In our culture, it is customary that infants sleep in cribs or bassinets in their own rooms. Many pediatricians, counselors, and researchers have questioned the wisdom of this practice. Certainly, mothers have known for centuries that the best place for babies to sleep is in bed with their mothers.
The United States is the only country in the world with a strong taboo against shared sleeping, co-sleeping, and the family bed. This has only been true for about the last century.
If you as a mother would like your infant to sleep right next to you in bed, I am happy to tell you that most of the rest of the world, as well as medical research, shows that there are great benefits to this practice. And in keeping with our theme of Unhindered Living, sharing sleep with your child removes the hindrances to good sleep and relaxed enjoyment of your children and parenting experience. Not only are you assured of your child's well-being because the child is right there with you, but the child feels safe, secure, and cries less because of your presence and the opportunity to breastfeed during the night.
For those of you who believe in the Bible, there will be a short discussion of what the Bible has to say about cosleeping and related subjects. This will lead into what the rest of history has to say about it.
In fact, in Luke 11:5-7 tells a story that depicts how families slept in Bible times.
"Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.' Then the one inside answers, 'Don't bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can't get up and give you anything'."
Up until about the 15th century, sleeping arrangements were given little thought. At that time, there were some that began to circulate the idea that children were not innocent, and that shared sleeping and touching each other might lead to promiscuity. It had little immediate effect, however, because cosleeping was they way all families slept at the time. Most families were poor or of modest means, and had not the space for each person to have their own room.
In her book, "The Family Bed," Tine Thevenin relates that in the 17th century, the largest of all beds was designed by John Fosbrooke for the royal family in England. This bed was big enough to sleep 102 persons!! As she says, "Obviously, the luxury of separate beds and bedrooms of which we boast today was not at all considered to be a sign of wealth and prosperity during that time." Even though wealth made space available to the affluent, having separate bedrooms was not considered necessary or desirable.
In the 1700's we see a definite change in the way children are viewed. There was a strong religious movement that stressed personal communion with God and the perfection of the individual. "Both these virtues depended on self-reliance, a quality it was said best taught by early independence training" (Ryerson, date unknown). Although these early "experts" meant well, they were woefully unaware of the needs of children and the effect such "independence training" would eventually have on children, and society in general.
A child whose needs are met is more likely to grow to have a healthy independence. There are also a whole host of other beneficial effects from shared sleeping.
When the infant is in the womb, it is physically connected to you through the umbilical cord. The amniotic fluid and the strong walls of the uterus provide tactile stimulation. The child feels a physical connection. When the baby is born, while he spends a lot of time being held, the average American infant also spends a significant amount of time separated from his parents. He sleeps in a bed alone at night or during naps, as well as spending time in swings, infant carriers, and other contraptions designed to contain him so that he doesn’t have to be held. This is very frustrating and anxiety-producing for the infant, who has been used to constantly feeling a physical connection to his mother. To put him in a bed alone, in another room, away from familiar sights and sounds, and away from the physical contact he needs can produce a lot of fear in the infant. Since he does not yet have the experience or the cognitive development to deal with these situations, he requires the presence of another person to mediate the effects of these emotional experiences. Many so-called “experts” today claim you should put your baby in his or her bed and let them “cry it out.” This only creates an atmosphere of fear and frustration for the child, who does not understand why you refuse to care for him. A very basic sense of mistrust begins to develop.
Children who spend hours during the night not being touched are also missing out on vital physiological stimulation they need to function properly.
According to the latest research, doctors are finally coming to understand what parents have known all along - allowing children to cry, alone, for long periods can bed damaging to them emotionally. Click here to learn about this research.
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