Co-sleeping, or sharing a family bed, is common in other cultures, but highly controversial in the United States. The American Academy of Pediatrics says it increases the chances of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and recommends babies always be put down in a bassinet or crib. Last fall, when the city of Milwaukee discovered that 30 countries had lower infant death rates than theirs, they created scary ads featuring a baby sleeping next to a knife with copy that read: "Your baby sleeping with you is just as dangerous."
However, several trusted authorities say it's perfectly safe. Dr. William Sears is perhaps the most vocal advocate. He coined the term attachment parenting -- a type of childcare rooted in the belief that mothers and fathers must always be sensitive to their baby's needs, including at night. Actress Mayim Bialik is a mother of two who follows Dr. Sears' advice, and has never owned a crib. Here, in HuffPost Parents' first installment of Change My Mind, she presents the benefits of co-sleeping and answers the big elephant-in-the-room question: Where/when do you have sex!?
It's important to note that Bialik and her husband co-sleep with their two boys who are well beyond babyhood -- there is no risk of SIDS now. Opponents to sharing a bed with toddlers and kids, however, include child psychologists, who say co-sleeping is problematic at any age because it inhibits kids' independence, as well as many moms and dads who think having children in the bedroom is not romantic, comfortable or beneficial. Suzanne Brown is one of these moms. She made a choice never to co-sleep with either of her two kids, and explains why that works best for her family.
So, what do you think? Vote on whether you believe sharing a family bed is a good idea or not. Then read on for both moms' opinions and see if they change your mind.
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I have never owned a crib. Or a bassinet. We have one bedroom in our house. There are two mattresses in that bedroom. They are next to each other. One is a king-size. One is a full. We all sleep together. In one big bed.
The Upsides of Sleeping Together
Sleeping next to a newborn facilitates nursing, helps a nursing mom and dad get more rest than they would if they had to physically get up to fetch the baby from another room, allows a mother's body to regulate a baby's body temperature, and allows for complete and utter vigilance by the mother. Sleeping in close proximity to a new-born guarantees that every jumpy or erratic breath that a newborn takes is monitored by the mother (even while the mother is asleep). Using a baby monitor is simply not the same thing as being next to your baby. When you are physically next to them, you can feel their bodies move, you can hear and analyze subtle changes in aspiration, and you are a millisecond away from reaching out to them.
Knowing that my babies were right next to me at night allowed me to rest knowing that I could tell if they were too hot, too cold, not breathing right -- whatever. I felt safe next to them, and I knew they were safe next to me. I know from personal experience, after nursing every night for a combined five-plus years, that if I had to do much more than simply roll over, I think I would have truly lost my mind and seriously considered not nursing anymore. So for me, co-sleeping facilitated what turned out to be one of my best parenting tools: nursing. The way I see it, it is absolutely natural, normal, and healthy to want to be close to your newborn both day and night.
Another tremendous and, frankly, unexpected upside to cosleeping and, in our case, bed-sharing, is that it is indescribably wonderful to sleep next to your children even if you are a light sleeper and love sleep. There is nothing that can compare to sharing sleep throughout the night, even though it takes some getting used to. Kids squirm a lot, and they often like to be pressed right up next to you for what our older son calls "the big cuddle," or they like to lie perpendicular to your body, for reasons I have never quite figured out but stopped trying to. Our older son snuggles very close for warmth at various times of the night and often has to be pried off with a surprisingly great deal of force if you need to extricate yourself from his sleepy grip.
People often assume (erroneously) that I am a heavy sleeper and that all people who co-sleep are heavy sleepers. They describe to me in gory detail how outrageously, obscenely active their kids are and how they can't deal with it because they need their sleep. First of all, I am not a heavy sleeper, so at first I felt every movement, too -- but you do get used to it. And many people decide to forgo that beauty rest because they fundamentally know it is best for their baby. So you haven't convinced me you can't co-sleep yet.
