Co-sleeping: Sleeping Like a Baby with Your Baby

By Jill on October 25th 2011
 



 

I’m laying here in bed with a six-year-old snoring in my ear on one side, a six-month-old nursing on the other side and the other six-year-old next to the baby. My husband is sleeping on the next bed down and the nine-year-old is watching a show at the end of the bed while I lay here working on my iPhone and nursing. Why? Because it is important to me to make everyone in my family happy, especially at bedtime, and co-sleeping makes that possible.

When my first child was born I didn’t know much about natural parenting. Luckily I did know how to listen to my intuition as a mother. I started out trying to get my son to sleep in a crib but quickly realized that getting up every hour or so to breastfeed and then get him back into his crib was not going to work. I brought him into my bed to make my life easier and later realized how good it was for him and our relationship.

As my son got older and my twins were born, co-sleeping became a necessity! Can you imagine getting up to nurse two separate babies all night?! They slept on either side of me and often I slept on my back nursing both of them at the same time. I originally planned to move my eldest to his own room when the babies came but that didn’t seem very fair to kick him out of our room with all the changes the babies brought. I eventually learned more about co-sleeping and now know they will all sleep on their own when they are ready.

Co-sleeping has some amazing benefits for a mom and baby besides making family life a million times easier, but still the mainstream media and medical community usually do not recommend it. People say that co-sleeping increases the risk of SIDS, that the mother will smother the baby, or that babies need to learn to sleep alone and not be so dependent on their mothers.  Actually, as long as co-sleeping is practiced safely, the opposite is true and there’s some interesting research to prove that babies belong with their mamas all the time.

Human babies and young children have a lot of growing to do from the time they’re born until they’re ready to be on their own, especially compared to other animals. Their brains are only twenty five percent of what they will become. They are emotionally immature, waking up alone at night is frightening and stressful – it does not promote a healthy parent-child relationship or a happy baby. Babies sleeping with their mothers also end up crying less at night because their mother is right there ready to respond to their needs. Both the mom and baby barely need to wake and therefor get better sleep.

Our ancestors slept with their babies to protect them, keep them warm, fed, and healthy, and now our bodies are programmed to need this maternal contact to flourish.

Being with its mother organizes a baby’s brain. This goes for all attachment parenting practices; babywearing in the day and cosleeping at night. Babies physically NEED to be close to their mothers. Babies who are with their mothers day and night have the most perfect levels of cortisol, a hormone from the adrenal gland that regulates the function of all the major organs. Low levels can lead to depression and high levels contribute to stress and anxiety. Attached babies also have more stable heart rates and body temperature and produce more growth hormones than babies who are separated from their mothers.

Infant sleep apnea is a major contributor to SIDS deaths. Infants brains are not yet fully developed so they are not always able to wake themselves from deep sleep. Co-sleeping babies do not sleep as deeply as separated babies because of the connection with their mothers, so they are more easily awakened to breathe.  Also, the face to face position usually assumed by mom and baby helps regulate a baby’s breathing. The carbon dioxide breathed out by the mother works to stimulate the infant’s breathing, so co-sleeping babies experience less sleep apnea. In Japan where it’s the norm for mothers to sleep with their babies, SIDS rates are the lowest in the world.

Dr. Sears, a pioneer in attachment parenting says, “Too much stuff and not enough touch.” I agree with this and suggest instead of buying a crib with a special mattress and toys and gadgets to help babies fall asleep, we all just have a big bed or two and invite the whole family for a comfy co-sleeping experience. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Further reading
Babies need their mothers beside them

Co-sleeping: Yes, No, Sometimes

4 Ways AP can reduce the risk of SIDS

Should I let my Baby Sleep with me?