Last week I wrote an article to bring awareness to the detrimental effects of letting our kids stay up late and of missing crucial sleep. In my suggestions for improving sleep conditions, I suggested that co-sleeping had more detriments to our children’s health than its value. Well, the comments rolled in from readers -- and not all of them were in agreement.
Let me give my full position on the topic of co-sleeping.
First, as an adult, I don’t think it’s anyone’s business but your own how you sleep. Go ahead; sleep with a banana on your head for all I care. It’s really a personal decision. So if all family members are happy, great.
When being asked to comment on any topic, I analyze the issue through three main tenets:
- All people (regardless of age, race, colour and gender) must be treated with respect and dignity.
- People cooperate in their relationships rather than dominate or oppress one another.
- And in a democratic society, concerns for the needs of the situation replace the power of the sovereignty.
If you, your partner and your kiddos all want to sleep in a king-size bed wearing coordinating family onesies, I say great. If everyone is happy, I am happy. If it meets the needs of the situation in that everyone is getting enough sleep to keep them healthy, then hats off to you all!
However, here are my three specific concerns:
1. Infant Co-Sleeping
Infants can’t voice their own opinion and the needs of their situation are different than those of older children. Research shows that infants are more at risk for accidental strangulation, suffocation and sudden infant death when they sleep in the same bed as their parents.
Additionally, doctors recommend infants sleep on their backs without pillows, loose blankets or stuffed animals for the first few months of life. This is because they are incapable of the motor skills necessary to change their positions easily if need be.
Sharing a room is completely fine, just not the bed. Having a basinet within arm’s reach, for night feeds or for when both parent and infant are awake, is a wonderful solution. You can reach a hand in to rub their back if they stir and show your proximity without placing the baby in a risky sleep location. In fact, research shows a health benefit from sleeping in the same room as our babies.
2. Lack Of Intimacy
In my experience, someone is actually unhappy with the sleeping arrangement and not speaking up about it. This could be for any number of reasons, but one I hear reported most often is the lack of intimacy: “I miss having privacy for intimacy. There is no spontaneity to our love life and I miss the cuddles and pillow talk that I enjoyed with my partner before kids.”
We need to keep our attachments alive and strong to our partners, too, and lovemaking encourages that. Remember, oxytocin is the bonding hormone for attachment and it is released during both nursing AND orgasm.
3. Disruptive Sleep
Another reason I hear for being unhappy with co-sleeping is the inability to get a good night’s rest. “Kids in the bed interrupt my sleep because I have less space and am being kicked or bumped all night long.”
Co-sleeping advocates believe that the process creates important bonds. I agree with the importance of creating and maintaining a strong primary attachment between child and their primary caregiver. I don’t know of anyone who denies this necessity, especially for infants. However, the challenging question to me is this: does sleeping apart hurt a child’s parental bond? I do not believe so. I have not found research to show this.
Children seek a bond with their parents actively and are more likely to experience a weakening of the attachment if the parent is depressed, lack emotional availability, are angry or distant. That sounds like me after a bad night sleep!
Lack of sleep means our daytime ability to attach is diminished. In fact, clinical depression can set in after just a week of poor sleep, and we know maternal depression impacts our ability to bond. So, if you want to be alert and emotionally available to bond with your child during their cognizant waking hours, be well rested.
But at the end of the day, you and your family know best what home situation will foster the best sleep, attachment and health for all.
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