|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
|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.
Jan Hunt, M.Sc., offers
counseling by email 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
Gift for Baby.
|More articles by Jan Hunt