To co-sleep or not to co-sleep?
The issue of whether or not to allow co-sleeping, or what is sometimes referred to as sharing the “family bed” – that is allowing your baby to sleep in your bed right after being born or at an older age – is a controversial one. There is basically no right or wrong approach to solving this dilemma. Experts in child-rearing are divided into two camps.
The proponents of co-sleeping believe that parent-child bed-sharing benefits the child by creating a stronger bond between the child and her parents, hence increasing her capacity for intimacy, providing her with comfort and security from knowing that her parents are right beside her, and building stronger self-esteem. They also feel that bed-sharing before the age of six does not affect the child’s development negatively, such as her ability to relate to adults, family members or peers, or her psychosexual development. Research in this field shows no link between bed-sharing history and a child’s likelihood of becoming addicted to alcohol or drugs as an adult, being aggressive or having problems of self-acceptance.
One of the advantages of bed-sharing is that during breastfeeding, a mother is able to feed and comfort her baby without having to go to the baby’s room. Co-sleeping then becomes routine, and it becomes the parents’ choice to continue bed-sharing.
There are of course circumstances that may discourage the “family bed,” such as with parents who smoke, parents who are on medication that interferes with their sleep (makes them drowsy or hard to awaken) or with a child who is asthmatic or has allergies.
Proponents of co-sleeping claim that children nowadays are being forced to become too independent too early and that they are often not ready to give up comforting habits such as the family bed. “Pro-natura” parents believe that if kids are left to develop at their own pace and feel the world is a safe place and their needs are met, they turn out to be more independent, confident and self-assured than those who do not. Both pro-natura and pro bed-sharing parents feel that the emphasis we place on “sleep training” children by putting them in their own bedrooms is just proof of the “misplaced” values we place on “independence” thus creating entire “sleep-deprived” generations.
Opponents of co-sleeping advise that babies sleep in their own crib, on their back, in order to decrease the chance of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Opponents of co-sleeping believe that the family bed is not a good idea because in the long run, it is better to help a child learn to separate from the parent without anxiety and to encourage her to consider herself an independent person as this is important for early psychological development. Parents only need to provide a soothing background, but not sleep in the same bed. They also state that making occasional exceptions for co-sleeping is healthy, such as when a child is afraid or sick. However, there is no evidence that bed-sharing speeds up or improves bonding or attachment between child and parent. Parents who are against the family bed are not bad parents or selfish and should not feel guilty.
Opponents of co-sleeping also emphasize the burden bed-sharing places on the relationship between husband and wife; be it on the quality of their sleep or on their sexual intimacy. After a long day of caring for a child, the only time parents have for themselves as individuals or as a couple is after the child goes to sleep. Parents know that after a certain time of night, the evening belongs to them.
Opponents of bed-sharing believe that co-sleeping is not good for children because it sends them a clear message that they need us 24 hours a day, seven days a week and not only for feeding, dressing, and going to places, but also for sleeping as they are unable to do that alone. This sets up a cycle that parents cannot live up to. Therefore, we must try and teach our children not just how to do things, but how to do them alone. By having children sleep on their own we teach them that there are things they can do on their own and this helps them grow as individuals. We cuddle, comfort, hug and kiss our children during the day, but it is essential to let them know that at bedtime each one of us retires in his/her own space.
THE DILEMMA OF THE SINGLE PARENT
Single parents or parents who often sleep alone at night because of a spouse who travels frequently for example, need to examine their motives very carefully before choosing to co-sleep or not. Single parents may be encouraging co-sleeping automatically because of their own needs for comfort and security at night. In this way they may be subverting their own needs for identity and independence. These parents may in fact be in dire need of time alone at night in their own bed, especially since they may have very little time for themselves during the day as they are primarily in charge of their children. As for single working parents, they may want to use sleeping in the same bed as their children as a way of compensating for the time they did not spend with them during the day. They feel that this will increase their closeness, but this may actually take its toll on the parent in the long run.
It is probably best for single parents and couples to allow their child an occasional night in bed with them, but it is generally not in the parents’ or the child’s interest to make this a regular habit as it becomes an uphill struggle to change this routine when the child is older and needs to be in her own bed. Most parents, single or couples, will agree that as we bring up our children we are aiming for less struggle and not more so let us pick our battles wisely!
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