interesting, research to show perhaps SIDS is an underlying health problem that is out of any parent’s control.

Dr. Daniel Rubens, a pediatric anesthesiologist and Nino Ramirez, Ph.D, the director of the Center for Integrative Brain Research, both doctors at the Seattle Children’s hospital, have come together in the name of SIDS research. In regards to their research and hypothesis for what causes SIDS, Dr. Ramirez said, ‘So far, we hypothesize that babies with inner ear damage are not able to wake up or move themselves away from danger if their breathing is compromised. Therefore, they suffer from a lack of oxygen and build up of carbon dioxide in their bodies while asleep and they can die. Parents can do everything correctly and this can still happen.’

Yes, parents need to understand newborns and babies unable to roll over, are at risk of suffocation if covered in blankets, stuffed animals, etc. However, according to the doctors research and hypothesis above, it may not matter what you do if your child has inner ear damage at birth. There are over 4000 deaths attributed to SIDS each year even when babies sleep on their backs in cribs with no blankets, no smoking in the home, or any other risk factors. Why this tragedy occurs so often regardless of what parents do is why these doctors have teamed up.

Although Dr. Ramirez doesn’t have a concrete answer yet as to what the inner ear problem is associated with SIDS, he did say, “I believe some babies have a pre-disposition to SIDS. When the baby is born, there is a problem in the inner ear, which could be related to why they die. It’s not something symptomatic that a baby shows while awake. An important piece of the puzzle is that we do not know at this point how the inner ear damage has occurred in the first place. I suspect it happens during the birthing process, and it’s not immediately fatal, but we don’t yet know that for sure.” Dr. Ruben founded the SIDS Research Guild and is raising money to conduct more research. He feels the inner ear is the solution to solving the SIDS tragedy and cosleeping does not increase the risk of SIDS

6 Dr. Sears Credits Cosleeping with Lower SIDS Rate

Before this new research, however, Dr. Williams Sears was telling his patients for 35 years that it is safe to sleep with your little one. In fact, he has written two books on the subject with over 250 scientific references to its safety and also he and his wife co-slept with their 8 children. He says if practiced wisely and safely, cosleeping can actually lower the risk of SIDS.

One of those reasons, according to Dr. Sears, is called ‘nighttime harmony’. It’s where mom and baby share similar patterns of sleep arousals. Researchers of SIDS believe this is part of the baby’s protective arousal mechanism. Also, babies who cosleep tend to sleep on their backs for easy nursing access; which both nursing and sleeping on their backs are proven SIDS risk reducers. Lastly, the carbon dioxide produced when mom’s exhale during the night also helps stimulate babies breathing.

Another fact is in certain cultures, such as Asia, where cosleeping is the norm, the rate of SIDS is lowest or even unheard of. According to Dr. Sears, following safe cosleeping practices reduces the risk of SIDS.

Below are some of his basic safe cosleeping rules:

  • Never cosleep if you are under the influence of drugs, alcohol or medication which can interfere with your normal sleep patterns.
  • Sleep in a king-size bed if possible, to give everybody enough room.
  • Be sure there are no wide crevices between the mattress and the guardrail or headboard that your baby's head could sink into.
  • Never allow infants to sleep in the same bed with siblings or caregivers - they may not have the same awareness of a baby's presence that parents do.
  • Don't fall asleep with your baby on a surface that isn't firm, such as a couch or a beanbag chair; she could suffocate by getting wedged between the cushions.

5 CoSleeping Confusion: CoSleeping vs Bed Sharing

The term ‘cosleeping’ is commonly thrown around and yet the definition is allusive. Does it mean you sleep with your infant all night long? Does it mean they fall asleep in your bed? Or does it mean they just wake up and end up in your bed so everyone can get some sleep? Does it count as cosleeping if they spend over 50% of the night in their own crib? The jury is out on these questions so let’s dig into this confusion.

