All parents have different opinions about allowing their children to sleep in their beds with them. Some will be surprised to find out that it is not only in certain cultures that parents and children sleep together at night in the same bedroom or even in the same bed, but it happens everywhere. Some families keep it a secret for fear that other parents will frown on their habits, but it is truly a common practice. In fact, the National Sleep Foundation reports that about 24% of parents let their children sleep with them for at least some part of the night.
Even child experts, family doctors and counselors have differing opinions on co-sleeping, a term used to describe the practice of allowing a baby or child to sleep with one or both parents in bed. Other terms, such as bed-sharing or sleep-sharing have also been used. Scientists, pediatricians, family life experts and many authors have conflicting opinions on this custom based on conflicting results of their own research.
Another point of contention about co-sleeping is the age of the baby or child at which parents can allow them to share their bed. Again, with this matter, opinions differ, with some experts warning parents about the danger of suffocating their babies in bed while asleep. It has been reported that the rate of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is higher for infants who sleep in an adult bed than in a crib. It is also estimated that about 100 infant deaths occur each year in the US due to parents accidentally laying over and suffocating their babies while sleeping. Other experts however, believe that SIDS from co-sleeping is really rare and may be prevented. Just up to what age a child may be allowed to continue sharing the bed of their parents is another matter people argue about, although most experts who advocate co-sleeping believe that children up to age five years can benefit most from this practice.
Benefits of Co-sleeping
Parents and child experts who believe in co-sleeping cite these benefits:
- It is easier for moms to nurse their babies at night. They get to sleep better since they do not have to get up from their beds.
- Some experts like Michael Commons, a Harvard psychiatrist, believe that the risk of SIDS is lower when a responsible adult sleeps with a baby than when a baby sleeps alone at night in a crib.
- Co-sleeping reduces separation anxiety in children, builds self-esteem, and encourages them to develop independence earlier (Dr. Jay Gordon, author of Good Nights: The Happy Parents' Guide to the Family Bed).
- Dr. William Sears, pediatrician and parenting expert observes that children thrive better in terms of physical, mental and emotional well-being.
- Research by Margot Sunderland, author of The Science of Parenting and director of education at the Centre for Child Mental Health in London, shows that co-sleeping helps children to grow up to be calm and healthy adults. She made the observation from studies showing that about 70% of women who were not comforted when crying in their infancy developed digestive disorders in adulthood.
- Many parents believe that sharing the bed with their children fosters family bonding and closeness because it gives them more time to nurture and connect with their children.
Disadvantages of Co-sleeping
- On the other hand, parents and experts who do not advocate co-sleeping believe that children do not need to share their parents bed to be secure and to be happy.
- They also cite that parents sleep better when they have the bed to themselves.
- Bed-sharing should not be used to solve children's sleep problems or for parents to fill-in their own insecurities.
- Danger of SIDS. Experts warn parents that they must not allow their infants to co-sleep with them on the same bed if they are taking sedatives, drugs or alcohol to avoid accidentally laying on them. Infants must also be placed on a separate surface if the parent is extremely obese and might not be able to feel how close the infant is to their bodies.
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