So, where does your baby sleep? Your family asks, friends cautiously inquire and the pediatrician, without fail, brings up the topic… Every. Single. Check up. And, let’s face it. As a mom, you have suddenly become “a pleaser”. So, you know the glorified answer everyone wants to hear. But the truth may be far different. At least, it was for me and my baby.
Hi, I’m Nina and I’m a co-sleeper. There. I said it. Let the judgement and preaching begin. From the scary SIDS commentary to the endless lectures of raising a spoiled child. Believe me, I’ve heard it all. And let me tell you, it doesn’t make being a mother any easier. Ironically, what does…co-sleeping with my daughter. Night after night, she sleeps in our bed. Her peanut size body curled up against mine. So yes, I co-sleep with my baby. Gasp! Do I love it? No, I actually can’t wait until she sleeps on her own. But for now, we sleep all together, because she wakes up frequently to nurse. And in the end, that is what matters. Sleep. I need it, my husband needs it, and most importantly, my little girl needs it too.
Despite the scrutiny co-sleeping receives within the U.S., research shows that when mother and baby co-sleep together, their sleep cycles begin to synchronize. Dr. William Sears, co-sleeping expert, calls this synchrony “nighttime harmony”. In this way, the baby will begin sleeping more and nursing less throughout the night as time goes on with mom nearby. Meaning more sleep for Mom and Dad! According to Dr. Sears, the baby will learn to sleep through the night based on the mother’s body language and presence. So when baby wakes at night, the mother gives her familiar presence, or close-by touch, which conveys a reassuring “it’s okay, go back to sleep” message to baby. Eventually, the baby will get older and naturally learn to soothe him or herself.
And Dr. Sears isn’t alone. Other research continues to support the idea that co-sleeping biologically benefits babies to thrive and develop, especially when they are most vulnerable during the night. According to Dr. James McKenna, co-sleeping can actually help babies develop steady and consistent breathing patterns at night. Specifically, the breathing of mother and infant, together, are regulated by the presence of one another, and therefore, creates a sort of respiratory balance between each other. With the sounds of the mother’s inhalation and exhalation, the carbon dioxide being exhaled by one and inhaled by the other, expedites the baby’s next breath (McKenna). So from early on, when a mother and baby co-sleep, the mother’s body actually projects signals to the baby’s body on how and when to breathe. Furthermore, the mother’s body has also been shown to help regulate the infant’s sleep heart rate and body temperature during co-sleeping as well (McKenna). This nighttime natural connection is therefore so crucial for the baby, especially if parents worry about SIDS. So why fight it?
Listen, I’m the last one to judge another mom for not co-sleeping. That’s not my job. Her baby is going to be way different from mine, and will demand different needs. What I do think is more important to highlight, for all mothers, especially those feeling ashamed for co-sleeping, is that you gotta do what works for your family. Trust that your are the best mother for your baby. You know your baby better than anyone else, because you have been loving them since day one. Remember, there is a natural connection between you and your baby that no one can cross. And when it comes to sleep, co-sleeping honors that connection. And maybe, for now, that’s the saving grace getting you through another night.
McKenna, J., et al, “Experimental studies of infant-parent co-sleeping: Mutual physiological and behavioral influences and their relevance to SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).” Early Human Development 38 (1994)187-201.
Sears, William. Scientific Benefits of Co-Sleeping. Ask Dr. Sears. Web. January 24, 2012.