According to Wikipedia, the definition of co sleeping is: a practice in which babies and young children sleep close to one or both parents, as opposed to in a separate room. The practice is better described as a sleeping situation where two individuals sleep in sensory proximity to each other. They can sense the other by touch, smell, movement, etc. Anyone who has slept in the same bed with someone else can agree when you are in close proximity you hear, smell and sense when they move. Wikipedia describes bed sharing as a subset of cosleeping. Bed sharing is when one or more child is sharing the bed with mom and dad and has conflicting views on safety versus a separate infant bed. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends room sharing, but not bed sharing. The infant they say is safest in the room but not in the same bed. Even Wikipedia has made cosleeping confusing!

I think we can agree that ‘bed sharing’ is not having a separate space at all for your little ones to sleep. They don’t have another bed, but rather ‘share’ a bed with mom and dad. Cosleeping on the other hand implies there is some sleeping together throughout the night, whether that be all night or just a few hours.

Don’t be confused. Cosleeping is sleeping with your infant or even toddler. Don’t be ashamed if this is you. In one study in 2014, over 45% of parents had reported cosleeping at one point in the past two weeks while 11% report it as the norm. Researchers agree that cosleeping is safe for baby, yet recommended they have a different surface, like a co-sleeper. A co-sleeper is a separate surface, or bed/bassinet, that can be attached to your bed. 

4 History of CoSleeping

The history of cosleeping is as old as history itself. Solitary infant sleeping is a relatively new practice in the course of history and mostly practiced in the Western part of the world. It wasn’t even until 200 years ago that dwellings were built with more than one room. And in the scheme of human history, that is a small percentage of time for there to even have been another room for babies to sleep in.

In fact, if you speak with your grandparents you will learn they all usually slept in the same room growing up while the little ones, and infants, slept with their parents. This was for a few reasons. Lack of room, for one. The average house size recommended by architects in 1929 for consumers was just 1366 square feet. It was costly to install plumbing, electricity (if available), etc. so homes were built small. Heating a home, during this era, was often a wood burning stove during and at night it would get cold. Therefore, families often shared beds for the purpose of keeping warm.

As home sizes have grown and the amount of people in each family has decreased in the Western world, this has created a division in cosleeping. Kids wanted their own rooms. Parents wanted their space. Thus, cosleeping was no longer the norm. Solidary infant sleeping, otherwise known as having your baby sleep in their bed, became popular.

However, across the globe cosleeping is the common practice. In fact, in a study done with 186 non-industrialized societies (the United States not being one), over 67%, children sleep in the company of their parents. In another survey of 172 societies, it was found that all babies in all cultures do some bed sharing if only for a few hours at night.

3 Less Stress and Anxiety in Cosleeping

There is definite stress involved in getting your child to sleep on their own. Many call it ‘crying it out’ where an infant whom is feed, changed and laid down in their own crib to go to sleep. Self soothing is the outcome. The goal is to have a child learn how to put themselves to sleep without the help of mom and dad. However, this is stressful for mom, dad and baby.

Many schools of thought say you only need to do this for a couple days and then your baby will sleep soundly through the night. However, in a study done with babies under six months of age by the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, it wasconcluded that the sleep training has "not been shown to decrease infant crying, prevent sleep and behavioral problems in later childhood, or protect against postnatal depression." The findings continued to say, sleep training in the first weeks and months of a baby's life, "risk[s] unintended outcomes, including increased amounts of problem crying, premature cessation of breastfeeding, worsened maternal anxiety, and, if the infant is required to sleep either day or night in a room separate from the caregiver, an increased risk of SIDS."

An expert in infant sleep, James McKenna, director of the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at Notre Dame has studied mother and infant sleep most of his career. He said in article titled, Mother-Infant Cosleeping with Breastfeeding in the Western Industrialized Context, “Whether born in Brazil, Sweden, the United States, England, or Nepal, whether living in a hunting-gathering society or an industrialized setting, when resting on their mothers’ torso, both premature and full-term infants breathe more regularly, use energy more efficiently, maintain lower blood pressure, grow faster, and experience less stress.”

