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)
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.
(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.