Second, if you are a person who really likes sleeping, I am afraid that you will be shocked and rather disturbed to discover that you never sleep the same way again after having kids as you did before you had them, especially if you are a mama. You get a sort of sixth sense for your baby at night, which gets stronger if you foster it. You are programmed to instinctually seek them out when they are in distress and to be attuned to them and vigilant about them. Many people wish this instinct would go away so they could just get some good sleep. Sorry, folks. That instinct is helpful and serves to keep your baby safe.
So What Does a Marriage Look Like with the Family Bed?
The question I get a lot is about me and my husband. And the sex. The people who ask are usually the people who also had more sex than we did before we had kids, but I understand the interest nonetheless. My husband happens to have come to the conclusion that bed-sharing is the best thing for our family. It fosters closeness, intimacy, and secure attachment, and this from a guy who hates cuddling at night. It feels good and it feels right. I am blessed to have a husband who agrees that this is ideal for us, even though he did not grow up with this concept.
Does that mean he doesn't desire to not have our boys in the bed sometimes? Sure. He wants to sleep in most days but rarely gets to. Our boys sleep in our bed. And we don't get to have sex in it. And that's the long and the short of it. We can be intimate in any other room of the house. And we have done just that. I am aware (and he is, too) that this is not the most convenient way to have intimacy. It's also not always the most comfortable way to have intimacy. But we have collectively and consciously chosen to live our life this way right now. There are worse things in life and in relationships.
My husband and I believe that we need to follow our instincts. And if you feel a desire to be with your children at night like we do, you will try to figure out how to work everything else in around that.
Excerpted from "Beyond the Sling: A Real-Life Guide to Raising Confident, Loving Children the Attachment Parenting Way" by Mayim Bialik, Ph.D. Published by Touchstone.
Sleeping in our house is an event best accomplished alone. I knew before my son was even born that co-sleeping was not our style. We evicted him from our room at barely two weeks old. I just couldn't sleep with him nearby. Every time he made noise I woke up. Every time he didn't make noise I leapt out of bed to watch him breathe. Sleeping in our bed was not even an option.
And so began the days that my husband lovingly referred to me as the "sleep sergeant." I worked hard to get my son, and 16 months later my daughter, to sleep a full night in their own space. And it worked! They go to bed without argument, they sleep a full night without interruption, which means they wake up well-rested and we wake up happy parents.
Our decision to not co-sleep with our children has allowed us to nurture our relationship as husband and wife, while at the same time instilling in our children the importance of being independent.
I love being a parent. It is a blessing so indescribable that one can only know the feeling when it happens. There are tough moments; moments that make you slam doors; moments where you hang your head and sob. But mostly there are the other moments; the candid smiles, the sticky kisses, the endless games of Candyland. The ones that let you know, "Yep, we're doing okay." It is because of all these moments that I need a moment (or perhaps several dozen of them). It is for this reason that I choose not to co-sleep. I need my space, my independence.
Our lives and the lives of our children are inextricably intertwined with one another and this is evident all day long. Yet at the same time, each one of us is an independent being with our own thoughts, fears, concerns, etc. So each one of us (both the kids and I) needs to have some time to be independent; to be herself (or himself).
I think this time away from one another is not only healthy, but also essential. It's my time and it's my husband's time. It's our time. It's so important to me that my identity be not just as a mother but also as a wife, a therapist, a friend, an individual. I believe this time is beneficial to my children as well because they are so much more than just my son or my daughter. They need a break from me just as I need a break from them.
In the course of a life span, so few are the days where we actually get to shelter and watch over our children. So quickly they will grow and be off conquering the world. And when this happens I want to look across the long divide of a queen mattress and see what I have always seen: my dear husband.
For us, the sleepy moments before nodding off have been significant. It's in the dark quiet that we have often had our meaningful conversations. It's when we both said, "Yes, let's sell the townhouse" and "I agree, maybe we should have a third child," and, "I love you too." Would we have these moments if there was a child, or two, in between us? Maybe. Maybe not. But for us these are our moments.
Our entire days are dedicated to our children. And we love it, but from 8:00 pm to 7:00 am we get to be what we were before the kids -- husband and wife.
If only we could get the dog out of our bed...
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Mayim BialikSuzanne M. BrownNeither argumenthas changed the most minds