Welcome back! Last week, we talked about the concerns with cosleeping. If you missed that blog and would like to catch up, click HERE.
This week, we are going to look at the other side of the coin and talk about the benefits of cosleeping. So, once again, let’s start by defining cosleeping.
What Is Cosleeping?
Co-sleeping is to sleep in the same bed. “We’re currently co-sleeping with our three-month-old son in our family bed”. This can mean mom and dad, or just one single parent, but the idea is to share the bed. For purposes of this blog, as with the blog last week, we are going to suppose that the child does not have a bed of their own, but only sleeps with mom and dad (or single parent).
Diana Divecha, Ph.D., wrote an article in 2015 that I really enjoyed researching. She debated with her own husband the merits of cosleeping vs training the infant to sleep alone. He had valid concerns, such as rolling over on the baby and suffocating her in her sleep. Men worry about this more than women and with good cause: they sleep. Hard.
Diana points out in her article that allowing a child to “cry it out” in their own room is a terrible precedent to set. “Crying in babies is not misbehavior to be modified; it is a physiological signal that something is wrong. Babies who are picked up when they cry learn that their needs will be met and they cry less over the long run. On the other hand, if a baby’s crying is consistently ignored, she can learn that her signaling system is ineffective, undermining the developing sense of self-efficacy. You cannot ‘spoil’ a baby“.
She goes on to say, “To a helpless baby (and all babies are), crying and being ignored is inherently stressful. Though mild stress can ‘inoculate’ a little one and help her learn to self-regulate her inner states, overwhelming stress–especially in infancy–can be toxic. Toxic stress can interfere with the expression of genes that set a baby’s stress regulation levels in the developing brain.
“Though many Americans want their children to learn to be independent as early as possible, forcing a baby to manage herself alone is not the way to foster independence. Rather, independence arises naturally out of a secure relationship that builds up after many episodes of having her needs adequately met. For a summary of studies on the relationship between cosleeping and later child outcomes, see here.”
Cosleeping, not sleep training, is what is “biologically appropriate,” says James McKenna, director of the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame. McKenna has studied infant-parent cosleeping for most of his career.
“Technically, cosleeping is defined as any situation where the infant and parent are within the sensory range of each other. It has often meant sharing the same bed, but that has some risks. McKenna, and many others in the United States, recommends separate-surface cosleeping, for example, placing the baby in a bassinet within reach or in a small crib next to the bed.”
“There are as many ways to cosleep with your baby as there are cultures doing it,” McKenna says.
Here’s why keeping babies close is important:
“Following birth, babies and caregivers remain physiologically connected to each other in complex ways, and when this bond is supported, babies do better. Breastfeeding, for example, is ideal for brain growth and future health. Babies who are breastfed have lower rates of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), diabetes, and other serious health conditions while breastfeeding mothers have lower rates of postpartum depression, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and hypertension. Breast milk is low in calories (but easy on digestion) so babies feed every hour and a half to two hours. When babies sleep close to their caregivers, they sleep more lightly and wake two to three times more often than babies who are further away. The close proximity offers easy access with minimal disturbance.“
When McKenna observes mother-baby pairs sleeping in his lab, he finds that mothers wake babies about 40% of the time, and babies wake mothers about 60% of the time. The nighttime cameras show that mothers are often simply reassuring the babies emotionally: They “touch, hug, inspect, whisper“–loving gestures that also, in turn, raise the baby’s heart rate and oxygen levels.
“Remarkable to observe,” McKenna says. And, not surprisingly, his cameras show that babies spend almost 100% of their sleep facing their mother.
Staying close to the adult’s body helps the baby remain at a more stable body temperature. Physical contact, in close cosleeping, helps babies to “breathe more regularly, use energy more efficiently, grow faster, and experience less stress,” says McKenna. Babies, too, who are not necessarily breastfed, as in the case of adoption, will also naturally reap the many other benefits of such close contact.
Healthline reports this about cosleeping with toddlers: “Co-sleeping might not be viewed as the norm in the United States, but elsewhere in the world it’s a common and encouraged practice. Many cultures value the practicality and physical togetherness of sharing a bed.
“The days are long, but the years are short, and these sweet snuggles are fleeting. As kids get older, they’ll claim their independence and want more physical space. Co-sleeping, while children are in the toddler stage, enables you to make the most of this time.
“Additionally, parents who have unusual work schedules and are unable to be present at all hours may choose to co-sleep to have more precious time with their growing children.
“Either way, co-sleeping can help you bond on a deeper level, and give your child a sense of safety and security.“
Psychology Today finds that “A waking toddler is a common concern for parents, with research showing that over half of children older than 1 are waking regularly (Scher, 2001), and at least one-third of all parents of toddlers report having a ‘significant problem’ with their child’s sleep (Armstrong, Quinn, & Dadds, 1994). So, worrying or being concerned about your toddlers’ sleep is not unusual. However, just as in infancy, guiding them toward settling and providing comfort at night can help them return to sleep without negative consequences. Not responding can leave toddlers anxious or unsettled. Most important to remember, a waking toddler is NOT being naughty; they are trying to communicate something with their behavior. Many parents respond to toddlers’ waking with discipline (Armstrong et al., 1994), yet there is no indication that this is helpful in promoting sleep or positive development. With gentle kindness and a sense of someone being there for them, toddlers can find sleep.“
The School-Age Child
Judy Arnall, BA, DTM, CCFE, wrote an interesting article on cosleeping with a child who is of school-age (6 to 18). “The prevalence of family bedrooms among families with school-aged children has not been studied, let alone talked about openly in our society yet, but the trend is growing.
“Many families do not admit to anyone outside their close family relatives that they sleep with their children, in a caring, non-sexual way. The fear of being investigated by child welfare authorities is the biggest barrier against discussing this practice. So the practice occurs quite often but is not openly admitted. As a society, we accept family bedrooms for motels rooms, visiting relatives, camping, and vacations, but not for everyday use in a society that values independence at all cost.
“Why do families choose a family bedroom? No separation anxiety issues and no bedtime battles are the biggest reason. For an increasingly separated family where both parents might work in paid work all day and children are away at school, it is comforting and enjoyable to cuddle together at the end of a busy day.”
At What Age Should Cosleeping Stop?
“What age should family bedrooms stop? Children naturally develop the desire for more privacy at puberty and tend to want their own room and sleeping space by the age of 12 or 13. This occurs naturally whether they sleep alone, or share a bedroom with siblings or with parents. However, some young tweens may still want to sleep in their parents’ room if they have anxiety, or need nighttime comfort.
“Most experts agree that the rules are simple. Generally, all members of the family must wear nightclothes. Whoever doesn’t like the arrangement and says ‘no’ should have their wishes honored whether they are the parent or the child. The parents might enjoy the closeness, but if the 8-year-old wants his own room, that should be respected. And of course, couple sexual intimacy must take place in another room.
1. Parental sexual relations must take place in a private room away from the eyes and the
ears of the children.
2. Whoever says “no” rules. This must work for everyone.
3. When children hit puberty, their natural desire for more privacy will take over and the
concept of the family bedrooms should be reviewed by the family.“
So there you have it, Dear Reader, the positives of cosleeping with your children. There are many, many studies that have been conducted on infant cosleeping, and I would encourage you to do your own research in the coming days.
That’s it for this time. Let’s meet here again next Wednesday and share another cup of coffee…