Tough Love? No Way, Baby

by Guest blogger on December 17, 2009

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This guest post is in response to a recent Time magazine article. For more information on the article and API’s response, please visit the API Advocates page.

“We’re glad to see you . . . We’re sorry you had to come.”

So says Time Magazine to our newborns, who are biologically wired to seek out responsive and caring nighttime parenting. The quote above is actually the welcoming phrase of the Tough Love International program (1); but it is appropriate, because Time Magazine has advised parents to practice “tough love” with their newborns when it comes to infant sleep concerns.

In the December 7, 2009 article “The Year in Health, A to Z,” the section entitled “B is for Babies” recommends:

When a baby has repeated problems falling asleep, Mom and Dad may need to show some tough love. Lingering with cranky babies too long or bringing them into the parents’ bedroom can make them likelier to become poor sleepers, according to psychologist Jodi Mindell, who gathered data on nearly 30,000 kids up to 3 years old in 17 countries. “If you’re rocked to sleep at bedtime, you’re going to need that every time you wake up,” she notes. Her advice: have children fall asleep 3 ft. away. “If they’re slightly separated, they sleep much better,” she says. (2)

Why is it that so many people (experts included) are quick to banish babies to separate sleeping quarters, even if the babies protest? As social creatures, isn’t it natural to want to share space with our loved ones? Unfortunately, where independence is celebrated as it is here in the United States, bed sharing has traditionally been widely practiced, but rarely discussed. (3)

cosleeping1


Nighttime parenting is a time investment, and no credible expert will suggest that there is only one way to help your child sleep. Your goal (in addition to helping everyone in your house get some sleep) “is to help your baby develop a healthy attitude about sleep: that sleep is a pleasant state to enter and a secure state to remain in.” (4)

It is unrealistic and unsound to counsel against rocking a baby to sleep or bringing baby into the parents’ bedroom. It is healthy to help baby become used to a variety of methods to fall asleep (5), and there are proven benefits to both mother and baby when breastfeeding mothers bring their babies into the family bed.

Regardless of whether you breastfeed or bottle-feed, having your baby room in close to you (whether in a crib, bassinet, or sidecar; aka “cosleeping”) enables you to respond more quickly to your baby’s needs. (6) A baby whose needs are consistently cared for learns to trust her caregivers and is key to a secure attachment. (7) Moreover, “[m]erely having an infant sleeping in a room with a committed adult caregiver . . . reduces the chances of an infant dying from SIDS or from an accident by one half!” (8)

If you are a breastfeeding mother, there are actually more benefits to having baby safely share a bed with you. Research has shown the following benefits when babies safely share the family bed:

1) “Co-sleeping promotes physiological regulation. The proximity of the parent may help the infant’s immature nervous system learn to self-regulate during sleep.” (9) Additionally, the parent’s own breathing appears to “help the infant to ‘remember’ to breathe.” (10)

2) The risk of SIDS decreases with safe bed sharing practices. “In Japan where co-sleeping and breastfeeding (in the absence of maternal smoking) is the cultural norm, rates of the sudden infant death syndrome are the lowest in the world.” (11) Experts around the world agree that safe bed sharing can decrease infant SIDS deaths. (12)

3) Cosleeping and bed sharing result in better breastfeeding. Cosleeping increased breastfeeding success and length, because mothers can more easily respond to their babies’ hunger cues. “In addition to the benefits of breastfeeding, the act of sucking increases oxygen flow, which is beneficial for both growth and immune functions.” (13)

4) Bed sharing is beneficial for parents, too. “[B]edsharing makes breastfeeding much easier to manage and practically doubles the amount of breastfeeding sessions while permitting both mothers and infants to spend more time asleep.” (14) Mothers report that they are more sensitive and in tune with their children’s needs. Bed sharing can also result in less bedtime struggles and can instill a positive, healthy attitude toward sleep. (15)

5) Bed sharing has long term benefits. “Co-sleeping appears to promote confidence, self-esteem, and intimacy, possibly by reflecting an attitude of parental acceptance. . . . A recent study in England showed that among the 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, and these children were actually more fearful than children who always slept in their parents’ bed, all night.” (16) Finally, bed sharing can result in general satisfaction with life. “A large, cross-cultural study conducted on five different ethnic groups in large U.S. cities found that, across all groups, co-sleepers exhibited a general feeling of satisfaction with life.” (17)

Time Magazine missed the mark by encouraging parents to practice a “tough love” approach to nighttime parenting. There are far more benefits to responsive parenting when it comes to infant sleep.

cosleeping2


(1) http://www.4troubledteens.com/toughlove.html

(2) “Time Magazine Encourages ‘Tough Love’ for Infants,” http://mothering.com/time-magazine-encourages-tough-love-infants (quoting “The Year in Health, A to Z,” Time Magazine, Dec. 7, 2009)

(3) “Who Wants to Sleep Alone?,” http://www.mothering.com/who-wants-to-sleep-alone

(4) “31 Ways to Get Your Baby to Go to Sleep and Stay Asleep Easier,” http://www.askdrsears.com/html/7/T070300.asp

(5) 31 Ways to Get Your Baby to Go to Sleep and Stay Asleep Easier

(6) See “Who Wants to Sleep Alone?” for a description of the distinction between “cosleeping” and “bed sharing.”

