|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 with us.
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 like this.
Need Their Mothers Beside Them"