Settling the Cosleeping Controversy with Dr. James McKenna

Register now for API’s next teleseminar – Settling the Cosleeping Controversy: Get the Facts About Cosleeping, SIDS, Bedsharing and Breastfeeding with special guest Dr. James McKenna.

Register for this call to hear hosts Lu Hanessian and Lysa Parker talk with Dr. McKenna about:

  • Why the cosleeping debate?
  • What if the baby won’t transition out of our bed?
  • Can we put the baby in the middle?
  • Can’t there be siblings near the baby?
  • Until what age are the guidelines relevant?
  • Can I nurse lying down? How?
  • And answer your questions–email them to

DATE: Monday, June 28, 2010
TIME: 9 pm ET/6 pm PT


She’s Sleeping in Her Own Room Now

My daughter is six and guess where she is sleeping now? In her own room. That’s right, babies who cosleep grow up into young children who cosleep but don’t always turn into high school students that still need the comfort provided by sleeping in your room.

When my son began cosleeping I heard many people caution me “He’s going to be in there forever.” I don’t recall any of my friends in college going home after classes to sleep in the family bed, do you? I threw caution to the wind and followed my son’s cues.

Between two and three he moved into his own bed in his own room. I think he moved out because baby sister moved in. We certainly didn’t force him but he made the choice and we followed his lead.
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Trust Yourself, Trust Your Child, When It Comes to Cosleeping

I remember thinking the same thing many of you are thinking, “When will this baby (or child) sleep through the night? Am I doing something wrong by cosleeping?” Just like you, I was criticized by anyone who knew I coslept – family, friends, doctors. I even had one doctor tell me that every child he knows who bedshared grew up to become a psychopath. And he was serious.

As I wrap up on the spring issue of The Attached Family magazine (available later this spring to subscribers), a thought has popped into my head that I wanted to share with everyone and it goes along with the age-old saying, “This too shall pass”: Learning to sleep, to your child, is much like learning to eat solids or learning to use the potty. It’s a process. It’s something that is under none of your control. It’s something that has to happen when your child is ready.

And when it does happen, which it will, you’ll wonder why you spent so much time worrying about sleep when your child was younger. And for many of you, you’ll grieve for the time you spent cosleeping, because it is so wonderful to have that closeness at night and to stretch the time you have with your child around the clock, instead of trying to fit it in during just the daytime hours when we have other tasks or perhaps work outside the home.
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Reflection on How Couplehood Changes with Kids

It’s 11 at night and I’m preparing for a rare evening with my husband. He’s coming home from a four-hour round trip to pick up a bale of hay for our goats and sheep, and called to say he was stopping to pick up a pizza. I’ve got one kid in bed and the other sleeping on the couch.

I almost don’t know what to do with myself. Do I dare say I’m a little nervous? Except for an occasional dinner out for a birthday or anniversary, my husband and I are surrounded by children every evening – for the past nearly four years. By the end of the evening, we flop into bed exhausted with at least one child sleeping in the middle.

I remember, before having kids, how my husband and I would curl up with one another at night. I would usually lay my head on his chest, and he would curve an arm around my shoulders, and we’d sleep snuggled together. Now, my arms are usually wrapped around a toddler who is separating me from my husband. Our bed seems to be divided into two; in fact, we each have our own sets of blankets now.
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Modeling AP Values

I spend a lot of time writing and speaking to people about the values I hold as a person who practices attachment/responsive parenting. I try to use facts and logic to respectfully encourage others to research their parenting decisions and embrace ideas that might have been uncomfortable a generation ago, such as full-term breastfeeding and breastfeeding in public, leaving our sons intact, responding to our children with love and respect, and realizing the detrimental effects of physical discipline.

Looking through some recent pictures of my son (Kieran), I realized that we (as parents who share these values) might be doing more just by modeling these concepts to our children. Of course I will continue to extol the value of full-term breastfeeding, and I will defend every mother’s right to nurse in public when, where and how she wants to. But I take immense comfort in the fact that my son might not need to fight these same battles because we are normalizing it for his generation, simply by living.

Here are some examples of how the Eight API Principles are being normalized for my son every day:

Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting

2010-01-23 01

My sister recently had a baby (this picture is of Kieran with my sister only weeks before she gave birth). Throughout her pregnancy, we talked with Kieran about how babies grow in their mama’s tummies. He loved feeling my sister’s stomach, and he often talked about the baby growing in his own belly.

Someday, I hope that he will experience the pregnancy of his own little brother or sister. I look forward to his thoughts on all of the changes that will occur in my body. We will prepare him for his sibling’s homebirth and allow him to participate as fully as is practical and comfortable for everyone.
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Welcome, Cosleeping Crib-Sleepers!

