Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Before the teenagers joined us to live in our condo, the term "co-sleeping" had a single meaning to me. My husband and I practiced it by sharing our bed and room with our son from the time he was born until he turned two. A lot of people might frown upon our choice, citing the common warnings we hear in the mainstream media about sharing beds with children. These allegations are completely over-blown, though, and it usually turns out that in the rare incidents where child suffocation takes place, the co-sleeping adult is either drunk or drugged, or both. When I was co-sleeping with my son, my maternal instincts completely took over the nights, and I developed a miraculously constant subtle awareness to the position of my son, even as I slept deeply. It would have been impossible for me or my husband to roll over him. Though bed-sharing is still a highly controversial topic, we have found in our personal experiences with co-sleeping and other aspects of Attachment Parenting Theory, that the benefits far outweigh the (highly unlikely) risk.
I was easily convinced to practice co-sleeping because it made so much sense to my maternal instincts after childbirth. All mammals co-sleep. Humans did it for thousands of years until TV and propaganda were born. Most humans in the "third world" still do it without much incidence. Why not sleep next to your child if this facilitates nighttime breastfeeding, shortens response time to distress, and gives parents better quality sleep? Co-sleeping certainly made my adjustment to motherhood easier.
The short and long-term effects of co-sleeping on child development are widely-known and well published, But, in addition to the obvious, I've personally observed other positive effects with my son. For example, without a single night's interruption, he's made the transitions from bed sharing (0-2 months) to room-sharing (3 months - 2 years), to sleeping alone in a separate room (2 - 4 years) and now again sharing a room with two noisy teenage siblings in a whole new bed. He adjusted so instantly, you'd think he'd been sleeping in this arrangement all his life.
My 4-year-old has been an excellent night-sleeper since he was born. He is able to sleep peacefully in a comfortable bed and without fear, anywhere-- even in hotel rooms in foreign countries in the opposite time zone. He also prefers to sleep in TOTAL darkness which is a rare and healthy practice for good quality sleep and proper melatonin production. On some days when both his parents are tired, he'll even go to bed on his own. I really believe that this strong sleep security comes from co-sleeping practices. His transition from womb to world was a natural progression through the consistent and familiar factors of the breath, scent, sight, and sound of his mother. Everything else is a strange new world for helpless and vulnerable infants, therefore, keeping the mother/caregiver close plays a significant role in giving children a sense of trust and security in their world which will carry through into adulthood.
Our son goes to bed each night without a fuss. Since he's been potty trained, he's never had a bed-wetting accident. He never wakes up in the middle of the night to come to his parents' room, and he always wakes up in a happy mood. What more can I ask for?
I hear many mothers complain that their young kids are difficult sleepers, especially working mothers. This is no surprise in today's world, where employed mothers are forced to be physically away from their children for long stretches in those critical infant months of bonding. Separation anxiety is known to affect several developmental aspects in children, however, I've come to believe that one thing that new working mothers can do in order to reverse some of these otherwise inevitable consequences, is to share the night with their children. I don't have any statistics on this and I doubt they exist, but common sense and experience tell me that something positive must come out of a child's hearing the mother's breath and heartbeat through the night after her absence all day.
I have a friend who will readily attest to this. She was quite reluctant to go back to work after the birth of her son, but she insisted on co-sleeping with him until at least the age of 6. Her son is now 16. The bond between them is intact, natural, and undeniable. As a working mother, she strongly believes that co-sleeping was one of the best things she has done for him, and for herself, in those difficult tender days when she had to be separated from him to go to work. Giving him her nighttime presence was how she made up for the lost time together during the day. It worked beautifully!
To all you working moms out there, I encourage you to get the facts and consider co-sleeping. It's not just good for baby, it's good for parents, too. Besides, is there anything more beautiful and peaceful than to sleep and awaken to the sight, scent, and breath of a sleeping child? Nope.
So now that the teens have moved in, the definition of co-sleeping has changed a little for me. It now translates to five persons sharing a two-bedroom apartment. But just like the old term, our current co-sleeping practices have also proven to have amazing benefits that far outweigh the inconvenience of limited space. With the exception of the rare wrinkle, everybody is adjusting beautifully here, and the teens have all but lost complete interest in moving into a bigger home...for now.
Any way you look at it, co-sleeping is a cozy and highly bonding experience.