A Christian Perspective on Co-Sleeping with Your Child
God designed the physiology of human babies so that breast-milk continues to be a healthy part of their diet for at least 2-3 years. Mothers who co-sleep with their infants breastfeed about twice as long as mothers who don’t co-sleep. Breast-feeding mothers who continue to maintain separate sleeping quarters usually find it difficult to keep their energy levels up or to continue nursing their babies for more than a few weeks or months. Should they fall back to sleep while nursing in an upright position in an inappropriate furnishing, they may also risk dropping their babies. Co-sleeping induces important behavioral and physiological adaptations in mothers and infants, including increased breast-feeding, increased use of the safe back sleeping position, reduced deep-sleep, which may prevent SIDs (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), longer stretches of infant sleep, more affectionate and protective maternal instincts, less infant crying, and more positive night time experiences by bed-sharing families. Nurturing throughout the night is important to maintaining infant breathing patterns and heart rates, proper infant brain development, with higher IQs later, healthier weight gain with less childhood obesity, less risk for SIDs, less fussiness, more consistent care and comfort of newborn babies. It’s also beneficial for natural child spacing and minimal sleep deprivation for new mothers. Mother-infant co-sleeping arrangements with breastfeeding is a biologically and psychologically appropriate developmental behavior for your infants first years of life.
The primarily Western societal taboo on parents sleeping with their children is an unfounded, paranoid trend of modern culture. Since the beginning of time, parents in every culture have slept along side their babies. This practice was attested to in the Bible, where a man who was disturbed during the night by a neighbor exclaimed that he was already in bed with his children and couldn’t get up. Children sleeping alone is a relatively new observable fact that has permeated this society since the Freudian movement, which claimed to have scientific evidence to support this deviant practice. These so called authorities, who have turned the world-wide practice of co-sleeping into an abnormal behavior, while accepting the more recent preference of isolating infants, which is mainly associated with our Western society, have characterized this modern practice as normal parenting. Some Freudian authorities purport that sexual abuse is more likely to occur in a co-sleeping family, but this is generally unsubstantiated. Someone who intends to sexually abuse a child will do it regardless of where the child sleeps in the home, but this won’t likely occur in a co-sleeping arrangement where another parent is present. The child sleeping alone is the unprotected child, who would be a more likely target by an abuser. Parents who have genuine emotional bonds with their children, which is often enhanced by the co-sleeping environment, are less likely to act abusively toward their children. Babies separated from their mothers at night have been sexually abused by others in the home, kidnapped from their cribs, bitten and suffocated by house pets, choked to death from vomiting, died in house fires, and often died from SIDs. A more recent development is insurance frauds, where a parent has suffocated an unsupervised child to collect on insurance premiums. There’s absolutely no indication of any emotional or physical benefit to an infant sleeping apart from its mother in a frequently unsafe environment.
None of the anti-co-sleeping authorities give any really convincing reason that babies should sleep in their own bed, except for the often selfishly motivated sexual convenience of the parents. The sexual desires of the adult relationship should never be considered more important than the immediate needs of the child. This is not to say that parents should neglect their relationship in order to satisfy every demand of an uncooperative toddler, but that the true needs of children should always come before sexual convenience. Co-sleeping parents may need to have a bit more inventive sex life, but it’s well worth the inconvenience to grow a happier, healthier, and safer baby. The sexual relations may need to be moved out of its traditional bedroom location to another vacant area of the house. The parent’s attention to the child’s needs allows them to grow up secure and independent. Children will eventually develop the desire to have their own sleeping space in their own time if allowed to do so. Co-sleeping is usually a safe and normal behavior, depending on the environmental circumstances, and likely beneficial to parent-child relationship. Separation during the long evening hours may even decrease the emotional bond between family relationships. Sleeping alone may mean turning from dependence on people to objects like bottles, pacifiers, blankies, and teddy bears. This practice may give rise to the materialism in today’s object infatuated culture. Infant isolation teaches our little ones a harmful mistrust for people, and a great loneliness that teddy bears just can’t fix. Some more sensitive babies may suffer more psychological damage from the nightly trauma of being separated from the mother. Parent-centered advice such as letting the child cry it out is inhumane and has definite psychological consequences. Weaning children from their normal need for the emotional security and comfort of the parents’ presence may give the child emotional problems later such as depression, anxiety, and difficulty establishing intimate adult relationships. A baby’s continuous cries are enough evidence of emotional turmoil, along with the moral apathy of the parents.
From Biblical times until now, most sudden infant deaths were believed to be caused by accidental suffocation by a co-sleeping mother who rolls over on her child. Now that many babies sleep alone in cribs, this idea no longer holds true. The typical parent would be easily disturbed by the discomfort of lying on a child unless intoxicated by alcohol or drugs, whether the drugs are for medical or recreational purposes. Co-sleeping isn’t inherently dangerous, though it may be considerably safer. Almost all SIDs deaths occur when a child is sleeping alone, rather than in a co-sleeping arrangement. The majority of SIDs deaths happen when an infant is sleeping alone in a crib, which is where the common term crib death comes from. Many children are endangered when they get trapped in unsafe bedroom furnishings, such as infant cribs, headboards and foot railings, pillows and comforters, and other bedding. In Japan, where co-sleeping on a futon type arrangement on the floor is the norm, the lowest SIDs rate of industrialized nations has been consistently maintained. Deaths in the co-sleeping environment are tragic accidents, but can almost always be attributed to unsafe sleeping conditions. The parents’ primary goal is to avoid a dangerous co-sleeping situation, while keeping the proven and obvious benefits of the co-sleeping arrangement. Instead of making parents hesitate to co-sleep with their infants, it would be more reasonable for safety conscious authorities, to teach parents who co-sleep with their children to do it safely.
1. Babies should always sleep on a firm surface, never on waterbeds, comforters, soft pillows, or toys.
2. Parents should never sleep with a baby on sofas or recliners with crevices the baby may get trapped in.
3. Never sleep with a baby while smoking or intoxicated with medications, alcohol, or drugs.
4. Protect your baby from falling off the bed with walls or bedrails, and don’t allow any space between them.
5. Your baby should sleep on its back or side as is the natural position for a breastfeeding baby.
6. Don’t let a toddler sleep next to a very tiny infant.
7. Avoid railing that could trap a baby’s head or neck.
8. Never place bed near blinds with hanging strings.
For Further Reading:
The Family Bed by Tine Thevenin
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding- La Leche League
Nighttime Parenting – Dr. William Sears
©2009 Rev. Kimberly Hartfield, B.S., M.S.