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Co-sleeping is also called sharing sleep, the family bed, bed sharing, and any number of other things.
All refer to the practice of bringing your baby and young child to bed with you. In our culture, this is not considered "normal." In fact, it's been almost taboo. The family bed has been growing in recognition in recent years, but as it has, opponents of it have become more outspoken.
Despite what opponents of the family bed say throughout history co-sleeping has been normal for humans. Even in the United States, family members sharing beds was common until recently. In Japan, which is a highly modern society, co-sleeping is still the norm. Children sleep with their parents until late childhood, and many move to a grandparent's bed when a new baby comes along. It is considered beneficial to the child and to the elderly person. It is interesting to note that Japan has the lowest rate of SIDS in the world (James McKenna, PhD).
It is normal all over the world for adults to desire another adult to cuddle up to at night. This is especially appealing on cold nights! Why then is it wrong for a baby to want to share sleep - especially after he has been sleeping curled up "with" mama for 9 months in the womb!
Co-sleeping offers closeness. Mother, baby, and even father are able to be together. The bond that you work so hard to build with your baby during the day is not challenged at night. Your baby is close to you, and he feels comfortable and secure. You are also able to feel more secure when you know that your baby is right next to you and not down the hall, possibly in danger.
Babies are not meant to sleep through the night right away. They have small tummies and need to wake to eat. They also need adults to help them feel secure. A baby who is in his mother's bed wakes and realizes that mama is right there. He does not need to scream, or even be alone at all. The simple, sweet attachment he has with his mother during the day continues at night.
You can feel confident knowing that your baby is beside you. Should your baby stop breathing, your instincts can wake you up in an instant. If your baby is cold, you are able to quickly awaken and give him extra covering. If your baby is hungry, you can nurse him right away.
Evidence from studies on co-sleeping shows that a mother's breathing can regulate her baby's breathing. Babies who co-sleep tend to face their mothers and the sleeping pair is responsive to one another even in sleep. The babies slept more lightly, which could help protect them from SIDS. This research was done in sleep labs by Dr. James McKenna, PhD.
The family bed can be a time of reconnection. If your partner works long hours, then co sleeping gives him a wonderful time to bond with your baby. He may enjoy having the baby between you for a good snuggle. He may also love that you can quickly attend to the baby's needs without having to get up out of bed. This means more sleep for everyone in the family.
Along the same lines, if you are a working mother, sharing sleep with your baby gives you valuable time to reconnect with him. It also allows you plenty of unrestricted nursing with your child. You may find that you treasure the nights with your baby. As your child grows and moves to his own room, you will find yourself looking back on those magical, sleepy nights.
Nursing your baby is very easy in the family bed. You just latch baby on and both of you fall back asleep! Some mothers say they don't even wake up when their babies latch on at night. Nursing at night may take a couple of weeks to get the hang of, but once you're a pro at it, it makes nighttime feedings a breeze. Read more tips for nursing lying down.
In the early weeks you can even keep diapering supplies right beside your bed. Simply switch on a nightlight and slip a pad under your baby for a quick diaper change. You may get good enough to do this without a light on!
Speaking of lights and no lights, sharing sleep can help your baby come to understand night and day. Your baby will realize that when everyone gets in the bed, it is time to sleep. He will observe that everyone is sleepy and focused on lying down. Since you can nurse right in bed, your baby will learn that he needs to eat and go back to sleep.
The family bed is cozy. Co-sleeping offers you a wonderful opportunity of closeness with your baby. Nothing can feel better than having your sweet-smelling baby snuggled close against your body as you drift off to sleep together. Except, perhaps, waking up to your soft child nuzzled up against you and giving you sleepy grins. Co-sleeping can offer a healing and restful retreat after a hard day. Even if you've been cranky at your child, sharing sleep with him gives you time to reconnect.
Many families have had long, sleepless nights and unhappy babies. They finally brought their child to bed in desperation, and found that it was much sweeter after they did! Their baby slept much better because our babies are born to want to be with us.
There are many different arrangements for sharing sleep with your baby. Read this page to see different ways different families have made it work!
If you would like more information on sharing sleep, read Three in a Bed.
Attachment Parenting also has a good chapter on co-sleeping.
Dr. Sears' The Baby Book has a good basics chapter as well.
Pregnancy & Birth