|Ten Reasons to Sleep
Next to Your Child at Night
by Jan Hunt
|1. Family co-sleeping takes full advantage of
the ease of breastfeeding, as there is no need to go to another room
to get one's child. A breastfeeding mother in a "family bed"
can easily feed her child without having to wake fully, and can
continue to get the important rest she needs. Thus co-sleeping
encourages mothers to continue breastfeeding and all of its numerous
benefits until the child chooses to wean.
2. According to sleep researcher James McKenna, co-sleeping
increases the chances that a parent can successfully intervene to help
prevent a death, whether that is due to a physiological condition or
to a physical accident. He reminds parents that "co-sleeping
gives the parent the best opportunity to hear the baby in crisis and
to respond." He adds that "since protection from SIDS may be
related to the frequency and duration of breastfeeding, and because
babies breastfeed more when co-sleeping, this practice may help to
protect some breastfeeding infants."1
3. Gaps in breathing are normal during the early months of
infancy, and it is likely that the mother's breathing provides
important cues to her infant, reminding him to take a breath following
exhalation, preventing a SIDS situation from developing. Even if this
reminder system fails, the mother is nearby to help by arousing the
infant. A breastfeeding mother and baby tend to have coordinated
sleeping and dreaming cycles, making her keenly sensitive to her baby.
If she is sleeping close by, she can awaken if her baby is having
difficulty. But if the baby is alone, this type of life-saving
intervention cannot take place.
4. Any nighttime danger to a child is reduced if there is an
adult close by. Babies and children have perished in fires, have been
sexually abused by overnight visitors, have been abducted from their
bed, have been attacked by pets, have suffocated after vomiting, and
have died or been injured in various ways that could have been
prevented had a parent been nearby to help.
|5. Suffocation is often listed as a danger of family
co-sleeping. However, this is a real danger in only two situations: a
young infant sleeping on a water-bed, thus unable to push himself up
when needed, or a parent who is too intoxicated by alcohol or drugs to
attend to a child's needs. Obviously, a child who is suffocating for
any reason (such as a ribbon on sleepwear getting around her neck,
vomiting during sleep, asthmatic attacks) is far more likely to rouse
a parent who is sleeping nearby than one sleeping in a different room.
|6. Family co-sleeping is often misunderstood as
facilitating sexual abuse of children by a parent. However, the
opposite is true. Parents who develop deep emotional bonds with their
children by remaining close by and responsive at night, as well as
during the day, are far less likely to turn to abusive behavior of any
kind toward the children they love and cherish. Conversely, the fact
that a child sleeps alone has never been adequate protection against a
parent who intends sexual trespass, and may even make it easier for
one parent to keep such activity secret from the other.
7. Shared sleep can further prevent child abuse by helping
all family members to obtain the rest they need, especially if the
child is breastfeeding. The child does not have to suffer needlessly
or cry to bring his mother, and the mother can nurse half-asleep. The
entire family awakes refreshed, with no lingering resentment toward
the baby for having disturbed their sleep the night before. An
exhausted parent is far more likely to abuse a child than a
well-rested mother or father who has enjoyed the presence of a happily
resting child through the night.
8. Crying is a signal provided by nature that is meant to
disturb the parents to ensure that the baby receives the care he
needs. But prolonged crying is stressful to all the family members.
The sooner the baby's needs are met, the more rest the baby and the
entire family can have, and the more energy they will have for the
next day. A mother sleeping next to her baby can utilize the
instinctive response a new mother has to her baby's first whimper,
thus preventing the need for the hard crying that is so stressful to
the baby and to all other members of the family.
9. A deeper sense of love and trust often develops between
siblings who sleep near each other, lessening sibling rivalry during
waking hours. Siblings who share the night as well as the day have a
greater opportunity to build a deep and lasting relationship. Babies
and children who are separated from other family members during the
day (parents at work, siblings at school) can partially make up for
these absences and reestablish important emotional bonds by spending
time at night together, and by the delightful early morning family
time that is otherwise often missed. Of course, home businesses and
unschooling can minimize separations and deepen family bonds during
the day, just as co-sleeping does at night.
10. Studies of adults in coma have shown that the presence
of another person in the room significantly improves heart rate, heart
rhythm, and blood pressure. It seems reasonable to assume that infants
and children derive similar health benefits to having others in the
same room with them.
A child who is cared for during the night as well as the day
receives constant reassurance of love and support, instead of having
to cope with feelings of fear, anger, and abandonment night after
night. Children who have felt safe through the night as well as the
day with a loving parent close by become adults who cope better with
the inevitable stresses life brings. As John Holt put it so
eloquently, having feelings of love and safety in early life, far from
"spoiling" a child, is like "money in the bank": a
fund of trust, self-esteem and inner security which the child can draw
on throughout life's challenges.
1 James McKenna, Ph.D., Personal communication, June 2000.
See also "Slumber's
Jan Hunt, M.Sc., offers phone counseling
worldwide, with a focus on parenting and unschooling. She is the Director of
The Natural Child Project and
author of The Natural Child: Parenting from the Heart
and A Gift for Baby.
|More articles by