(7) “Pillow Talk,” http://www.mothering.com/parenting/pillow-talk

(8) “Cosleeping and Biological Imperatives,” http://neuroanthropology.net/2008/12/21/cosleeping-and-biological-imperatives-why-human-babies-do-not-and-should-not-sleep-alone/

(9) “Co-sleeping Benefits,” http://www.hpakids.org/holistic-health/articles/38/1/Co-sleeping-Benefits (citing Farooqi, 1994; Mitchell, 1997; Mosko, 1996; Nelson, 1996; Skragg, 1996; see article for full citations)

(10) Co-sleeping Benefits (citing McKenna, 1990; Mosko, 1996; Richard, 1998)

(11) Cosleeping and Biological Imperatives

(12) See Co-sleeping Benefits; Pillow Talk; Who Wants to Sleep Alone?

(13) Co-sleeping Benefits, (citing Clements, 1997; Hauck, 1998; McKenna, 1994; Richard et al., 1996); Cosleeping and Biological Imperatives (citing and linking to studies by Dr. Helen Ball)

(14) Cosleeping and Biological Imperatives

(15) Co-sleeping Benefits

(16) Co-sleeping Benefits (citing Crawford, 1994; Heron, 1994)

(17) Co-sleeping Benefits (citing Mosenkis, 1998)


Dionna Ford is a lawyer turned work at home mama to an amazing son. She and her husband practice attachment/responsive parenting and try to live consciously. They believe in natural birth, exclusive/extended breastfeeding, delayed/selective vaccinations, cloth diapering, no circumcision, a family bed, healthy eating, and “going green” as much as possible. She blogs about these topics and more at www.codenamemama.com.

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Allison December 17, 2009 at 9:26 am

Recently found this blog and love it!

This is so disheartening. It seems there is currently a “war” on co-sleeping. Parents magazine (which I subscribed to, but like less and less the more I read about AP!) this month had an article that basically said SIDS rates are up because more parents are co-sleeping. I co-slept with all three of my kids and was so much more in tune with their breathing, etc, than I would have been if they were in their own room- just like point number 1 states.
I think it would be much more beneficial to give parents safety guidelines if they choose to sleep with their babies than scaring them into never letting the baby in their bed.
By the way, my oldest, who still came into our bed until he was about 5, is now 7 and sleeps great on his own!

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Zahra December 17, 2009 at 11:40 am

I couldn’t agree with you more. I am also not shocked, but dismayed, to see such an article printed in Time magazine. My daughter is only 11 months old, but I can already see the benefits of bedsharing. She is a confident girl already — beyond her years. I unfortunately have to work outside of the home at the moment, but her daycare providers are consistently shocked that she not only never cries when I leave her but that she exhibits the same bold sense of confidence throughout the day. I feel 100% certain that bedsharing and following other principles of Attachment Parenting have already helped my daughter feel secure enough to explore the world without fear. I only wish that Time magazine had presented this other side of the story.

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mollie December 17, 2009 at 12:00 pm

i noticed that this ‘research’ only accounts for children up to age of 3. children at age 3 still may have problems sleeping because they are toddlers and still need more night time parenting than lets say, a 8 year old or a 10 year old. its unfortunate that this research does not account for the child’s sleeping habits later in life which i believe that bed sharing and cosleeping helps promote positive sleeping habits.

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Danielle Buffardi December 17, 2009 at 12:30 pm

I am such a believer in co-sleeping. My son has slept with me since I pushed him out 3 years ago. The benefits are tremendous all around, I’d love for more people to see and understand that babies NEED their mommies in every aspect from cradle to grave.

http://www.daniellewrites.webs.com

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Stephanie December 17, 2009 at 3:25 pm

I’m a co-sleeper, too. I wanted to add, though, that if a baby is having trouble in the family bed (I’ve heard that some babies do – not all babies respond to sleeping situations in an identical way), then I’d rather see a parent have the baby at least in the same room, as the article seemed to suggest. (“Her advice: have children fall asleep 3 ft. away. “If they’re slightly separated, they sleep much better,” she says. (2)”) I think that is a better solution than banishing them to a crib down the hall. So I totally agree with you that co-sleeping in the family bed form is a wonderful and ideal way to sleep – I wanted to add that being 3 feet away is not necessarily being in another room…

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Carl December 17, 2009 at 5:21 pm

Excellent article! I hope to see more like this in the future.

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robin (woowoomama) December 17, 2009 at 7:35 pm

awesome post. well done!

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Dionna December 17, 2009 at 9:41 pm

Zhara – how wonderful that your daughter’s secure attachment shows in all areas of her life! It’s also a good sign that her daycare provider encourages secure attachment as well.

Mollie – you are so right. With the development of new skills (imagination, independence, etc.), older toddlers, preschoolers, and young children still need to be gently parented at night.

Danielle – I couldn’t agree with you more!

