Jun 18, 2011

Should I Sleep With My Baby?

Category: Pregnancy and Birth
Posted By: Bridget
picture of sleeping babyI am an older mum pregnant with my second child, my first child is from a previous marriage and is 17. When I was bringing up my son I had not even thought of sleeping in a bed with him, my husband at the time was quite conservative and by upbringing so was I. We put Ashton into a cot in his own room from very early on, without thinking that there might be another way to do it. Ashton has never been an easy sleeper and has always been anxious, often had nightmares and in general sleep has been an issue for him. Now that I am pregnant with my second child my new husband and I are discussing where our baby should sleep and if he should sleep in the bed with us. What do you think is the right thing to do?

Answer:

To start with I think it is worth putting a newborn baby in context. Man's environment has changed at an extremely accelerated pace, much faster then we are able to make physical evolutionary adaptations. Therefore, although the human adult has used its ability to think to adapt to and create the world we live in, the newborn baby does not have this thinking capacity and is, to begin with, a rather primitive creature. The environment that a baby is adapted to and therefore has an innate expectation of, is that of an early hunting and gathering existence. The baby expects to be carried, jostled, live in a small but very busy community and to sleep in packs. There are several survival mechanisms in a baby, the main one of these is that if they feel unsafe or uncomfortable they will cry in order to elicit help. In a primitive environment a baby that is left alone to sleep is likely to end up as lunch for some passing carnivore. For this reason babies are very clear that when left alone without comforting sounds, feelings and movements of adult protectors, they cry. We know ourselves as adults that it is hard to sleep when anxious and so a baby needs to feel safe and have their anxiety at an acceptable level before they are able to fall asleep. Bear in mind their instincts are telling them it is unsafe to sleep alone, they do not yet realise they are born into a world with very few passing carnivores.

In many cultures it is still the norm to sleep with children well in to advanced years. I have a friend who grew up in Burma and described the family bedroom as being one long room running the length of the back of the house, for every new baby that was born a new mattress was added to the bed and all the siblings moved over to make room for the new baby next to the mother. In Japan also it is still perfectly normal behaviour for all members of the family to sleep together in one bed.

However, I am fully aware that we are not living in Burma, we are no longer members of small tribes and our society is extremely different from that of a primitive hunter-gatherer society. We live in small nuclear families with parents who would really like some time and space to themselves in the evening!

Once you know and understand the position of the baby as described above, there are several options. If you and your husband value your sleeping space alone then it is still perfectly possible to help your baby learn to sleep alone and there are several books which take a relatively humane approach to doing this by either no-crying or minimal, controlled crying techniques which will help to minimize the anxiety your baby feels. You may chose to sleep in the room but not the bed with your child which allows your child the sound of comforting adults nearby. If you are breastfeeding on demand it may simply be easier in the short term to have the baby in bed with you to minimize having to wake and go to the baby in those first sleep-deprived months.

In all, I fear, I have left you with a number more questions and a great deal of information to digest. I hope, however, that this will help you go some way to finding a way that works for you and your family, and I send my admiration for making the effort to think things through carefully and with understanding.



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