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Ten Reasons to Sleep with Your Baby

by Laura Simeon, MA, MLIS

1. You will sleep better. Getting out of bed several times a night to soothe or feed your child is simply exhausting. If you sleep with your baby, you will be able to meet his needs quickly and easily when they arise, and before they escalate. You may even find that you are so in sync with each other that you roll over and offer a breast a few moments before your child begins to root around - and neither of you will wake up for this. Other common reasons for night waking, such as loneliness and fear, are avoided entirely through the family bed.

2. It will help you to be a more nurturing parent. The strain of dealing with night waking pushes many parents to the limits of their endurance. They may resort to brutal tactics, such as leaving babies to cry it out or placing locks on their children's doors. Cosleeping allows you to meet your child's needs and be available as a parent during the long night hours, without placing undue stress on yourself or weakening the trust your child has in you. Your child will grow in confidence at her own pace, rather than being forced into premature and illusory independence before she is ready.

3. It makes breastfeeding easier. Breastfed babies get a significant portion of their milk intake from night nursing. This is normal and beneficial. It has positive health benefits in suppressing the mother's ovulation (part of the mechanism by which breastfeeding protects against cancer). It is also beneficial to children both physically and emotionally in helping to prevent premature weaning: many active babies and toddlers will be too distracted to nurse much during the day, so they compensate for it at night. If you breastfeed in the family bed, you can give your child free access to the breast without tiring yourself out. If you are a mother who works outside of the home, nighttime nursing is the ideal way to stimulate your milk supply and make sure your child is able to have as much of your precious milk as possible.

4. It may help to reduce the risk of SIDS. In Japan, which has the lowest rate of SIDS in the world, and in many other countries where cosleeping is also the norm, rates of sudden infant death syndrome are a fraction of those in the United States. While scientists are still investigating the role the family bed plays, two factors appear significant. First, breastfed babies in general have lower rates of SIDS, and breastfeeding is easier and more likely to continue longer when mother and baby sleep together. Second, when mothers and babies sleep together, their heart rates and sleep cycles change in tandem. Babies are born with an immature neurological system, and are biologically designed to sleep with their mother. Having mother nearby where she can provide external stimulation to breath regularly, and move smoothly into and out of periods of light and deep sleep may serve a protective role for the infant.1

5. It is fun! More than anything, I think you will find that sleeping with your child is fun - for you and for her. Together as a family, you will create many warm and happy memories and lay the foundation for your child to become a respectful, responsive and nurturing parent in her own right.

6. It helps to prevent sleep problems. Many parents hear dire warnings that letting babies into bed with them will only result in sleep problems. In fact, the opposite is true. Many so-called sleep problems are the result of trying to force children to sleep alone. Many sleep behaviors that Western society defines as dysfunctional are really part of the natural human design. Human infants were not meant to sleep deeply for hours or spend long periods of time in total isolation. Forcing them to do so before they are ready only results in unnecessary distress, which alters their developing nervous systems and may contribute to panic disorders and other stress-related problems in adulthood.2 Another benefit of the family bed is that children - and their parents - do not come to dread bedtime. Instead of seeing it as a time of isolation and fear, it is a time to snuggle close and be together. Avoiding bedtime battles makes family life a lot more pleasant for everyone.

7. It strengthens family bonds. When one or both parents are away at work all day, a long stretch of time at night when the family can be together is a wonderful gift. After busy, stressful days, the family bed is a safe haven in which to soothe frayed nerves and nurture tender bonds. Another important benefit is that cosleeping helps babies form healthy attachments to people, not objects. In our materialistic society, it is common (and perceived as normal) for children to become bonded to physical objects rather than their parents and siblings. Is it any wonder that we grow up to be adults who have difficulty maintaining human relationships and try to find happiness through endless consumption?

8. It is convenient. The family bed is convenient under normal circumstances, but you'll be especially grateful for it at other times, such as illness or during the upheaval of a family crisis. The comfort and closeness of the family bed will nurture your child when times are rough. When you travel, there is no need to bring a portable cot or worry about getting a child to fall asleep in a strange place: all that matters is that you are there together.

9. It is safe. Like any other aspect of family life, from driving in the car to mealtimes, cosleeping is perfectly safe when practiced responsibly. It also offers safety advantages over crib use. Leaving a small child unattended is never without risk, whether it is in a crib or any other device. The Consumer Products Safety Commission records approximately 40-50 crib-related deaths each year, as well as thousands of serious injuries.3 When you sleep with your child, you become acutely and sensitively attuned to her, and can respond quickly to any problems that arise. One night in the early weeks after my daughter was born, she began to choke on some mucus that was caught in her throat. Within seconds I had awoken, turned her over, rubbed her back, and made her cough it up. There is no way I could have helped her as quickly if she were not sleeping by my side.

10. It saves money. One of the largest and most expensive pieces of baby equipment most parents buy is a crib. The crib is the centerpiece of the whole nursery, something many parents are led to believe is a necessary part of preparing for a new baby. In fact, babies don't care about color-coordinated crib bumpers and wallpaper borders. All they want is to be held close and warm in their parents' arms at night.
 

 
1
"Rethinking "Healthy" Infant Sleep" by James J. McKenna, Ph.D.

2 "Children Need Touching and Attention, Harvard Researchers Say" by Alvin Powell, The Harvard University Gazette, April 9, 1998.

3 "Is It Time to Abolish Cribs?" by Jan Hunt M.Sc.  

 
Laura Simeon is a mother of one and a school librarian. She can be reached by email at Laura.Simeon (at) alumnae.brynmawr.edu.

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