|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 visiting relatives, 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.
A child cared
for during the night receives constant reassurance of love and
|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
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 Unexplored Landscape"
Jan Hunt, M.Sc., offers telephone counseling
worldwide, with a focus on parenting, unschooling, and personal matters.
She is the Director of The Natural
Child Project and author of The Natural Child:
Parenting from the Heart and A Gift
articles by Jan Hunt