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The Benefits of Sharing the Family Bed
by Becky JacksonMy daughter asked me recently why a visitor raised her eybrows, threw back her head, and let her mouth drop open when I confessed that our children still sleep with us at night. Well, how to answer that? To begin with, I told her, our country is one of only a few in the world where cosleeping is looked upon as unacceptable or unusual. Elsewhere in the world and in all other centuries, mothers and children almost always shared sleep out of instinct, practicality, and common sense.
The benefits of a mother sleeping with her infant seem obvious. One of the most significant is that cosleeping facilitates breastfeeding and makes nighttime feedings much easier. The nursing mother can simply turn toward her baby in bed and allow him to nurse. This quiet feeding is in sharp contrast to walking to the kitchen to mix, warm, and test the bottle of formula, sitting in a chair to feed, then trying to lay baby back down without him waking.
In addition to the ease of night nursing, baby feels secure next to the familiar scent and touch of his mother. Mothers are instinctively in tune to baby's rhythms and often sense when an arm or blanket is near his face or when baby has turned in an awkward position. She also may frequently wake just to check on him and see that he's breathing. This maternal instinct exists in healthy, mature, drug and alcohol free, emotionally bonded moms and makes cosleeping a safer sleeping environment than the crib down the hall, regardless of any misguided AAP warning.
The benefits of the family bed extend to toddlers and older children as well. They don't have the fear, anxiety and sadness of falling asleep alone before they are ready, and are often more well-rested as a result. Nighttime snuggling provides an opportunity for the working parent(s) to reconnect. Before bedtime family reading is much more relaxing than counting sheep and waking in the middle of the night is not scary next to mom and dad. Mom is right there to snuggle, pass a glass of water, or cover up with the kicked off blanket on a cold night. All these benefits put together mean a secure child that does not have tense associations with bedtime or falling asleep.
Another benefit of close sleeping quarters for parents and children is safety. Remember JonBenet Ramsey, who slept on a separate FLOOR from her parents? And what about the Florida couple whose baby disappeared from the crib down the hall in the middle of the night? My intention is not to promote paranoia, but these rare cases have occured, and I know I sleep much better with my children nearby.
Why, then, do so many American parents shun the idea of sharing sleep with little ones? Perceived convenience may be the biggest factor. They are convinced they couldn't sleep through baby noises and toddler wiggles (heaven forbid a parent should miss any sleep because of their children). Another reason may be the preoccupation with privacy and intimacy. The media has women convinced that the bedroom should always be a romantic, lacy den of seduction. But let's get real, 99% of the time, nighttime is for sleeping and the bedroom is where you sleep and put your clothes. Intimacy is not a problem for family bed parents who simply use a little planning, creativity, and common sense to make time alone.
Another argument against the family bed comes from the fear of not producing an "independent" child. But to the contrary, children who are securely attached are actually more self-reliant having always had their needs met, both physically and emotionally. Furthermore, the trend toward early independence and "letting go" is a modern concept that is likely not in the best interest of a young child. True independence comes from having always been able to depend on someone, day and night not from being forced to depend on oneself from infancy.
The biggest factor that dissuades parents from sharing sleep is probably the new cultural taboos, the shock and disapproval from family, friends, and acquaintances when parents place baby's nighttime needs and happiness as high on the priority list as their own. It sounds something like this: "You better get that baby out of your bed!" (GASP) "They let the baby sleep with them!" "Don't let them get started or you'll never get them out!" I'll leave the explanation of this attitude to those who have them. I can't understand it myself. I hope the day will come once again when the question asked of parents is not why would you share sleep with your children, but why not?
For more on this subject, try reading The Family Bed by Tine Thevenin, Three in a Bed by Deborah Jackson, or Nighttime Parenting by Dr. William Sears.
This article was first published on Suite101.com on November 17, 2001, and is reprinted with permission from the author.
Copyright 2002 by Becky Jackson
Copyright 1997-2015 by Gentle Christian Mothers™
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.