Co-Sleeping - Definitely

An Ancient Practice in Most Places of the World

While the idea of co-sleeping with infants and young children is ancient, there are experts who have determined that it is not the best for either baby or parent. They cite reasons that claim co-sleeping in the parental bed has serious negative consequences on both parents and children, creating sleeping disorders and unhealthy child dependency. They say that co-sleeping is damaging to marital relationships as well. What seems to be at the root of their claims is a misunderstanding of the nonreactive custom of co-sleeping from birth compared to the reactive use of co-sleeping to solve problems with older children. When co-sleeping is used to medicate a problem, then it is entirely possible it may create more problems. However, we're investigating the idea of co-sleeping from birth through five or six years of age.

Calm, Healthy Adults

Margot Sunderland, director of education at the Center for Child Mental Health in London, England, says the practice of co-sleeping makes children more likely to grow up as calm, healthy adults. Her findings are based on 800 scientific studies that show co-sleeping with infants is both positive and beneficial. In her latest book, The Science of Parenting, she outlines her findings and advice.

"These studies should be widely disseminated to parents," she says. "I am sympathetic to parenting gurus - why should they know the science? Ninety per cent of it is so new they bloody well need to know it now. There is absolutely no study saying it is good to let your child cry." Of course, she's referring to the concept of putting your child in bed, turning out the light and letting the child cry himself to sleep in order to teach him to sleep alone.

Why Crying it Out Isn't Good

One of the reasons that allowing a child to "cry it out alone" is damaging is because science shows that any separation of an infant from his parents increases the flow of stress hormones, like cortisol. This information is based on the advances in scientific understanding over the past two decades, of how children's brains develop, and on studies using scans to analyze how they react in particular circumstances. As an example, a recent neurological study showed that a child separated from a parent experienced similar brain activity to one in physical pain.

Separation Raises Stress

Various studies indicate that when children are removed from their parents, in 90% of them the cortisol level rises and in 75% it drops when they are returned to their parents. Sunderland argues that putting children to sleep alone is a peculiarly western phenomenon that may increase the chance of crib death (sudden infant death syndrome - SIDS). This may well be due to the face that the baby is missing the calming effect on breathing and heart function of lying next to the mother.

"New" Idea Isn't the Best Idea

The fact is that making an infant sleep alone in a room is a concept that has only been around for a couple hundred years. Before the 1800s co-sleeping was the norm. Today, in many cultures, co-sleeping continues to be practiced with babies seen as a natural extension of their mothers for the first two years of life. They are continuously at their mothers' sides, both waking and sleeping.

Baby's Security

It is long held that the emotional security of the baby benefits from skin-to-skin contact during the night and these babies are not dependent upon an attachment to a security object in order to sleep alone when they are five or six years old. Children who begin life sleeping alone are more apt to draw comfort from an object or pacifier and have a more insecure attachment relationship with their mother. Additionally, fathers who share the family bed are likely to experience less disturbed sleep, because babies do not have to awake fully and cry to get their needs met. Neither does the mother have to wake fully to meet the needs of her baby.