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 half-asleep.
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
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,
over-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 adult personality.
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
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!