“She’s better off in her crib for the night’ – someone told me. Or is she?
Here are a few benefits of co-sleeping you can find with a very simple google search:
- Ease of breastfeeding: One study found that bed sharing infants breastfeed about twice as often as regular solitary sleepers, with the total duration of nightly nursing episodes amounting to almost three times of what is observed in lone sleep conditions (see p. 124 of Natural Parenting – Back to Basics in Infant Care – by Regine A. Schön and Maarit Silvén in the Evolutionary Psychology journal) . This can be particularly helpful in the case of infants that are not gaining enough weight, as they will be encouraged by the proximity to nurse more frequently. It is also helpful to working and pumping moms that struggle to pump enough during the day, since nighttime nursing can increase their supply and also decrease their baby’s daytime needs. Also, it is easier to just roll-over and pop out a breast to nurse your baby than to get out of bed, go to another room, sit in a rocker for 20 to 30 minutes, and then return to bed (especially if this happens several times per night). More breast feeding which accompanies cosleeping also can be translated into less disease and morbidly, indeed, breast feeding is enhanced.
- Better sleep for mom and baby: For us and for many co-sleeping families, co-sleeping means more sleep and generally less anxiety about sleep. Mothers whose babies sleep in another room have to get out of bed to respond to their baby. This causes the mother to wake up more fully and makes it more difficult for her to fall back asleep. Also, she is less able to rest while tending to her baby than a mother who is in bed with her baby. This is backed up by research by M.D. Gordon and S.L. Hill in 2008 that found that co-sleeping families were less likely to believe their infant’s sleep was problematic than non-co-sleeping families. Those with the greatest levels of stress/concern were non-c0-sleepers that don’t practice cry it out, suggesting that responding to your baby when you do not sleep with your baby can be very stressful.
- Mothers can react to baby: Co-sleeping mothers are more in tune with their baby’s sleep and can take action to keep their baby comfortable and safe during the night. Parents that have a baby in a separate room and use a baby monitor will hear their baby cry, but may not hear more subtle signs that their baby is uncomfortable. Missing those subtle cues can mean that the baby needs to wake more fully in order to alert the parents, which can result in more effort and time required to resettle the baby.
- Bed bonding results in more independent children: Generally speaking, research around secure and insecure attachments show that children that are securely attached to their parents become independent more easily and those that are insecurely attached end up being anxious or overly dependent. As it relates to bed sharing specifically, one study (reported on p.141 of Natural Parenting – Back to Basics in Infant Care) found that “routinely sharing the parents’ bed in infancy has been associated with greater self-reliance and social independence at preschool age than a history of solitary sleeping (Keller, M. A., and Goldberg, 2004).” Other studies have also consistently reported higher self-esteem among children and adults that co-slept during childhood.
- Allows working parents to connect with their child: Many working parents complain about how little time they have with their kids during the week. Some parents arrive home from work at 6pm and have their little ones in bed by 7pm.
- The baby will know that you are there – and can respond emotionally and physiologically in potentially beneficial ways
- Babies cry significantly less in the cosleeping environment which means that more energy (at least theoretically) can be put into growth, maintenance and protective immune responses.
- Proximity of the infant potentially permits the parents to respond to changes in the baby’s status – such as if it were choking or struggling to breathe – and, of course, proximity makes it more likely that if a baby was fighting to rid itself of blankets over it’s head, the parent might here the event and intercede.
- Heron’s (1) recent cross-sectional study of middle class English children shows that amongst 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. Moreover, he found that those children who never were permitted to bed-share were actually more fearful than children who always slept in their parents bed, for all of the night (1).
- In a survey of adult college age subjects, Lewis and Janda (2) report that males who coslept with their parents between birth and five years of age had significantly higher self-esteem, experienced less guilt and anxiety, and reported greater frequency of sex. Boys who coslept between 6 and 11 years of age also had higher self-esteem. For women, cosleeping during childhood was associated with less discomfort about physical contact and affection as adults. (While these traits may be confounded by parental attitudes, such findings are clearly inconsistent with the folk belief that cosleeping has detrimental long-term effects on psycho-social development.
- Crawford (3) found that women who coslept as children had higher self esteem than those who did not. Indeed, cosleeping appears to promote confidence, self-esteem, and intimacy, possibly by reflecting an attitude of parental acceptance (Lewis and Janda 1988).
- A study of parents of 86 children in clinics of pediatrics and child psychiatry (ages 2-13 years) on military bases (offspring of military personnel) revealed that cosleeping children received higher evaluations of their comportment from their teachers than did solitary sleeping children, and they were underrepresented in psychiatric populations compared with children who did not cosleep. The authors state: “Contrary to expectations, those children who had not had previous professional attention for emotional or behavioral problems coslept more frequently than did children who were known to have had psychiatric intervention, and lower parental ratings of adaptive functioning. The same finding occurred in a sample of boys one might consider “Oedipal victors” (e.g. 3 year old and older boys who sleep with their mothers in the absence of their fathers)–a finding which directly opposes traditional analytic thought” (4).
- Again, in England Heron (1) found that it was the solitary sleeping children who were harder to handle (as reported by their parents) and who dealt less well with stress, and who were rated as being more (not less) dependent on their parents than were the cosleepers!
- And in the largest and possible most systematic study to date, conducted on five different ethnic groups from both Chicago and New York involving over 1,400 subjects Mosenkis (5) found far more positive adult outcomes for individuals who coslept as a child, among almost all ethnic groups (African Americans and Puerto Ricans in New York, Puerto Ricans,, Dominicans, and Mexicans in Chicago ) than there were negative findings. An especially robust finding which cut across all the ethnic groups included in the study was that cosleepers exhibited a feeling of satisfaction with life,
- But Mosenkis’s main finding went beyond trying to determine easy causal links between sleeping arrangements and adult characteristics or experiences. Perhaps his most important finding was that the interpretation of “outcome” of cosleeping had to be understood within the context specific to each cultural milieu, and within the context of the nature of social relationships the child has with its family members! For the most part,s, therefore, it is probably true that neither social sleep (cosleeping) or solitary sleep as a child correlates with anything in any simple or direct way. Rather, sleeping arrangements can enhance or exacerbate the kind of relationships that characterize the child’s daytime relationships and that, therefore, no one “function’ can be associated with sleeping arrangements. Rather than assuming that sleeping arrangement produces a particular “type” person it is probably more accurate to think of sleeping arrangements as part of a larger system of affection and that it is altogether this larger system of attachment relationships, interacting with the child’s own special characteristics that produces adult characteristics.
So, maybe she’s better off sleeping with me, huh?
1. Heron P. Nonreactive CO-sleeping and Child Behavior: Getting a Good Night’s Sleep All Night Every Night. Masters Thesis, University of Bristol, Bristol, United Kingdom , 1994.
2. Crawford, M. Parenting practices in the Basque country: Implications of infant and childhood sleeping location for personality development. Ethos 1994, 22;1:42- 82.
3. Lewis RJ, LH Janda. The relationship between adult sexual adjustment and childhood experience regarding exposure to nudity, sleeping in the parental bed, and parental attitudes toward sexuality. Arch Sex Beh 1988; 17:349-363.. Crawford, M. Parenting practices in the Basque country: Implications of infant and childhood sleeping location for personality development.
4.. Forbes JF, Weiss DS, Folen RA. The CO-sleeping habits of military children. Military Medicine 1992; 157:196-200.
5. Mosenkis, J The Effects of Childhood Cosleeping On Later Life Development 1998.
Masters Thesis. University of Chicago. Department of Human Development