Many of us attached parents understand what it’s like to feel ostracized for our choice in parenting practices. We’re tired of the looks and comments about giving birth without drugs, breastfeeding beyond six months, holding our babies all the time, disciplining without empty_cribpunishing, forgoing a career to stay at home, and taking the time to soothe our night-waking children back to sleep. Attachment Parenting would be great except for that whole bit of dealing with the judgment of our family and friends, not to mention complete strangers.

Which is why I want to call attention to what is happening in our AP community: As much as we try to be welcoming to every AP parent, there is still judgment passed among us – the woman whose birth ended in a Cesarean, the mother who cannot breastfeed, the father who came to AP later and with a history of spanking, the lower-income families in which both parents must work, the parents who do not take their baby to bed with them, and so on.
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Tough Love? No Way, Baby

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)


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Doing The “Right” Thing Is Never Easy

Baby knows best. Really. They are perhaps not scholars just yet but they do know what they need better than any of us and well, we should listen to them . . . and if we did they would probably say . . . that doing the “right” thing is never easy.

Like when you were a kid and were forced to apologize and admit error–it was the “right” thing to do, but it was so hard to say that you were wrong. Or, choosing to skip a party in order to study instead of cheating on a final exam in high school. Studying was hard work, but it was “right,” right?

I’ve come to the conclusion, or even grand epiphany perhaps, that doing the “right” thing as a parent is also not the easier choice. I came to this conclusion after struggling once again following sleepless nights and clingy days with the attachment parenting philosophy that we have adopted as parents. The attachment parenting tenets are simple really and were so appealing to us initially because they essentially support the beliefs that we already held about parenting. To us, AP Principles  just seem like no-brainers: go to your child when he cries–he needs you, breastfeed your baby–it’s food that’s literally made for him, sleep with your child–because you are a parent at night too, use positive discipline to teach your child–negativity punishes, hold and wear your baby–it fosters bonding and security, etc.

Even rereading these as I type them, I find myself nodding in agreement–unable to imagine parenting any other way. But problems arise for this gentle parenting scenario not from any inherent flaws in a plan that seeks to parent gently and respectfully, but from other parents who have found an “easier” way. See, this kind of parenting requires a mom and dad who are fully committed to sacrificing much of their own needs for that of their baby’s. In other words, it takes dedication and patience–a lot, a lot of patience–and a great deal of self-sacrifice.

I am specifically talking about the issue of nighttime sleeping. Fewer issues get as much airtime during playdates, mommy groups, or any other gathering of moms and babies–it’s simply at the heart of every discussion. Exhausted, delirious and desperate mommies eagerly compare notes and exchange sleep tricks in search of something that will help them get more sleep. And, no matter how you try and spin it or how much you try to avoid the inevitable final conclusion, the sleep issue comes down to two dismal options: “sleep training” your baby, or not.

Sleep training methods vary greatly from one to another, but the one thing that they all have in common is that they all include some degree of crying. I have written much about my feelings as they pertain to “crying it out” and though the first was many sleepless months ago, I still do have a problem with my baby crying–yes, I’ve said it, I do not let my baby cry without intervening in an effort to alleviate the cause whatever that cause may be. Why? Because I believe that my son is communicating with us when he is crying–I do not believe that babies cry just to cry, in other words. Sometime this communication may be asking for basic needs to be met and other times it may just be a way to ask for a hug, a cuddle, or a kiss. But, you see, one does not surpass the other in importance for me. My baby’s need to be touched is just as importance as his need to be fed or changed. I will respond in either case and at any time. And that is where myself and my husband diverge from the parents who try to sell us the success of sleep training and tout the amount of sleep that it has brought them. But, at what cost, I want to ask them.

I believe family bed advocates when they claim that co-sleeping raises independent, confident and secure children–I also believe that leaving your baby to fend for them self during these times of nighttime need may produce children who are more dependent, anxious and insecure. I also know that these one or two or three years dealing with his sleeplessness as a baby is small in scale when compared to the number of years that we won’t have to. I will be old and he will no longer by my baby–I will look back on these years with a tender heart yearning for the moments when I was able to hold him in my arms to return.

I do, however, from time to time grow weak–very weak. I do whine and fuss and complain about exhaustion and the need for a moment to myself. During these times I do momentarily wonder if we should not also “train” Noah to self soothe, to sleep alone, to quiet his need for love, comfort and affection just because it is the moon, not the sun, that has risen above the horizon. Those parents are convincing and proud. They’re confident and I suppose, maybe even some look rested.

But, then I give it a second thought. I listen to my heart and am reminded of why I have chosen the more challenging path. When I grow weak and weary, I turn a listening ear to my instinct, my mama gut–and find that I know deep down in my heart that parenting this way, for me, is the “right” way to parent. And, like all things that are “right” it is most certainly the more difficult choice–it may continue to be for a while still to come. But . . . doing the “right” thing is never easy, right?

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