Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sleeping Arrangements

Cosleeping and bedsharing have been the standard among societies around the world for hundreds of years, yet it raises controversy in western cultures. Cosleeping is the practice of having an infant or child sleep within close proximity of the parents or caregivers such as the same room and is often used interchangeably with the term bedsharing which is the practice of infants and young children sleeping in the same bed with their parent(s)/caregiver(s).

Research conducted by Morelli, Rogoff, Oppenheim and Goldsmith found that of 100 societies surveyed around the world, the U.S. was the only one in which babies slept in a separate room from their parents or caregivers. They conducted another study, incorporating 136 societies, which revealed that in 2/3 of the societies babies slept in the same bed as their mothers. In studying cultural variations of cosleeping, Morelli found that Mayan families practice bedsharing first with the mother during infancy and then with other family members during early childhood. Their beliefs encourage family interdependence. Study western cultures including the American culture found that cosleeping may occur for the first few weeks or months of life but around 3-6 months of age infants are moved to their own room because parents/caregivers belief this is an appropriate time to learn to be independent and self reliant. Sleeping arrangements are highly influenced by culture, family economic status, feeding method, ethnicity, goals and infant-parent biology. 

Controversy surrounding bedsharing and cosleeping raises questions in regards to benefit vs. safety. I am an advocate of Attachment Parenting and cosleeping/bedsharing and strongly believe that the benefits far outweigh the risks.  Dr. James McKenna of the University of Notre Dame's Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory conducts research regarding the safety of different sleep environments as well as the the physiological and/or psychological consequences of the different choices of sleeping arrangements parents make. In his paper, Why babies should never sleep alone: A review of the co-sleeping controversy in relation to SIDS, bedsharing and breast feeding, he states "mother–infant co-sleeping represents the most biologically appropriate sleeping arrangement for humans and is both ancient and ubiquitous simply because breast feeding is not possible, nor as easily managed, without it." It appears to me that we as humans, are the only mammals which push our offspring away from the nest (bed) so to speak. Infant safety is the most important aspect to consider and current research has torn apart previous notions of cosleeping being unsafe. Older studies were poorly constructed and failed to not only take into account the reasons for infant deaths that occurred during bedsharing but to accurately report their findings. Dr. McKenna goes on to state, "major epidemiological studies have shown that when a committed caregiver, usually the mother, sleeps in the same room but not in the same bed with their infant the chance of the infant dying from sudden infant death
syndrome (SIDS) is reduced by 50%.2123 This protective factor does not generalise to co-sleeping in proximity to siblings.22 That a specific adult caregiver appears necessary for protection lends support to the hypothesis that it is in the nature of the mutual sensory vigilance i.e. the social and biological connection between an infant and its caregiver that is critical if co-sleeping is to be protective (or dangerous as argued elsewhere.15). In other words, caregiver intention and motivation matters!" Safety education is important and readily available to those considering bedsharing. According to Dr. McKenna, bedsharing is biologically appropriate! Human infants are without a doubt the most immature, reliant and slowest developing of any primate. Human infants are completely dependent on a caregiver, primarily the mother so it makes complete sense from an evolutionary standpoint that bedsharing and cosleeping would be the most favorable condition for infant physiological-psychological development.

Here are some of the advantages of cosleeping/bedsharing:
Baby knows you are present to respond to emotional and physical needs

Babies breast feed more frequently with fewer disruptions to mother's sleep and consequently both babies and mothers receive more sleep

Babies cry less

Frequent breast feedings mean enhanced breast feeding and lowered risk of disease

Close caregiver-infant proximity means higher potential to intercede if baby is having breathing difficulty, choking or if other health status changes occur

Working mothers/fathers/caregivers have the opportunity to spend more time nurturing and interacting with their infants, promoting bonding

Some argue that there are disadvantages to consider as well. The relationship with your partner may be altered, there may be difficulty transitioning the child to their own bed at a later age and worries arise regarding the child sleeping away from the parent and in different settings. There is also the concern for an increased risk if SIDS related deaths, however as previously shown by research, the rate of SIDS related deaths decreases significantly when parents and caregivers take the time to learn to cosleep/bedshare safely and responsibly. It seems as is often the case that these disadvantages are case by case scenarios that we as adults are capable of altering.

I highly recommend reading Dr. McKenna's paper and exploring the research laboratory's website for additional information and reading material!

Wishing you a pot o' gold, and all the joy your heart can hold. Thanks for reading!
Top Mommy Blogs - Mom Blog Directory

No comments:

Post a Comment

Leave a comment!