Sleep is a major concern of all parents. Some of the best advice is, of course, to know that just when you get used to one thing, something new will come about. But when it comes to attachment parenting and sleep, many parents become fearful. Fearful of criticism. Fearful of lack of sleep. Fearful of safe sleep issues. Fearful that the child will never, EVER leave your bed.
Issues surrounding attachment parenting and sleep
Co-sleeping is something that many attached parents choose to do. Many choose to do so because they believe that no baby should sleep alone. Attachment parenting and sleep goes together, just like ALL people need to sleep. Many people find that, if they are choosing to respond to a baby 24-hours (rather than believing that a child should sleep alone and learn to self-soothe from the infant stage, though most will recommend a parent at least check on a baby) it is easiest if baby is close by.
Parents may choose to co-sleep for a few reasons, including:
- Make it easy to respond to baby at night
- To form a night bond, especially for working mothers who may be away from baby 8-10 hours per day
- To easily breastfeed at night
- To help baby’s breathing and heart rate regulate to moms (www.llli.org/nb/nbjanfeb09p4.htm)
- To get more sleep
What is co-sleeping?
Co-sleeping refers to shares sleep. It can mean bedsharing. This means child and parent shares the same sleep surface. It can mean room sharing. In this, parents choose to keep baby in the same room but in a different sleep surface.
Bed-sharing isn’t the same as sofa-sharing. Sofa sharing is inherently unsafe. Co-sleeping families should co-sleep safely.
I’ll also use this chance to say, if possible, get a mattress that is as toxin-free as possible. Toxins can affect sleep and health, so it is something to look into. A crib mattress may be used for a few months, or a few years. If you co-sleep it may be worth while to upgrade YOUR mattress to an organic one, instead of buying a $500 crib. Just think about it
The Notre Dame Mother-Baby behavioral sleep lab has a list of safe co-sleeping guidelines. They include:
- Bottle-feeding babies should always sleep alongside the mother on a separate surface rather than in the bed.
- If bed-sharing, ideally, both parents should agree and feel comfortable with the decision. Each bed-sharer should agree that he or she is equally responsible for the infant and acknowledge that the infant is present. My feeling is that both parents should think of themselves as primary caregivers.
- Infants a year or less should not sleep with other children siblings — but always with a person who can take responsibility for the infant being there;
- Persons on sedatives, medications or drugs, or is intoxicated – -or excessively unable to arouse should not cosleep on the same surface with the infant.
- Excessively long hair on the mother should be tied up to prevent infant entanglement around the infant’s neck
- Extremely obese persons, who may not feel where exactly or how close their infant is, may wish to have the infant sleep alongside but on a different surface.
- It is important to realize that the physical and social conditions under which infant-parent cosleeping occur, in all it’s diverse forms, can and will determine the risks or benefits of this behavior. What goes on in bed is what matters.
- It may be important to consider or reflect on whether you would think that you suffocated your baby if, under the most unlikely scenario, your baby died from SIDS while in your bed. Just as babies can die from SIDS in a risk free solitary sleep environment, it remains possible for a baby to die in a risk-free cosleeping/bed sharing environment. Just make sure, as much as this is possible, that you would not assume that, if the baby died, that either you or your spouse would think that bed-sharing contributed to the death, or that one of your really suffocated (by accident) the infant. It is worth thinking about.
Night weaning, sleep and transitions
There is evidence of a physiological need for a breastfed infant to have nutrition at night. For many parents, though, around 18 months to two years, mom sees that baby can do without the nutrition at night, though the toddler may become extremely active in sleep and still want to nurse constantly. In that case, a supportive, gentle night weaning may be something to consider. I chronicled my night weaning journey for my son as well. Here’s a link to my posts on night weaning a 2 year old.
As children grow, or the family grows, sleep patterns change and sleeping positions change. This may mean transitioning an older child and a toddler into their own bed, but together.
Parents may also choose to sleep in the child’s room to help transition the child or toddler into their own room. This is especially common when parents have a split floor plan or if the bedrooms are on different levels of a home.
The University of Durham (UK) has, in their anthropology department, a parent infant sleep lab and they have researched findings based on co-sleeping patterns. Co-sleeping during the first year can definitely help prevent early weaning. One study found “evidence of bed sharing being protective against early weaning; of course they are not – the existence of an association cannot determine the direction of causality.”
There are a variety of ways to find sleep as a family. One of the big reasons to co-sleep is to make it easier to respond to your child at night. Parenting is tough. Parenting without sleep is just about impossible. While it is important to ensure that parents are rested, there are times when moms may need help. Support a new mom by offering to help with laundry or meals so they can sleep when baby sleeps. This will help them at night as well, since they won’t be as sleep deprived.
Attachment parenting and sleep do happen. Many find that co-sleeping allows everyone to get more sleep. If you’re going to be caring for baby at night, it is easier if baby is closer to you in the first place. I had never intended on co-sleeping and SWORE against it (read more about it in more posts below), but after resisting for a while, we brought our daughter into bed, transitioned her out at around age 3 into her own room as well, and now at age 6, she’s back in her own bed, but again in the same room. We’re also working on our son sleeping in a different bed but in our room, as he doesn’t feel ready to sleep in his own room. At some point, both will move into their shared room. Right now, though, we start the night out without kids in our bed. And that, we’re okay with.
How did you choose to sleep? How has it changed as a family?