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Sleeping with a baby - together or apart?

Sleeping together with a baby has its ardent supporters and opponents. Regardless of your choice, whether you put the baby in his room, place his cot in your bedroom, or take the baby into your bed, it will have consequences for other areas of your family and not only family life. Before you make a decision "alone or together", read about things worth knowing or considering.
Edited by LOVI | 22 March 2014

More comfortable but is it safer

What is common for many cases of sleeping together with the baby is mum's weariness. Getting up to your baby in the middle of the night is tiring, taking him out of bed, feeding, putting back, lulling him to sleep, returning to your own bed, and after a few hours repeating it all again - getting up, taking out, feeding...  Therefore, many mums value the comfort of sleeping together with the baby. Then it is easier, you just need to take out breast and feed the baby or give him the bottle. An important thing is also a time of reaction - when sleeping together, the baby does not have to cry loud enough to wake his mum in the other room, he just have to move, whimper a little, and he can count on his hunger to be satisfied.

But the safety of sleeping together is a disputable issue. On one hand, supporters quote results of studies showing that in countries where parents usually sleep in one bed with their baby, like in Japan, the recorded rate of sudden infant death syndrome is lower, and they also talk about possible immediate reaction to choking or sudden waking up of the baby with paroxysmal crying.

You mustn't sleep in one bed with your baby....

when at least one of the parents:

  • takes sleeping pills;

  • takes psychotropic medicines;

  • smokes;

  • suffers from obesity;

  • sleeps restlessly;

  • has drunk alcohol;

  • has used drugs.

On the other hand, opponents talk about parents themselves posing a threat to their baby when sleeping together in one bed. A very spectacular opinion on that issue was presented in the campaign in Milwaukee, USA, where a meat cleaver was placed in bed beside a baby, and the caption said "Your baby sleeping with you can be just as dangerous".

Even if the above campaign is strongly exaggerating, nevertheless, two things are indisputable here. First is the issue of such arrangement of space that ensures baby's safety in parents' bed. Thus, to minimize a risk of the baby falling off the bed, he can be placed near the wall or between his parents. Furthermore, to prevent a risk of suffocation, a hard mattress and bedding without thick comforters or large quantities of soft pillows are recommended. Another indisputable safety issue is that there are some situations, listed in the frame, when you should not sleep together with your baby.

Closer to nature

In the past, a catchy argument against sleeping together was the one about conditions in the parents' bed being unhygienic for the baby. Nowadays, in times of skin to skin kangaroo care, a pressure to give the baby to his mum as soon as possible and leave him with his mum, often in one bed, during their stay in a hospital, this argument lost its power.

Nowadays, arguments supporting sleeping together from the "closer to nature" group are risen by green parents or followers of the attachment parenting philosophy. They emphasize the fact that humans are the only mammals that do not sleep with their young, and that it is a secondary behaviour developed together with civilization. They say that the baby, feeling the physical closeness and smell of his parents, falls asleep sooner, and when he feels safe, he will sleep more peacefully.

It does not result in sissyness

There are some opinions, that sleeping together results in unhealthy dependence of the child on his parents, waking up in the night for eating is a sleep disorder, and learning to sleep alone in his bed is an important step into adulthood, even before potty training.

It is obvious that small babies need their parents, like to have them at their side, like to cuddle against them. Then, they feel safe. Meeting these needs, particularly, a need for safety, equips the baby for the future, allows him to trust the world, with his trust based on a confidence that his needs are important and will be satisfied. Of course, sleeping together with the baby is not a sole situation which helps the baby to develop a sense of safety, equally important is being with the baby during the day when he needs it, when he is sad, hits himself, when he signals a need for closeness and tenderness. However, an important issue that can shake this confidence is, in particular, learning to sleep in his own bed. Therefore, you should not think about teaching the baby to sleep in his own bed as a first step into adulthood, because it is much too early for that, and you must ensure the change is made consistently, but first of all, delicately. So we do not recommend methods based on baby calming himself. Maybe they are effective - the weeping and exhausted baby will finally become silent and fall asleep. However, will it really be based on his pride of his adult behaviour or on his fear that he is alone, tiny, abandoned and the world does not react to his needs?

Agreement of all interested parties is necessary

Let's go back to our  dilemma - should we sleep with the baby or not... We propose to start with a question whether you all want that. If not, if one of the parents is too much afraid, values comfort or privacy too much, it is better not to introduce the baby into you bed.

You cannot allow this issue to become a starting point for quarrels and erosion of your relationship as partners. Talk about it. Analyze possible solutions with the good one being that to which both of you agree. Maybe you will decide to put the baby's cot and a comfortable armchair for breastfeeding into your bedroom. Maybe a solution is the dad moving to a sofa and the mum going to him after the baby falls asleep. It is your relationship and your decision, ensure the solution suits both of you.

How long

Those couples who decided to have a family bed, often ask themselves how long should they sleep with the baby. Here also the answer is - as long as you all accept it, and in particular, as long as the baby accepts it. The truth is, it is easier to move a smaller baby to his own cot, the older one can protest, return to parents bed and demand, and the opponents to sleeping together with the baby are often right in that he is difficult to be "moved out" of parents' bed. So you should encourage the baby to that step and you cannot overlook the moment when he is ready. Let the baby get acquainted with his bed, explain to him that he is a big child now, put him to bed during the day and when he lies there, read him books, caress or sing to him. And the day may come when the baby will start to choose his own bed for a nap during the day, and finally, will take his comforter and move there for good. Sometimes, it happens that the baby is ready first, and the mum is not yet ready to let him go. Then she must show her wise parental maturity and let the baby sleep alone, applauding him and being very proud of that step.

It is not the only way to establish a bond

At the end, we would like to emphasize strongly that there are no scientific reports confirming that a bond between parents and the child sleeping together is stronger than a bond between parents and a child sleeping in a cot in his own room. And here the opponents of sleeping together with the baby are right, saying that there are many ways to strengthen a relationship with a baby, many occasions to hold the baby, comfort and love him, and you do not necessarily have to sleep with him.

17 JULY 2017
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