The question of if it is healthy for parents to bed-share or co-sleep with their kids, whether infants or a toddler is currently one of the most controversial issues in pediatrics, particularly in the USA and other European countries. Bed-sharing encompasses the aspect of sharing a sleeping place, whether a bed or a couch while co-sleeping involves the practice of sharing sleep in close proximity such as room-sharing. On one hand of the paradigm, there are claims of great danger and unhealthy sleeping habits while on the other hand, there are benefits both physical and psychological related to co-sleeping. Although the concept of bed-sharing and co-sleeping is common in many cultures across the globe, the practice is particularly controversial in the USA. The ambivalence towards the practice might be due to different messages about the pros and cons associated with the method. Indeed, some pediatricians endorse the practice; others oppose it while others refrain from taking a stand. The paper argues there are extensive economic, environmental, emotional and psychological benefits associated with bed-sharing and co-sleeping and as such, the practice should be encouraged rather than discouraged.
Taking a historical perspective that appeals to the environmental and nature argument, in the past human-beings have followed the mammalian pattern of mothers sleeping near their children. The ideal of solitary childhood sleep is, in fact, a historical anomaly. Prior to the 19th century, the practice was non-existent across the globe. Indeed, even in wealthy families where children could afford to sleep in their own rooms, children slept with their nurses or siblings (Reiss). In many societies today, the concept of bed-sharing and co-sleeping is embraced and doing otherwise is considered cruel even in developed economies such as Japan. The emphasis on solitary sleeping arrangements in the western society was encouraged by shifting cultural values which insisted on individuality, romantic interactions and the sacredness of marriage (Mileva-Seitz, Bakermans-Kranenburg and Battaini 3). Indeed, bottle feeding increasingly became an alternative to breastfeeding and cribs in different rooms became the norm. Bed-sharing quickly became regarded as both physically and psychologically harmful both to the children and the parents. However, it is essential to acknowledge the practice of solitary sleeping patterns was merely grounded on the idea that doing otherwise showcased a level of poverty and a lack of civilization. Therefore, based solely on a historical perspective, bed-sharing and co-sleeping is healthy and natural and was only diminished through social construct on what is considered the hallmark of civilization.
Healthy Breastfeeding Practices and Bonding between Parent and Infants
Many proponents of bed-sharing and co-sleeping insist that the parent’s bed is where an infant belongs. Many healthcare experts approve that bed-sharing endorses healthy breastfeeding behaviors in addition to supporting the development of stronger bonds between a parent and the child. Undeniably, there is a stout correlation between daily mother-infant co-sleeping and bed-sharing practices and the successful development and maintenance of breastfeeding. Research indicates that breastfed children have higher chances of co-sleeping and bed-sharing with their parents since many parents hold the perception that the practice promotes successful breastfeeding (Das, Sankar and Agarwal 9). As the mother and the kid sleep alongside each other initiating feeding is not only comfortable but also convenient. The level of ease of breastfeeding increases sleep for the mothers who breastfed as such, reducing cases of stress and irritability due to lack of sufficient sleep. Additionally, since bed-sharing increases the ease of breastfeeding and virtually increases the number of breastfeeding periods, it increases the exposure to mothers’ antibodies through more frequent night-time breastfeeding and can potentially reduce infant illness (Moreno). Therefore, it is conclusive bed-sharing, and co-sleeping increases the ease of breastfeeding, which improved parent-infant sleep.
Apart from the convenience associated with breastfeeding, there are several physiological and psychological benefits associated with bed-sharing, particularly night-time maternal contact. Separation from mothers has revealed to affect children physiology, comprising the heart beat and the breathing rates in addition to increased chances of excessive night-time crying among the infants (Das, Sankar and Agarwal 4). It is deductible that maternal contact stimulates several concealed regulatory procedures that are medically beneficial to the infant.