Its just as stressful on parents when your baby either won’t sleep though on their own or you are trying the ‘cry-it-out’ method. Allowing your little one in your bed only feels like a failure because society has glorified solitary infant sleeping and the intense pressure for parent’s to succeed in doing the same for their own baby. Co sleeping means your baby will experience less stress; and in turn, so will you.

2 Lack of Intimacy? Simply not True

So there is a baby in your bed. So what? Imagine you are a teenager, or newly married, and you wanted some intimacy. Did you restrict that just to the bed? No, that is left to the boring couples. The couch, the kitchen, the floor… are all available and keep the intimacy alive and well for many parents who cosleep.

Some husband’s may feel like the baby is taking their place in the bed, however, many husbands enjoy the bonding and close contact with their little one just as much as mommy’s do. Also, many husband’s enjoy not having to wake up to go get the baby, feed them, burp them and altogether wake up more at night if their wife can cosleep and nurse in bed. Everyone gets more sleep = everyone is happier.

Also, many couples these days sleep in different beds due to snoring, back problems, different work schedules and more. Being in different beds altogether happens regardless of cosleeping in these situations. In fact, in one study cosleeping was even said to promote confidence, self-esteem and intimacy in children; maybe due to an attitude of parental acceptance. Another study suggested co sleeping reduces tantrums, produces less fearful children, boosts self-esteem later in life, and helps both males and females, again, become comfortable with intimacy as adults.

If you need help in this area, Dr. Sears has three easy suggestions; first, move the sleeping baby carefully to another room when the mood hits or put them to sleep in another room before hand if you are a planner. Then you can welcome them into the bed when your couple time is over. Secondly, try a change of scenery. The master bedroom doesn’t have to be the only place for intimacy. Anyone who has kids knows intimacy can be hard to squeeze in regardless of if you cosleep or not. His third suggestion is to work on your timing. Nighttime intimacy doesn’t have to be the only time. Try weekends, middle of the day and weekend mornings when the kids can ‘watch cartoons.’

1 It’s Short Lived and Kids Move On

No matter what you hear, kids will move on to their own beds, eventually. Cosleeping has a stigma that kids as old as nine are still sleeping with their parents when this is an exception, not the rule. Although the age kid’s move onto their own bed varies with each family, according to Kim West, aka The Sleep Lady, she recommends moving a toddler at 2.5 or 3 years of age into their own big boy or girl bed.

According to the Natural Parent’s Network there are five benefits to having your children sleep with you past infancy which we have touched on a bit already. However, they are still worth pointing out to reinforce the idea that cosleeping shouldn’t have a bad name.

  • Cosleeping Can Further Both Trust and Independence

It’s been said that allowing your child to sleep with you will make them more dependent on you, when in fact; children who sleep independently are more dependent on their parents than those who cosleep.

  • Parents are the Ultimate Security Blankets

Children who cosleep have been found to have no need for security binkies, blankets, and stuffed animals or be a thumb sucker. Being close to ones parents is enough security on its own.

  • Cosleeping can have positive effects on Self-Esteem and Family Closeness

Imagine being small again and having a nightmare. How much more reassuring is it to wake up next to your loving, caring parent and receive a comforting hug rather than to wake up alone and have to cry out for attention? Enough said.

  • Children Who Cosleep May Be Easier to Get Along With and Better Adjusted Than Their Solo Sleeping Peers

Again it’s been said that those who cosleep are needier than those who sleep alone. However, research has shown children who never slept in their parent’s beds were harder to control, less happy, had more tantrums, handled stress less well, and were more fearful than routinely co sleeping children.

  • Everyone Sleeps Better

As long as you are getting sleep, your child is getting sleep, everyone is getting better sleep. Makes sense.

Cosleeping may not be for everyone. There are plenty of parents who say they don’t sleep as well with their little ones next to them. That is fine. Just know there are plenty of families who do cosleep and shouldn’t be made to feel less in any way. Cosleeping has been proven to be a SIDS risk reducer if practiced safely, intimacy for parents can be solved and the health benefits to kids above speaks for itself. Let’s put the bad name of cosleeping behind us and close the door on this issue once and for all!

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