Two hundred years ago, Arthur Schopenhauer wrote that "All
truth goes through three stages. First it is ridiculed. Then it is
violently opposed. Finally, it is accepted as self-evident."
This observation has certainly passed the test of time.
Copernicus's writings, in which he claimed that the earth moves
around the sun, were banned for decades, and led to an Inquisition
trial and house imprisonment for Galileo. Today, of course, the
earth's orbital movement is accepted as "self-evident".
Unfortunately, child-rearing practices and beliefs in the areas
of sleeping, feeding, and discipline seem to be moving in the
wrong direction. Our society has moved away from trust and toward
an unnatural, mistrustful, and distant approach to children.
Parents who treat their children with the same love and trust that
was "self-evident" for generations now face ridicule and
opposition. In earlier societies, a child's need to be close to
his parents during both night and day was a "self-evident
truth", and the obvious way to meet that need was to provide
safety, closeness and comfort. Throughout most of human history,
mothers slept next to their babies, which fostered the bond
between them, and encouraged and facilitated breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding babies who sleep next to their mother take in
three times as much milk during the night as do isolated babies,
thus enjoying a more natural nutritional pattern. Mothers sleeping
next to their children are also reassured about their safety.
Babies sleeping away from their parents have perished in fires,
have been abused by relatives, have been abducted from their beds,
have suffocated after vomiting, have been attacked by pets, and
have died or been injured in numerous other ways. Many - if not
most - of these tragedies might well have been averted had a
parent been present and aware of the baby's welfare through the
night. Family co-sleeping can also help prevent parental abuse by
reducing the stress of raising babies and young children. A child
in a family bed does not need to suffer needlessly or cry to bring
his mother, and the mother can remain in bed and nurse
Research has shown that comatose adults have an improved heart
rate, heart rhythm, and blood pressure when another person is
present. It seems reasonable to suppose that infants and children
derive similar health benefits from having others near them during
the night. Many parents have found that siblings who share the
night as well as the day build a deep and lasting relationship.
And finally, Dr. James McKenna's sleep research, at the Center for
Behavioral Studies of Mother-Infant Sleep, shows that a mother's
breathing can provide important cues to her infant, reminding him
to take a breath following exhalation, thus lessening the chances
of a SIDS death. But the parents of long ago (and of most
third-world countries today) did not need to weigh these benefits
against other approaches, they simply followed their natural drive
to love, protect, and nurture their children.
Why have we not followed Schopenhauer's predicted path? Why do
we not abandon cribs, where so many babies have died, and many
more have been injured? Why have the numerous deaths and injuries
in cribs not led to a call for its abandonment, or at least a
switch to "bedside co-sleepers" (partial cribs that fit
next to the parents' bed)? When babies are injured in cribs,
parents are never told to avoid cribs; they are told how to
purchase and use safer cribs. But when a baby dies in a family
bed, there is an entirely different response. Instead of being
educated on safety factors, we are told never to place our babies
in adult beds – period.
Rather than calling for the end to such an age-old, beneficial,
and healthy arrangement, the causes of each situation should be
investigated, and parents should be educated accordingly. We
should be warned against the real dangers of bed sharing:
intoxication, overly-medication, the use of a waterbed, loose
blankets or soft bedding, gaps between the mattress and the frame,
and leaving a baby unattended. If a baby dies in a car, we are
never told to keep babies out of cars, we are advised about safety
measures. The same approach should be taken with co-sleeping.
Cribs force babies to face the long night alone years before
they are psychologically equipped to do so. Isolation teaches
harmful lessons of mistrust, powerlessness, and despair, creating
a deep sense of loneliness that no teddy bear can fulfill. Judging
from the reports of adults in hypnotherapy, art therapy, and
psychoanalysis, experiences of forced separation from parents in
infancy and childhood are traumatic, with long-term effects on the
Cribs, especially if located outside the parents' room, are
dangerous in other ways too. An isolated baby has no protection
from secret physical or sexual abuse. Night-time separation
lessens the critical emotional bond between parent and child, and
between siblings. Cribs keep working parents from spending the
only real block of time they have left with their children.
There is probably not one baby in the world who would choose
cold isolation over loving proximity if they were only given the
choice. Our babies' cries and screams should be more than
sufficient to convince us of the emotional harm and moral
wrongness of such separation. Why do we not hear what they try
so hard to tell us?
Cribs are dangerous, and prevent parents from intervening
quickly in emergencies. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety
Commission, the same organization that recently warned about
family beds, has reported 40 to 50 crib deaths per year, and
thousands of serious injuries. Their own web site is filled with
warnings of the potential hazards of crib use. Yet they never
consider the possibility that cribs should be abandoned. This is a
nonsensical double standard that no one seems to be questioning.
Cribs are lonely cages for babies who deserve to have their
age-old needs met with love and compassion. Cribs have no real
benefits at all. Let's abolish them!