“It was only after breast feeding was replaced by bottle-feeding and solitary infant sleep environments replaced maternal–infant social sleep that recommendations to place infants prone for sleep made sense, or was even possible. But it was a tragic mistake that led to the deaths of thousands of Western babies from SIDS.” Why Babies Should Never Sleep Alone
It was 3 a.m. when the nurse opened my hospital door, leaned in, and announced with an insistent tone, “Don’t fall asleep with the baby in your bed.”
“Of course not,” I lied with a smile.
“Never sleep with your baby.” Horror stories of babies being crushed or suffocated by their parents permeate the culture. It’s so deeply ingrained that its validity has gone largely unchallenged. So much so, it’s entered into the realm of social morality: Babies don’t belong in adult beds.
Even so, I never bought it.
He needed me. I needed him. We both needed sleep.
As Nurse Ratched closed the door, I kissed the top of my newborn’s head while he slept contently on my chest. I closed my eyes and went back to sleep.
For at least the first two years of their lives, my babies always slept in my arms or on my chest. Truth is, most usually graduated from our bed (or room) with the arrival of a new sibling.
Being “big” enough to weather a full night in your own room is a rite of passage in the Robinson home.
In our upside-down modern world, this milestone is expected to be accomplished by newborns. From the moment of birth, they are expected to learn how to self-soothe. The need for mommy and daddy to get a full night’s sleep now trumps the infant’s need for the human contact his mother’s body naturally provides.
Look at the terminology used to create a verboten atmosphere around the subject. The topic is never addressed as the danger of an infant “sleeping in his mother’s arms.” Instead, it’s an infant “sleeping in an adult bed.” And no one ever frames the discussion as the danger of an infant “sleeping with his nursing mother” versus “sleeping in solitary confinement.”
A study titled “Why Babies Should Never Sleep Alone: A review of the co-sleeping controversy in relation to SIDS, bedsharing and breastfeeding“ obliterates the Western myth that babies should never be allowed to sleep in an adult bed.
The study shows what the intuition of countless mothers screams: her arms are, in fact, the safest place for a baby to spend the night.
Just a few benefits of a nursing mother sharing a bed with her infant:
- Increased mother and child interactions
- Face to face body orientations allow for easy access to nursing, thumb sucking and breathing.
- More breast feeding (My babies are natural pros at sleeping and nursing at the same time.)
- Increased heart rate
- Increased infant body temperatures
- Overall more total sleep
- Promotes “easy and constant communication… a prerequisite for healthy infant development.”
While researchers refute the “never sleep with your baby” mantra, they recognize that blanket statements across the spectrum are not accurate, either, and admit it has cost lives.
But it’s time to examine the cultural wisdom of telling all parents their babies are safer in another room, sleeping alone.
Once the evidence is thoroughly examined, the real question will become, is it safe for a baby to sleep anywhere other than in his mother’s arms?