Bed-sharing and co-sleeping also promote the development of stronger bonds between the infant and the parents. Undeniably, the practice allows the parents to share more one on one time with their infants facilitating the development of stronger bonds. Bed-sharing enables the parent to comfort the infant immediately he, or she gets uncomfortable and put him or her back to sleep. The practice allows parents to attend to the child quickly in the event of any accident or when the infant is ill as such stimulating affection, fondness and attachment (Das, Sankar and Agarwal 10). It is acknowledged in the psychology field that prioritizing children is vital in the development of their personality as such pinpointing to the extensive advantages both in the short-term and in the long-term associated with bed-sharing and co-sleeping.
Opponents of bed-sharing and co-sleeping assert that while the practice supports breastfeeding and better bonding between the parent and the child, it adversely affects the quality of sleep of the infant in addition to increasing the possibility of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). However, the adverse effect on the infant’s quality of sleep is advantageous since it increases infant arousal (Gettler and McKenna 5). Children who lay with their parents are light sleepers in comparison to solitary sleeping infants, which is beneficial in rapid arousal in the event of a life-threatening situation. Infants are in their early stages of development and as such delicate. Therefore, being a light sleeper is advantageous rather than not. Children in a deep sleep are unlikely to wake up in the event of bodily pain, which might be life-threatening. Therefore, the fact that co-sleeping leads to fragmented sleep in the infant is beneficial in arousal.
Additionally, the opponents of co-sleeping insist there is evidence that suggests bed-sharing and co-sleeping increase risk of SIDS. There are several risk factors such as unsafe sleep surfaces, alcohol consumption, smoking and drug ingestion that increase the risk of SIDS. When inquiry in SIDS arose in the 1980s, pediatricians had diminutive knowledge of why the infants died. In the 1990s bed, sharing as it relates to the babies sleeping arrangement was recognized as a probable cause. SIDS prevalence is high in specific communities where bed-sharing is practiced such as African black inhabitants in the USA, Maori and the Aboriginal people (Das, Sankar and Agarwal 3). However, SIDS prevalence rates are also relatively lower in other cultures where bed-sharing and co-sleeping are also typical such as Japan, Hong-kong, Bangladesh and several communities in the United Kingdom to name only a few (Das, Sankar and Agarwal 3). For instance, in Japan, where breastfeeding and bed-sharing is a standard cultural norm except for smoking mothers, the degree of SIDS is the least across the globe. The case of Japan illustrates that the instances of the peak rates bed-sharing around the world are associated with the minimum rates of infant deaths, particularly when considering SIDS (Das, Sankar and Agarwal 3). These results indicate there is little to no scientific proof for an association between SIDS and co-sleeping and bed-sharing except among smoking mothers. The conclusion not only dismisses the opponents’ concerns but also resonates with many parents who have long shunned the practice of bed-sharing and co-sleeping because it rises the risk of SIDS.
Additionally, many opponents of bed-sharing and supports of authoritative parenting often favor early child independence by prompting mothers to “train” babies to soothe themselves to sleep and discouraging the habit of night-time feeding with the perception that such practices promote the aspect of sustained parental reassurances. However, recent research has discouraged the myth that too much-coddling stunt child development through asserting that co-sleeping and bed-sharing encourage the infant’s and toddler’s ability to innovate and be alone rather than discouraging such skills (Gettler and McKenna 4). Kids who “at no time” sleep in their parents’ bed display a tendency towards them being ranked less content, less able to be unaccompanied and several investigations assert that they showcase a more significant amount of tantrums (Gettler and McKenna 4). These findings are exactly opposite to what is commonly understood and supported by bed-sharing opponents.
Close-knit Family Structure
Bed-sharing and co-sleeping create closer-knit family structures characterized by a habit of sharing, less fighting and less intergenerational conflict. Research indicates that in societies that encourage co-sleeping, the children tend to learn how to share, there is less fighting between and among the family members and children generally acquire the ability to care for people as much as they love themselves (Reiss). It is deductible such attributes assist in the creation of an ideal citizen, spouse and parent when the children grow up. Indeed, the emphasis on solitary sleeping arrangements might be one of the reasons for increased spousal tension in many marriages in Western society.
