There are equal camps of thought supporting co-sleeping with a baby, especially if he or she is nursing, and others arguing against co-sleeping based on emotional and psychological reasons.
There are a number of arguments for and against the practice, and in the end, each family has to determine which prevailing theory to believe.
Too often co-sleeping is confused with the practice of placing a bassinet in the same room as the parents. While pediatricians do not debate this practice, especially when the infant is very young, the lines become blurred when it comes to co-sleeping. What is hotly contended is the practice of placing the baby in the bed with you and then falling asleep together. While both camps agree parents should avoid sharing a bed if the baby is younger than three months of age, had a low birth weight or was born prematurely, the choice is left up to each family to decide afterward.
Co-sleeping with a baby is culturally accepted in most non-western countries. In America, it was the accepted norm until the turn of the century.
Mothers who breastfeed their babies agree it is much easier to place their child within arm’s reach at night. Sharing the bed makes breastfeeding at night easier, and mothers receive more sleep because they are not having to leave the bed to get their baby. Secondly, if the infant is lying next to them, then the infant usually makes little to no fuss and no one else in the home experiences disruption by crying.
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Breastfed babies digest breastmilk quickly, which means they have to eat more often. Babies who are able to access the milk they need, when they need it, will receive more milk this way.
For working mothers, sleeping with their baby is another way to reconnect with their little one when they must be away from the home during the day. The sense of closeness and skin to skin contact that is so important to the infant-mother bond is reinforced during this time. This assists the baby’s emotional and social development.
Researchers at Notre Dame recently discovered a baby’s stress hormones elevate when left alone at night or sleeps away from his or her mother. High-stress hormones deplete the immune system in very young infants and the hormones may not be processed and flushed from the bodily efficiently due to immature systems. Some believe it could lead to brain damage if experienced long enough because the infant’s brain does not have the maturity to dispose of these stress hormones yet. When babies are with their mothers the stress hormones go down and oxygen levels increase and become stable.
Many parents who advocate for co-sleeping with their infant believe it is cruel to take a socially wired being and separate him or her from others at night. They believe their baby derives a sense of well-being and security by sleeping in the bed with mom and dad as well as contributes to the child’s mental health.
When considering sharing your bed with your baby, understand that all experts agree the first three months of a baby’s life should occur in the same room as mom and dad. However, there is not a universal agreement about sleeping in the same bed, as the risk of injury or death is too great.
Sleeping with a baby younger than three months of age may place the baby at risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Although some dispute this, stating mothers are more attentive and will hear if their child stops breathing, as preventive care for their children.
Overlaying is a real possibility. This is the term given to a tragic series of events where a baby becomes pinned or crushed by the adults or blankets, pillows in the bed. Very young infants have chests that are compressible, and their tiny noses, mouths and heads can easily become trapped or covered. When this occurs, it does not take much to send a baby into arrest or distress.
Given this very real possibility, many parents opt to place their baby in a bassinet next to the bed, rather than in the bed directly. This is especially true if you and your partner sleep on a waterbed or memory foam type mattress.
However, mothers who sleep with their babies do get more sleep than mothers who separate from their children. However, they still do not get enough sleep overall, owing to the movements and sounds sleeping infants make. Many new mothers who choose to co-sleep actually deprive their infants of the sleep they need because they pick up their baby at every little noise.
With a baby in the bed, less intimacy of a sexual nature can take place between the parents. Many parents find it stifling to try and have sex in the same bed where their infant is burbling happily to him or herself. Most find it a complete turn-off.
This can lead to resentment from one or both parties and is a compromise both should be willing to make. Other arrangements have to be made in order for you and your mate to have some alone time.
Children definitely need their space too. Some parents believe children need to build their own identity aside from their parents and allowing them to have their own space as early as is safe, helps create an independent mindset.
Keep in mind that if you leave your child with a relative while you take a quick holiday, then your baby’s sleeping patterns become disrupted because he or she is used to sleeping with you. Even a night out on the town could be difficult since your baby will likely resist sleeping for the babysitter as well. Last, but not least, when it comes time to transfer your baby to his or her own room and own bed the transition can be more difficult the older a child is.
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