You're Not Coddling Your Baby! (Why Co-Sleeping is A-Okay)
How many times have you heard it? Everyone’s constant advice "Let her cry!" or "He'll stop eventually". It seems like every time you turn around someone is scolding the way you interact with your child. We live in an information era where we tend to grasp on to the biggest headline and hold on to it for dear life, regardless of how credible it may be. Sometimes it can be hard to stick to what you feel is right when everyone is giving you sidelong glances. Your parental instincts are full-blown raging, yet the current social climate tells you not to comfort your child's every cry else they will grow up to be adults completely incapable of being self-sufficient. While the mental image of a child like that of 42-year-old Will Ferrell in the movie "Step-Brothers" may be utterly terrifying, I urge you to pay heed to your instincts and to recently developed research that all points to one thing: You're not spoiling your child! In fact, you just may be setting your child up to be a well-adapted and loving adult.
CO-SLEEPING IS NOT CODDLING!
Throughout the ages, co-sleeping has been the historical norm. In fact, up until the past few decades, families have done nothing but sleep together. It wasn't until the rise of western civilization in the mid-1900's that cribs and nurseries even became used, mostly due to the fact that families could afford to build or use a separate room. While the exact reason why western families started making this shift is unknown, it is thought that having a nursery and using nannies was an inclination of social status. Only the "poor" couldn't afford to provide their newborn with his or her own room, generally far away from the sleeping parents. Ironically, it is being found today through long-term studies that babies who sleep in separate rooms often grow up to be poorly adjusted adults. The reasons behind this are simple, if not common sense. Firstly, there is no such thing as "too much" affection. No this doesn't just apply to little girls, but to your boys as well. When babies cry, it is literally an evolutionary adaptation passed along meant as a warning or an alarm (no wonder they're so loud). Parents come to know this as the only time a child will typically cry is when in need of something. That being said, the idea that a baby should be left alone to sleep and cry seems slightly illogical.
IT'S ALL IN THE FACTS
Research shows that co-sleeping is an incredible way to meet many of your baby’s needs. Continuous crying leads to an increase in the stress hormone "cortisol", which at high levels is believed to lead to social attachment disorders later in life, according to scientist James McKenna. When you are readily available to comfort your child in times of distress this enhances both emotional security and nourishment. Not just that, but when your baby is born they have a hard time regulating their own temperature. Your baby's temperature will drop one degree while away from external sources of heat (such as your body), leading to a decrease in energy for growth and more inclination towards illness. This makes sense considering the energy that could have been used for growth is instead used to maintain temperature. Those not in favor of co-sleeping or comforting may offer a seemingly simple solution: blankets. The truth is anything concerning children is never that simple. Infants require skin to skin contact as it's shown to help them breathe easier, decrease stress levels, and increase growth rates. As for newborns, your skin is a literal painkiller, which is pretty nifty. It is amazing how our bodies have developed to nurture children. Even the CO2 expelled by a parent sleeping in proximity to their child is a stimulus for the child's breathing reflex. Not only does skin to skin contact benefit the baby, it benefits mama as well! When a mother holds her child it is shown to increase her oxytocin levels and decrease maternal anxiety. Coincidently, you may also be literally saving your child's life. In parts of the world where co-sleeping is the cultural norm such as Asia, SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) is seen the least. So, how does co-sleeping sound now?
THERE'S ALWAYS TWO SIDES TO THE STORY
As with anything, you can always find content to support an opposing theory. With co-sleeping versus isolated sleeping, the list of cons is relatively short. Scientist Melissa Hunsley argues that co-sleeping is actually stressful for your baby. The idea is that the increase in sleep disruptions caused by co-sleeping actually leads to an increase in stress levels harmful to your baby. Studies also show that in countries with a high number of disadvantaged families such as New Zealand, co-sleeping is linked to a higher instance of SIDS. This is thought to be because of a supposed link between SIDS and a greater tendency towards alcohol and tobacco use by impoverished families rather than middle-class families. No definitive proof of the causes of SIDS has been found, though.
Other supporters will point to instances in which a caregiver will accidentally harm the baby by rolling on top of him or her. While these occurrences are extremely rare they are also easily avoidable by placing your infant upon a surface separate from yourself. While the choice is ultimately left to the caregiver and what he or she may feel is best for the child, it is important to understand that there are many forms of co-sleeping, not all of which include your child sleeping in the bed with you. Many of these options will still allow your baby to enjoy some of the benefits of co-sleeping without direct contact.
No honest parent intentionally tries to do wrong by their children, but it's easy to get lost in cultural norms that have no factual backing. You should now be well-equipped to handle the next nay-sayer that tells you you're going to turn your eighteen-month-old baby boy into a "pansy" by comforting him at night. As with anything, rely on your instincts. We human beings enjoy the longest developmental period of our children out of all of the earth's creatures, and this is because we're rather good at it. With that being said, enjoy all those sleepless nights and happy parenting!
By Hannah Clayton