Sleeping with Your Baby: A Parent’s Guide to Cosleeping

Most of the present world cultures practice forms of cosleeping and there are very few cultures in the world for which it would ever even be thought acceptable or desirable to have babies sleep alone.”  Dr. James J. McKenna’s book, Sleeping with Your Baby: A Parent’s Guide to Cosleeping brings light to the facts behind outdated cultural opinions and practices that have interfered with the most natural and supportive ways of parenting and co-sleeping. With passion for his subject, Dr. McKenna includes guidance on how to support babies getting optimal sleep, nourishment during the night, and how best to respond to little ones who are crying. Letting babies “cry it out” is not the way, according to decades of research and eons of experience throughout human evolution. Our nature is to snuggle, as our biology confirms. Snuggle, don’t struggle.

“All mammals cosleep in one form or another.” “The low calorie composition of human breast milk (exquisitely adjusted for the human infants’ undeveloped gut) requires frequent nighttime feeds, and, hence, helps explain how and why a cultural shift toward increased cosleeping behavior is underway. Approximately 73% of U.S. mothers leave the hospital breast feeding and even amongst mothers who never intended to bedshare soon discover how much easier breastfeeding is and how much more satisfied they feel with baby sleeping alongside often in their bed.”

As a “carrying species” our human infants’ needs for nourishment are more frequent than that of a deer, whose mother’s milk has 19% fat. Human breastmilk is mostly water and sugar with about 10% to 20% less fat than “nested” species’ infants [such as deer] who can wait much longer between feedings. Co-sleeping is a way to nourish infants easily without mothers fully waking, while maximizing comforting touch, connection, and sleep needs for babies and parents all night long as well. “This constant physical contact ensures that a physiological as well as a social bond is established between mother and baby, one that enables the neurologically immature primate newborn to develop and function more efficiently.”

When I talk about the fascinating research I’m learning about babies to friends who are parents, their stories of love and learning start pouring out.  With a brief mention of our ERGOparent “co-sleeping” theme, I learned something special about my friend, Jen, mother of two. I got her permission to share with you her aha! moment and co-sleeping experience in her own words, as follows:

“I love the topics of ERGOparent. I loved sleeping with my kids. We don’t sleep together anymore, but Kyle is turning 13 next Saturday and I still rub his back and snuggle before he falls asleep (don’t tell his friends!). Attachment parenting is the humane way to raise children.” Jen had no idea of all the benefits she and her family were gaining by co-sleeping until she listened to her intuition. There are two full pages of benefits stated for co-sleeping breastfeeding mothers and their infants in Sleeping with Your Baby.

For babies, co-sleeping offers the following potential benefits, when known adverse factors are absent:

  • Greater breastmilk supply
  • more frequent breastfeeding
  • longer breastfeeding sessions
  • a longer period of breastfeeding giving immunological and nutritional benefits for optimum growth and development
  • increased safety
  • increased infant sleep duration
  • lower stress levels
  • temperature regulation
  • increased sensitivity to mother’s communication

For breastfeeding mothers, here are some additional special benefits co-sleeping can provide:

  • Increased protection from breast and other reproductive cancers
  • more rapid weight loss after pregnancy
  • enhanced attachment and parental fulfillment
  • reassurance that baby is safe
  • increased sleep duration for mother
  • lower stress levels
  • increased sensitivity to baby’s communication

My friend, Jen ended on this triumphant note: “I still have regrets of trying to “Ferberize” Kyle. I felt a lot of pressure from doctors, society, and other nosey people for him to be sleeping on his own. After a full hour of gut wrenching crying I lifted little Kyle from his crib, and in a moment of clarity I vowed to do things my way. After all I am his mother. It was an empowering moment that I will never forget. The best piece of advice I heard and I now pass on to other new parents is: ‘Don’t listen to anyone. Follow your gut, it always knows. When we learn to live in the moment and listen to our inner selves the Universe will guide us. This is the principle I am trying to instill in my children, and attachment parenting lays the ground for this approach to living.’”

Dr. James McKenna confirms “Even Richard Ferber, the guru of solitary infant sleep, has expressed regrets about his own statements that cosleeping reflected maternal pathologies or caused “confusion or anxiety” among infants, much to his credit.” Sleeping with Your Baby, a 128-page paperback, gives simple guidelines for what not to do to keep your baby safe and comfortable, and how best to share your bed or bedroom with your baby and other family members. “Cosleeping is a part of a loving, supportive environment that parents produce for their children, and this, in turn, will give them the confidence to grow into social, happy, loving adults.” Please read this short and eloquent book for the well being of all concerned. Sweet dreams!

Links:

Beautiful, practical, innovative: The Humanity Family Sleeper for bed-sharing, link:
www.humanityorganics.com

The Family Bed Co-Sleeper, for comfortable and safe co-sleeping and bed-sharing, link:
http://www.beanproducts.com/mm5/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=001&Product_Code=10HPH&Category_Code=MaternityProducts

Cosleeping and Biological Imperatives: Why Human Babies Do Not and Should Not Sleep Alone, by Dr. James J. McKenna, Ph.D.
http://neuroanthropology.net/2008/12/21/cosleeping-and-biological-imperatives-why-human-babies-do-not-and-should-not-sleep-alone/

From Neuroanthropology.net:  Neuroanthropology is a collaborative weblog created to encourage exchanges among anthropology, philosophy, social theory, and the brain sciences. We especially hope to explore the implications of new findings in the neurosciences for our understanding of culture, human development, and behavior.

From AskDrSears.com — Dr. William Sears’ resource-rich website:

Scientific Benefits of Co-sleeping, By Dr. William Sears
http://www.askdrsears.com/topics/sleep-problems/scientific-benefits-co-sleeping

8 Infant Sleep Facts Every Parent Should Know, By Dr. William Sears 
http://www.askdrsears.com/topics/sleep-problems/8-infant-sleep-facts-every-parent-should-know

Mother Nature: A History of Mothers, Infants, and Natural Selection, by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy:
http://adarwinstudygroup.org/sexuality/molecules-pair-bonding/

“For species such as primates, the mother is the environment.”
~ Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, 1999

Claire Kellerman

Claire Kellerman, certified ‘permaculture designer’, artist, writer and photographer, has shared her work globally.

Claire attended Sarah Lawrence College, graduating from New York University with a BA in Music and Writing, with a focus on the classic texts. Claire served as a personal assistant to Karin Frost, Ergobaby’s founder.

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