Stephanie – I totally agree. Bed sharing is a relationship for everyone occupying the family bed, so each family member needs to have his or her needs met in order for the relationship to be healthy. If, for some reason, bringing baby to bed is not conducive to good sleep, then I absolutely advocate for having baby in your room in a sidecar or crib.

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Tatiana December 18, 2009 at 5:31 am

Co-sleeping so works for us too. Seems like all the moms around neighbourhood talk about how they are tired with their babies waking to often and parents not getting enough sleep and too tired to enjoy their life. We solved this problem with co-sleeping, and even though my baby girl wakes a few times some nights I almost never feel sleep deprived as I don’t fully wake up to settle her back. I remember night time battles first 2 months of her life when she wasn’t co-sleeping, it took 5 hours on some nights to settle her and I couldn’t believe (!) how easy it was when I decided I had enough and put her to sleep next to me.(she was 8 weeks). It was the first night we all got a good night sleep. From that time I was never sleep deprived and had time for other things during the day rather than catching up on broken sleep.
I just love sleeping with her!

A friend of mine uses “crying out” on her baby from 3 months and she says she’s sitting next to her room listening how baby cries and just weeps together with her – she’d been told she needs to be tough (or baby never learns to fall asleep). How sad.

P.S.:
My mom was co-sleeping with me from 11 months till 4 years (I lived with my grandma between 2 and 11 months due to family circumstances). I was in a cot next to parents bed as their bed was too small. We often fall asleep holding hands. And I can assure you I’m very independent and I did learn to fall asleep by myself :)

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Tatiana December 18, 2009 at 5:36 am

Argh … articles like that one in “Time” make me angry.
Co-sleeping works for us wonderfully. Seems like all the moms around neighbourhood talk about how they are tired with their babies waking to often and parents not getting enough sleep and too tired to enjoy their life. We solved this problem with co-sleeping, and even though my baby girl wakes a few times some nights I almost never feel sleep deprived as I don’t fully wake up to settle her back. I remember night time battles first 2 months of her life when she wasn’t co-sleeping, it took 5 hours on some nights to settle her and I couldn’t believe (!) how easy it was when I decided I had enough and put her to sleep next to me.(she was 8 weeks). It was the first night we all got a good night sleep. From that time I was never sleep deprived and had time for other things during the day rather than catching up on broken sleep.
I just love sleeping with her!

A friend of mine uses “crying out” on her baby from 3 months and she says she’s sitting next to her room listening how baby cries and just weeps together with her – she’d been told she needs to be tough (or baby never learns to fall asleep). How sad.

P.S.:
My mom was co-sleeping with me from 11 months till 4 years (I lived with my grandma between 2 and 11 months due to family circumstances). I was in a cot next to parents bed as their bed was too small. We often fall asleep holding hands. And I can assure you I’m very independent and I did learn to fall asleep by myself :)

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Dionna December 18, 2009 at 1:12 pm

Allison – that is so sad that the person was spreading false information – there are actually studies I cited in this post about how cosleeping (in bed or in the same room) LOWERS the rate of SIDS.

Carl & Robin – thank you both!

Tatiana – I feel the same way about getting more sleep with my son in bed with us. Of course there have been nights with little sleep (teething, growth spurts, etc.), but those are to be expected. The fact that my son does not have to fully awaken to get his needs met means that we all get more sleep!

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TJ December 20, 2009 at 10:36 am

I’m saddened at the sudden war on cosleeping. Instead of teaching parents how to cosleep safely, we create an atmosphere were babies are unhappy and parents are unhappy and nobody’s sleeping like they should.

My first still ends up in our bed quite a bit, but there’s no doubt she a confident, decisive child. Our second, however, does not like to sleep with anyone. In fact, she does prefer her own quiet room down the hall. I didn’t intend for it to go that way, but at three months, she decided what she liked and I followed her direction on her needs.

I wish we didn’t have the problem were everyone is trying to be squeezed through the same mold.

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Dionna December 22, 2009 at 8:24 am

TJ – so true. Especially since they’ve done so many studies that reveal the long term benefits of cosleeping. Our country’s emphasis on independence is pushed too far sometimes.

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Tamara L Lester June 8, 2012 at 6:07 pm

The whole concept of (Attachment Parenting) is just a brilliant idea. This carries them into adulthood in a much needed area. This covers levels of maturity and emotional growth developed by nurturing parents that alot of educated physicians and many others disagree. With that being said i have raised 4 children ages ranging from 24-23-21 & my newest baby that is 6 months old. My children have all co-slept or slept in the same room for a point of time. Everyone of them had happy spirits about them. They never cried when they slept in their own rooms when that time came. My 3 older children are very well rounded, intelligent and very outgoing secure adults today. So far my 6 month old is so happy and says dada at 6 months old and i feel like its my parenting skills of pure love and nurturing. Thank God there are still some very wise parents out there. We as parents are the experts. We are intuitive by our God given nature. Co-Sleeping, Attachment Parenting is by far the way to go. Good luck parents on this journey.

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לבדוק את המקור שלי August 6, 2014 at 6:38 am

Pretty! This has been an extremely wonderful article.

Many thanks for supplying this info.

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