Throughout the 20th century, many psychologists and pediatrics reinforced the importance of separate sleeping arrangements with arguments that too much coddling is likely to stunt development (Barajas, Martin and Brooks-Gunn 340). The emphasis on solitary sleeping became particularly high in the second part of the 20th century when research pinpointed that co-sleeping and bed-sharing amplified the probability of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), which prompted movements and interpolations to be instigated in response. However, the emphasis on separate sleeping arrangements might be the reason more, and more couples are divorcing in Western society, such as the USA. Indeed, how can children who are brought up since birth thinking of their bedroom as a private fortress be expected to share their bedroom and marital bed effectively. It is unlikely such an individual will be able to tolerate another person’s poor sleeping habits such as snoring, rolling over or merely taking a trip to the bathroom at night (Reiss). It is no surprise that more and more couples in Western society re currently requesting separate master bedrooms in a bid to preserve their marriages. It is deductible the emphasis on different rooms has created an extreme sense of individualism on sleeping patterns to the extent that it might be adversely affecting romantic relationships and by extension marriage in the current society.
Additionally, bed-sharing and co-sleeping resonate with socio-economic factors and as such, promote the aspect of environmental sustainability that is a significant concern in the current 21st century. Solitary sleeping arrangements necessitate larger homes in efforts of ensuring that each child has his or her room. Taking an economic perspective, larger homes are more expensive to build and to maintain, including the provision of fundamental aspects such as heating and powering. In other words, solitary sleeping patterns in homes are associated with a larger carbon footprint compared to bed-sharing and co-sleeping. Far from being considered an uncivilized practice, bed-sharing and co-sleeping or merely sleeping in close proximity might be regarded as an enlightened and sustainable application of not only space but also natural resources that are scare. Climate change and sustainable development are two of the most discussed topics in international politics in the 21st century. Therefore, any practise that takes into account the importance of sustainable development is considered environmental conscious and healthy, not only for the current society but also for future generations.
A safe bed-sharing situation is psychological, emotionally, physiologically, environmentally and socio-economically beneficial not only to the parents and the children but also to the society as a whole. Bed-sharing allows for convenience, particularly to parents that prefer breastfeeding. Moreover, it facilitates bonding between the parents and the child, which is vital in the emotional and psychological development of that particular child. Additionally, taking a historical perspective bed-sharing was the to-go practice that resonates with the mammalian nature of human beings. A child sleeping close to the parents was out of convenience, a factor that still applies in contemporary society. Bed-sharing and co-sleeping facilitate the development of a close-knit family structure that is grounded on sharing and harmony rather than the individualism that is encouraged in the solitary sleeping arrangement. Indeed, bed-sharing and co-sleeping support the development of individuals that are sensitive to others feelings rather than being self-centered. Selflessness associated with co-sleeping in addition to the fact bed-sharing is conscious to the societal efforts of sustainability resonates with the 21st-century efforts towards global harmony and sustainable development. The fact that the practice takes into account the feelings and development of the parents and children alike, it is beneficial to the entire society.
Barajas, Gabriela R, et al. “Mother-Child Bed-Sharing in Toddlerhood and Cognitive and Behavioral Outcomes.” Pediatrics (2011): pp. 339-347.
Das, Rashmi Ranjan, et al. “Is “Bed Sharing” Beneficial and Safe During Infancy? A Systematic Review.” International Journal of Pediatrics (2014): pp. 2-16.
Gettler, Lee T and James J McKenna. “Who Wants to Sleep Alone? New Evidence in Support of Cosleeping and the Family Bed.” Mothering (2009): pp. 1-22.
Mileva-Seitz, Viara R, et al. “Parent-Child Bed-Sharing: The Good, the Bad, and the Burden of Evidence.” Sleep Medicine Reviews (2016): pp. 1-24.
Moreno, Megan. “The Controversial but Common Practice of Bed-Sharing.” JAMA Pediatrics (2013).
Reiss, Benjamin. “Why do we make children sleep alone?” 24 March 2017. LA Times. 12 July 2019 <https://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-reiss-sleep-alone-20170324-story.html>.