Thursday, October 21, 2010


Two things inspired this: One, a trip to the pediatrician where she was nosier than she's ever been and one of her questions was to ask if Lilly had her own room (yes, she does--no, she doesn't sleep in it and no, we didn't say that because it's none of her business and I don't appreciate having another person's culture and family structure preferences pushed on me, which is what I suspect would have followed). Two, there was a Carnival of Breastfeeding on nursing and sleep, so a bunch of posts about sleep popped up. Since I nurse while cosleeping, that's what this entry is going to be about.

So, I went into parenting with a different perspective than most Americans on the issue of sleep. To me, the idea of having a baby in another room, where you aren't aware of what's happening to them, if they're truly safe or even alive, is disturbing. I would never trust a mechanical monitor to tell me that my baby is breathing, nor would I trust that my baby is not being injured like hundreds are every year by their cribs. Hell, SIDS used to be called crib/cot death.

I coslept with my mom as a baby, toddler and child. Like many Japanese children (the culture which held a special place in my mother's heart and influenced such parenting practices as cosleeping, breastfeeding for two years and baby wearing), I was in my mother's bed until I was about 8 (the average age for a Japanese child is actually 10 before they begin sleeping alone--if another baby is born, usually they sleep with another family member), which is roughly when I was ready to sleep on my own... to a certain extent. There were extenuating circumstances and I probably would have stuck around longer if I'd had the choice--but I'm glad I had the time I did and that my mom followed my cues on where to sleep, more or less.

It's not normal for humans to sleep alone. 1/4th of American couples sleep in separate beds, however, and the vast majority of American children sleep alone. Some are lucky enough to share a room or even bed with a sibling and a few are lucky enough to have access to a family bed as long as they want.

It's a cycle. In infancy (or early childhood), the baby is isolated, being forced to learn to sleep alone, being denied the human contact that they need (24/7--parenting is not a 6am-8pm job) and it continues through childhood. This creates a need for an artificial sleeping environment that is not conducive to bed sharing at any point in life. In fact, most couples have to learn to sleep together and many are just incapable in the end.

Throw in a healthy baby, who moves, wriggles, snores, coos, wakes and needs all. night. long. and it can be something that a Western-reared parent just can not handle. They can't sleep and so they fall back into the cycle that they were raised to fall into--by sending the baby off to sleep alone so that they can get their stimulating-sensory-event-free sleep.

Cosleeping doesn't have to be bed sharing. It includes just having the crib in the parents' room (which is actually recommended by the AAP for the first 6 months of life--which very few people seem to know) and then the toddler bed and kid's bed until they're ready to be alone. It doesn't have to be an intrusion into mom and dad's space--there are healthier compromises. But this, too, can be very hard for the parent who has been conditioned to sleep only in total darkness and silence.

A white noise machine (or a fan) can help many people get past the little noises in the night, but if baby's not in bed, that can defeat the 'mom wakes at the smallest sound' safety that's built in to protect our babies and keep their natural biorhythms going (which are attuned to our own).

It's not for everyone. People who smoke, drink, do drugs or take prescription sleep aids should never have baby in their bed (and if you smoke in the house, you shouldn't have a baby in the house at all--it's the number two direct cause of SIDS). That crib in the room can still be an option, however. People who are addicted to big, fluffy pillows and miles of bedding should not have baby in the bed. People who are exceptionally deep sleepers--same deal (and if you're drop dead exhausted from a sleep situation that's not working, that's not particularly safe, either!). Obesity? Well, that's a crock. The whole "overlying" thing makes it sound like fat people have no sense of touch. Without a secondary problem, that's just not the case. Secondary conditions that may cause dangerous sleeping habits that afflict obese people also affect thin people and should be taken into consideration with anyone before sharing bed with a baby.

The ideal situation for cosleeping is the biggest bed you can afford with the firmest mattress, on the floor (no frame and no headboard/footboard for baby to get caught in) with a parent/parents who is/are not under the influence of any substances, including prescription substances, with no pillows around the baby and no heavy blanket (baby does best in a sleep sack or something similar).

We do a family bed and sleep great. I know where my kids are (so no horror movie scenarios for me, thanks), they know where we are (no monsters to keep us coming back in so they don't feel lonely, scared, etc.) and when they're ready to have their own beds, that will be up to them. That's what works for our family. Like I said, I was raised to see the whole thing completely different from the culture I am surrounded by. I would never ask of my children what I wouldn't want for my own life. And in this case, that is to be alone while they sleep. Finally, it facilitates nursing as well as our connection. Never do I feel as at peace as those last moments of looking at my sleeping family before I let myself succumb to sleep.


  1. Great post! Thank you!
    I guess I only talk about these issues with others who parent like I do, because at my daughter's first pedi visit, I let something about bed sharing slip and of course got a nice guilt trip as a result. I sort of forgot for a moment that it's not the "normal" way of doing things in our culture. Thanks for the reminder that it *is* perfectly normal outside the western world - and it's the best thing for our children if we can do it safely :)

  2. Good good stuff :)) Thank you for sharing! Lots of good info that was new to me and stuff that reinforced my current understandings :)) I was raised in a family bed, too, with my mom and brother, and my kids have (and still do) sleep with me since birth (ranging in ages from 13 months to 11 years old). I really hate how the medical society acts like they have a monopoly on "safety" and "health". I feel like I should be able to be honest and be supported, but that rarely happens. I usually leave appointments feeling like I've been harassed and mistreated and bullied and treated like a dumb dangerous mom. It takes me at least a week to recover from a visit -- partly why I welcome avoiding them. Anyway, thank you again for sharing this post :)))


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