Parents all know the temptation – why not calm a fussy child by putting them into your bed? The child gets comforted and falls asleep, so you can sleep. An occasional night in the parental bed might not be a bad thing, but American experts often claim that nightly co-sleeping is bad for a variety of reasons, and shouldn’t be allowed if a child is over eight years old.
Let’s look at the controversy surrounding co-sleeping and when it should stop.
Americans are discouraged from sleeping with their children. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has long warned that co-sleeping is bad for both parent and child. The AAP strongly condemns the practice of sleeping with babies, nothing that 3,700 babies die each year in co-sleeping arrangements. The incidence of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) is three times higher for babies that co-sleep. If parents smoke, drink, or do other substances in bed there is a much greater risk of SIDS.
However, in many cultures around the world, co-sleeping is the norm. In Japanese and Balinese cultures it’s encouraged. Japan has a very low incidence of SIDS and death: 2.8 deaths per 1,000 live births versus 6.2 in the United States — and their rate of SIDS is roughly half what it is in America, according to the LA Times.
Some experts also point out that most animals co-sleep with their young. In African countries and Latin countries, babies who sleep apart from their parents are pitied. Getting babies to sleep through the night isn’t even an issue in those countries.
The Co-Sleeping Debate
When a child is scared or in need of reassurance, the parents’ bed can provide immediate comfort and allow the child to relax and fall asleep easily.
Kids today are under more stress than ever, according to Psychology Today. Stressors include divorce, academic pressure, and too much screen time. During a hectic day, there may not be any time for affection and so children may seek it out at night so they can relax and sleep.
For parents, it’s often detrimental. Parents won’t get as much sleep or sleep as well if a child is sharing the bed. Married couples often don’t have sex as often, which can lead to tension.
It also may create anxiety issues if a child who always co-sleeps is invited to a friend’s house for a sleepover, or goes away to camp. Is it safe for infants to co-sleep? According to a recent report, mothers are choosing to sleep with their infants in greater numbers than ever – from six percent in 1993 to 24 percent of moms in 2015.
Experts like biological anthropologist James McKenna at Notre Dame who have studied moms and babies sleeping together, however, have noticed that babies who are breastfed and sleep with their moms move around less in the bed, are more bonded, and are happier.
How Old Is Too Old for Co-sleeping?
Many co-sleeping advocates feel that it should be allowed until the child is ready to sleep in their own bed. Not all parents or experts go along with that, however.
Many experts feel that between the ages of five and eight, children should be encouraged to sleep in their own beds. This creates a sense of independence for the child and helps them learn to self-soothe.
Psychologists stress that children should be encouraged to sleep in their own beds and their own rooms for many reasons. Children need a consistent bedtime routine. Parents need to listen to their fears, but encourage self-soothing coping mechanisms like deep breathing or listening to music. Parents who reject co-sleeping can also inspire confidence in their children’s ability to manage anxiety.
Regardless of which side of the debate you agree with, co-sleeping has been going on for thousands of years and will continue in many countries across the globe. Every parent has to decide whether or not to allow it, and when it should stop.