How Parents Can Benefit from Cosleeping
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 one mother.
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, 36(2): 117-121.
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.
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 Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory, 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 Press.