- Keep the Children Out of Your Bed.
- Barrington H. Brennen,
December 20, 2001
It is common in our country for parents to
have their little children or one of the children sleep in the bedroom with them
and sometimes in the same bed. Is this good for growing children and for the
marriage relationship of the parents?
In many societies of the globe, the family bed
(children sleeping with parents) or co-sleeping, is very common. In her book,
"Our Babies, Ourselves," pediatric anthropologist Meredith Small tells
us that the United States is unique in the way that it treats its children
during sleep. Only in industrialized Western countries, such as the United
States, Canada and some European countries, has sleep become a private affair.
Small cites one study of 186 non-industrial societies; in none of these cultures
do babies sleep in a separate place before they are at least one year old. In
another study of 172 societies, all infants do some co-sleeping at night.
In the Bahamian and Caribbean societies, co-sleeping seem to be more popular
than solitary sleeping (infant sleeping alone).
However, having worked with thousands of
couples over the years, Iíve discovered that co-sleeping may have advantages
but also it can have serious disadvantages and present numerous problems for the
child as well as the parents.
- ADVANTAGES OF CO-SLEEPING
- Here are a few advantages of the family bed. 1. Dr. James
J. McKenna, professor of anthropology, Notre Dame University, states that
"co-sleeping affects infant physiology and patterns of arousal,
raising questions about currently accepted norms for "healthy"
infant sleep." He also states that "judging from the infantís
biology and evolutionary history, proximity to parental sounds, smells,
gases, heat, and movement during the night is precisely what the human
infantís developing system "expects," since these stimuli were
reliably present throughout the evolution of the infantís sleep
physiology." 2. Some experts say that the "family bed" is
very good for the breast-feeding infant and mother. It allows both to have
more rest. 3. Psychologist, Dr. Katherine Dettwyler, also supports the
"family bed" with this statement: "Human children are
designed to be sleeping with their parents. The sense of touch is the most
important sense to infants, along with sight. Young primates are carried
on their mother's body and sleep with her for years after birth, often
until well after weaning. The expected pattern is for mother and child to
sleep together, and for children to be able to nurse whenever they want
during the night." 4. Co-sleeping also reduces the risk of crib
death. When co-sleeping, the mother is monitoring the baby's sleep and
breathing patterns, even though she herself is asleep. When the baby has
an episode of apnea, she rouses the baby by her movements and touch. 5.
Other experts say that co-sleeping is good for working mothers who do
nighttime nursing. It allows her time to rest, although she is breast
- DISADVANTAGE OF CO-SLEEPING
- I have concerns about the family bed, or what others call
co-sleeping. While the above statements have merit, there are also rewards
to be gained with solitary sleeping for parent and child. To illustrate my
concerns and what I believe can be the disadvantages of co-sleeping, here
are a few points to consider:
1. The family bed or co-sleeping tends to
interfere with private time and intimate life of parents. Psychologist Dr.
Jodi Mindell, pediatric clinical director of the Sleep Disorders Center at
Allegheny University of the Health Sciences states that "Adult or
private conversation is difficult if not impossible with a child sleeping in
the same bed. And co-sleeping can prove deadly to your sex life. Parents
worry enough that their lovemaking will wake a child in the next room. When
your baby is in the same room or in the same bed, the possibility of
spontaneous lovemaking goes out the window"
2. Many parents use the family bed to
avoid serious problems in their marital relationship. As long as the child
sleeps between them it tends to mask the serious pit falls, thus both
partners may have a false sense of security in their marriage.
3. When infants spend too long a time in
the family bedroom, husbands and wives have as much difficulty adjusting to
the "couple bed" as the infant has to "solidarity
4. Many parents make a false assumption
that children do not hear their sounds of love making during the nights and
feel that "the children are too young to understand whatís going
on." This is a myth. Children tend to interpret the sounds of
lovemaking as fighting and inflicting pain. A little boy asked his mother
"why was daddy hurting you last night"
5. Many children who sleep with parents
are introduced prematurely to lifeís issues and concerns, thus, depriving
them of growing in a healthy, less stressful environment. Dr. Mindell states
"that many babies who share a room with their parents need Mom or Dad
present to fall asleep. Although this might be easy when your child is a
newborn, as she gets older you'll have a harder time being there at
6. Many single parents use their little
children as emotional crutches by having them sleep in the bed with them.
Some single mothers are literally afraid to sleep alone at nights. So they
would have their even pre-teenagers sleep with them. This can be very
unhealthy for the child and the parent.
