“Is it true American mothers put their babies in cages at night?”
This is a quote from one of my favorite parenting books, The Baby Book by Dr. Sears, in which a Fijian woman had asked this question to an American researcher doing a study on the family sleeping habits of Fijians for the World Health Organization. It is custom for Fijian woman to have their babies in their beds until they are weaned so many of the native women were surprised to even be asked where their babies slept. (Parents Under Construction)
It’s a scientific fact that babies were meant to sleep with their mamas & breastfeed, and in most countries around the world, they do. Unfortunately, in the U.S., co-sleeping seems to be misunderstood and frowned upon… but maybe that’s because our culture has deviated so far from what nature intended that it actually could be dangerous (i.e. bottle fed babies have no incentive to stay close to mom’s breast and therefore may be more likely to venture off the bed or into an compromising position).
After spending 40 weeks all comfy and snuggled in a womb, the last place they want to be (or should be) is alone in a cold crib. In fact, being close to mom is not just for comfort, it actually helps to establish mom’s milk supply as well as regulate baby’s body temperature and even their breathing! Both breastfeeding and close contact with mom are shown to reduce the risk of SIDS (source).
While pregnant and preparing to welcome our little one, I assumed a crib was an essential item. No one ever mentioned alternative sleep arrangements (likely not because they weren’t doing it but because it’s not socially acceptable in our society). I enlisted my husband to put together this beautiful crib in time for my due date. For the first two and a half months of my son’s life, we followed standard protocol by swaddling him up tight, rocking him to sleep and gently placing him in a bassinet by the side of our bed. This worked great for awhile… but around three months, Bradley made it clear that this was not going to work for him. I had never really considered co-sleeping due to “fears” of rolling over him or him falling off the bed. I also could not bring myself to ever try the “Cry it Out” method since it went against every motherly instinct I had. One night, out of sheer desperation and sleep deprivation, I decided follow my intuition and nurse him laying down in our bed and we both blissfully drifted off to sleep.
I hadn’t had such a great night of sleep since before he was born! Ever since that night, it’s like a light bulb went off and co-sleeping just made perfect sense for our family. I quickly realized that my “fears” were completely unfounded and that even in my sleep state I was completely aware of Bradley’s presence (like a captain is always aware of his ship). Having him in bed with us made breastfeeding exponentially easier at night! Instead of him fully waking up in his crib, I could hook him up to nurse before either of us were fully awake. Being able to meet his needs immediately, helped everyone (including my husband) have a better night’s sleep.
While co-sleeping has worked beautifully for our family, it’s not for everyone. For moms who are breastfeeding, it can be a great option since your baby has an incentive to stay close to your breast. Even at a year old (and very mobile), Bradley has never had any close calls near the edge of the bed and I’ve never woken up in a compromising position. I wanted to share my experience since I wish I had known more about co-sleeping as an option right from the start.
For anyone considering co-sleeping, definitely take a look at this article: My Conversation With Co-Sleeping Expert James McKenna to see if it might be a good option for your family. Another great resource is this Nighttime Parenting article by Dr. Sears.
I’d love to hear what worked for you in the comments!