How Parents Can Benefit from Cosleeping
by James J. McKenna, Ph.D.
|There are now several different studies1, 2, 3 focusing on why parents choose to cosleep in the
form of bedsharing, and it appears there exist myriad reasons for doing so, and the
most prominent reason among the many found is that "everyone gets more
sleep." This response is related to the other primary reasons: because mothers
find it much easier to breastfeed if bedsharing, and it "just feels
right." A cross-cultural survey of over 200 families from the USA, Great
Britain, France, Canada, Australia and New Zealand revealed that fears of not
getting to babies fast enough during an earthquake or fire, of SIDS or of the sudden
onset of a serious illness or fever, and even concerns about the baby being lonely
all appeared in the picture of why families cosleep. "Peaceful,"
"comforting," "loving" and "protective" are words that
showed up repeatedly in parental descriptions of what bedsharing means to them.
"I work in an office all day long; cosleeping is a way to reconnect," said
|Then there are some reasons for bedsharing that one
might not think of, such as when some infants, or parents, may be blind or deaf. One
mother, sightless from birth, wrote: "How could I have ever mothered my darling
baby without having him nestled up right near me? It gave me total fulfillment as a
parent and my son could have cared less that I was sightless and, indeed, because of
his utmost joy of me being close to him, I would often forget that I was, in fact,
blind." And the mother of a deaf and blind baby contributed: "I always
felt a little weird about (my son) being in the dark and unable to hear, so once I
gave up my 'preconceived notions' that children sleeping in their parents' bed was
bad, bedtime has been much more peaceful."4
|One mother of two deaf infants
participated in our study. She wrote: "I have two deaf boys, now 5 and 8. They
both slept with us until this last year. We began by accident (to bedshare) when
nursing them made it much easier. When we found out the oldest was deaf we were so
happy we had made that decision. Because they could not hear at night... they felt
much more comfortable with us near them." And finally one mother writes:
"My mother's parents were deaf-mutes and the doctor insisted they sleep with
their children. She [my grandmother] laid the babies at the head of the bed on a
pillow and slept with her hand on the baby all night."
Some families cannot afford cribs, so for these mothers there is no choice but to
sleep on the same surface with their infants. Seeing the baby whenever you wake,
watching the baby's chest rise up and down with each breath, hearing the baby (even
if just a sigh or a faint sound), covering him if he's kicked off the blanket,
wrapping your finger in his—these are the actions that sustain new parents and
help them cherish the little life before them.
Peace of mind is significant, but the benefits for Mom and Dad don't stop there
(when bedsharing is chosen by the parent and done safely, of course). Helen Ball's
study of cosleeping fathers in England, the only study of its kind, found that the
dads in her sample were initially reluctant to bedshare, yet they ended up finding
the experience overall "more enjoyable than disruptive." She suggests that
the intimate contact that dads can have with babies in bed with them helps them to
develop, when they want to do so, an intense social relationship with their infants
that might otherwise be delayed during breastfeeding. Dr. Ball suggests that
"Triadic cosleeping arrangements may serve to ameliorate this effect, and
provide fathers who are motivated to do so the opportunity to experience intimate
contact and prolonged close interaction with their newborn baby."5
1 Rigda, R.S., et al. "Bed sharing patterns in a cohort of Australian infants
during the first six months after birth." Journal of Pediatrics and Child Health,
2 Ball, H. L. (2002h). "Reasons to bed-share: why parents sleep with
their infants." Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology, 20(4): 207-221.
3 National Sleep Foundation (2005). Sleep in America Poll. Retrieved 6/28/06
4 McKenna, James J. and L. Volpe. "An Internet Based Study of Infant
Sleeping Arrangements and Parental Perceptions." Infant Behavior and Child
Development special issue on cosleeping. Wendy Goldberg, Editor.
5 Ball, H. Ball, Helen L. (2006). "Parent-Infant Bed-sharing Behavior:
effects of feeding type, and presence of father." Human Nature: an
interdisciplinary biosocial perspective, 17(3): 301-316.
Dr. James J. McKenna is a Professor of Anthropology and the Director of
the Center for Behavioral
Studies of Mother-Infant Sleep, Notre Dame University.
Reprinted with permission of the author from Sleeping
With Your Baby: A Parent's Guide To Cosleeping by James J.McKenna (2007). Platypus
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