Monday, January 24, 2011

To Cosleep or Not- That is the Question

Cosleeping. It’s a topic that’s gained more and more attention in the last few years, and one that tends to split parents into opposing opinion camps. While some parents cannot imagine the thought of sharing their marital bed with their little ones, other couples can’t fathom turning their children away from the nighttime comfort of mom and dad’s snuggles. Here’s a brief primer along with a few commonly asked questions about cosleeping. It’s meant to be an informative snapshot about the topic and I hope you find it helpful.

What exactly is cosleeping?
One myth about cosleeping is that it is exclusively parent and child sharing a bed. However, bedsharing is only one type of cosleeping. In fact, cosleeping, a tenant of attachment parenting, refers to the practice of parents and children sleeping in close proximity to one another. There are many ways for parents and children can cosleep:
  • Infant Cosleepers- Special bassinets that attach to the side of your bed. They allow your baby to be in close reach while keeping your infant on a firm, safe surface separate from your bed.
  • Bedsharing- Children and parents share the same bed. Most medical experts do not recommend this way of cosleeping for infants because of the risk of soft mattresses, blankets, parents rolling over on the baby, etc.
  • Room sharing- Keeping your child’s bed or bassinet in the same room as yours without explicitly sleeping in the same bed.

Is cosleeping safe to do with my infant?
The answer appears to be yes, when practiced safely. For parents of infants, medical experts recommend sleeping on a separate surface from your baby, whether in a co-sleeper that attaches adjacently to your bed or the baby sleeping in a bassinet in the same room.

Neither the American Academy of Pediatrics nor the US Consumer Product Safety Commission endorse direct bedsharing with infants. However, many parents still choose to have their baby sleep in the same bed with them. Dr. Sears provides a guide to safe bedsharing if this is your choice.

What about bedsharing with my older child?
Safe? Absolutely! Always make sure your child's head is not covered with blankets and that your child is not too warm or too cold. 

Cosleeping and children’s independence
Some child experts argue that cosleeping past the age of two can hinder a child’s independence. In the one study I have seen that examined these issues, the results were quite interesting and the interpretation really depends on how you yourself define ‘independence.’ Children who did not cosleep were more independent in that they were able to fall asleep alone and could return to sleep without parental soothing. But, interestingly, mothers who coslept with their preschoolers from the time they were infants reported that their children were slightly more self-reliant than did mothers of solitary sleeping children or reactive cosleeping children (children who started off the night in their own beds and end up in mom and/or dad’s bed). What does self-reliance mean? Things like dressing yourself, working out playmate problems on your own, etc.
Why? The authors found that parents of cosleeping children consistently encouraged these skills in their children and speculate that these parents allow their children to participate in decisions about where to sleep, which may foster their self-reliance skills.

Does this mean that if you don’t cosleep with your child he or she won’t be self-reliant? NO. All parents foster independence and self-reliance in their children in different ways and through different means. Cosleeping is just one way. All I’m trying to illustrate is that different things work for different families.

So how do I decide whether to cosleep or not?
This is one of those (many) parenting issues where there’s really not a right answer. You have to feel out what’s right for your family. The fact that you’re even reading this article and informing yourself on cosleeping speaks volumes about you as a parent- you’re concerned, conscientious, and going to make the best decision for you and your child. Feel it out as you go- anchor and adjust along the way. I’m confident in your abilities and you should be, too!

Reference: Keller, M. A. & Goldberg, W. A. (2004). Co-sleeping: Help or hindrance for young children's independence? Infant and child development, 13, 369-388.


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