7. Iíve had to help many parents who
found themselves exhausted after a "nightís rest" because their
rest was interrupted by the constant moving or noise of the baby.
- YOU CANíT KEEP A SECRET FROM A CHILD
Too many parents make the mistake by thinking that their
children are always asleep when they are making love or having a quiet
disagreement. This is far from the truth. Little children are very sensitive
about their environment. They usually hear and see everything thatís going
on but are unable to express what they are seeing or hearing.
Sometimes parent are unaware that their little
ones know all about their clandestine activities. Hence, they expose their
little ones to questionable activities forgetting that the childrenís minds
are like spongesĖabsorbing all what they see and hear. Here is an interesting
story that illustrates the point. It may cause you to laugh and cry.
Little Johnny sees his Daddy's car passing
the playground and going into the woods. Curious, he follows the car and sees
Daddy and Aunt Jane kissing. Johnny finds this so exciting and can barely
contain himself as he runs home and starts to tell his mother excitedly.
"Mommy, mommy, I was at the playground and daddy and . . . " Mommy
tells him to slow down, and that she wants to hear the story.
So Johnny tells her. "I was at the
playground and I saw Daddy's car go into the woods with Aunt Jane. I went to
look and Daddy was giving Aunt Jane a big kiss, then he helped her take off
her shirt, then Aunt Jane helped Daddy take his pants off, then Aunt Jane laid
down on the seat, then Daddy . . . " At this point, Mommy cut him off and
said, "Johnny, this is such an interesting story, suppose you save the
rest of it for supper time. I want to see the look on Daddy's face when you
tell it tonight."
At the dinner table, Mommy asks Johnny to
tell his story. He describes the car into the woods, the undressing, laying
down on the seat, and, "then Daddy and Aunt Jane did that same thing
Mommy and Uncle Jeff used to do when Daddy was in the Army."
POINTS TO CONSIDER
We must have a balanced approach concerning this matter,
and every family has its own characteristics to consider. It is my opinions
that it is better to keep the infant out of the bedroom from birth during
night-time sleep. However, this can only be most effective when there is
lots of cuddling, affection, and time spent with the child during waking and
day hours. Infants enjoy the tender touch of their mothers. The close body
contact during breast feeding is healthy. Therefore, let them enjoy as much
as they can. Even napping together during the day is very healthy. However,
when it is time for night-time sleep, close down shop and go to bed. If you
feel you must have your child with you, here are a few points to consider:
a. Let the child sleep in a bassinet near
the bed and not in your bed. Never allow the child to sleep at nights in
your bed with you. You can begin to teach privacy and respect by doing so.
However, day napping together is wonderful. Both of my children slept alone
in their own bed from birth. However, we spent hours during the day, and up
until bed time, holding and cuddling them. My dear wife breast-fed them
numerous times during the day, providing lots of intimate parent-child
b. Do not make love at anytime with the
child in the bedroom. Put the child out of the room at the time.
c. Plan to have the child sleep in his or
her own bed by the time he/she ceases breast feeding (age 6 to 12 months).
It is interesting to note that some anthropologists believe that the
"human children are also designed to have breast milk be a part of
their diet for a minimum of 2.5 years, with many indicators pointing to 6-7
years as the true physiological duration of breast-feeding -- regardless of
what your cultural beliefs may be." This poses a problem is the parent
continues to have children over a period of ten to fifteen years, at which
time the "couple bed" (parents sleeping alone) would have faded
away. This is not healthy for the marriage relationship. Thus, when the
children are really old enough to leave the room, mom and dad are
emotionally lost in it. For this reason alone couples may consider solitary
sleeping over co-sleeping.
d. Remember, the longer you take to place
the child in her/his own room, the more difficult it will be for the child
to solitary sleeping and the parents to couple sleeping.
e. If you insist in having your child in
the bed or bedroom with you, plan scheduled times (once or twice a week) for
couple privacy, when the baby is alone in another room for a short few
hours. It is imperative the couples maintain a focus on their relationship
without distraction and interference, even from a young infant.
Parents, please evaluate the reason your child is sleeping
with you. If he or she is more than three two old, you might creating a
dangerous habit that you might regret later on in life. Please do not use the
children to cover-up the real issues in your personal life and marriage. Spends
lots of cuddling, hugging, and touching time with your little children. You
cannot hold them to much. However, it is my opinion that you should keep them
out of your bed when itís time for night-time sleeping. Learn how to become
more intimate in the "couple bed."