|Subject: Father asks when
co-sleeping should end
My wife and I attended child-birth classes in preparation
for the birth of our daughter. We were told all of the benefits of
co-sleeping so we decided that we should try it. She was
breast-fed until she was 8 months old and the co-sleeping was
fine. She will be 2 years old in April and she continues to sleep
The problem we are having is that she cannot fall asleep on
her own. She fights sleep terribly and can't go to sleep unless
she is held. We were never told when to end co-sleeping or how to
end co-sleeping. Now we feel that we have made a big mistake. Do
you have any advice for us?
- Name withheld
For most of human history, and in many cultures today, children
this age and older have slept safely and securely with their
parents through the night. Your concern is understandable,
given our society's efforts to force independence before a child
is ready. But wanting to be held at night is a perfectly normal
and healthy desire for a two-year-old... or for a 32-year-old! Her
wanting you near is a sure sign that you are doing things right.
You have created a close bond with her that will last a lifetime.
The fact that she is no longer nursing gives us a clue. If she
were still nursing, she would be held while falling asleep, like
all nursing babies and toddlers. Just because she isn't nursing
doesn't mean that she is ready to lose the holding too! In fact it
makes the security and closeness of holding that much more
important. Non-nursing babies are inevitably held less during the
day. And here is an interesting fact: nursing babies grow up to be
children who have higher IQs than non-nursing babies. We used to
think it was the nutrition in breastmilk, but it turned out to be
the extra holding. The following excerpt is from Dr. George
Wootan's article "Breastfeeding:
"... the increased opportunity for parent-child bonding
offered by breastfeeding is a widely known benefit of nursing,
which brings up an interesting sidelight. A baby can have lots
of brain cells, but they won't do any good unless they're
interconnected. The nerve fibers that connect these cells are
called dendrites. And what develops dendrites? You probably said
breast milk ... right? Wrong! Touching develops dendrites.
Holding, touching, and stroking a baby, as a mother naturally
does while nursing ("you can prop a bottle but not a
breast"), helps the child develop the way nature intended,
both physically and emotionally."
Your intelligent daughter is trying to let you know how
important touch and holding are to her. If a child has a healthy
need like this, the only way to help them to grow is to meet that
need. Fighting it can only delay the child's development, and
endanger the parent-child bond in the bargain. As Naomi Aldort
wrote, "Every stage in a child's life is there for a purpose.
If we can respect and respond to her needs fully during each stage
of her life, she can be done with that stage and move on."
And move on she will! My son is now 24. Holding him as he fell
asleep is one of my fondest memories, and today we have a close
and joyful relationship.
This stage may seem like it will last forever, and sometimes
she will need you when you want to be doing other things. But
you'll be amazed at how quickly these early years go by. Enjoy
them while you can! You are lucky to have a child who loves you -
and she is lucky to have such loving parents.
In response to your second question, there is no need for you
to decide when co-sleeping ends. As with everything else having to
do with your daughter's development, you can trust your daughter -
and only your daughter - to know when the time is right. It is our
job as parents to identify our children's needs and meet them in
the very best way possible. Some children are ready to sleep alone
at 4 or 5, some not until much later. How can you know the best
time? Consider your daughter as your resident expert on questions
"Babies Need Their Mothers Beside Them"
The Family Bed