One of the key components of attachment parenting is the family bed. This refers to the sharing of sleeping space among family members and particularly denotes a mother being physically close to her baby during the night. “Co-sleeping” refers to sleeping in close proximity to one’s baby or child, and could simply mean sleeping in the same room; “bed-sharing,” on the other hand, is literally that – family members sleep in the same bed. Therefore, the family bed does not have to be one enormous mattress; it can be whatever arrangement works for a family that fosters attachment.
The family bed has many physical and emotional benefits, with some cross-overs. Among the emotional benefits are increased trust on the part of the infant, emotional well-being for the mother, and a stable relationship between parent and child (thus setting the stage for healthy relationships later in life). Following is a list of these benefits explained in more detail.
A baby does not understand that you are still “there” when he is sleeping in another room. He may become fearful and distrustful if he wakes at night and his mother is not available. A baby who has his needs met consistently – day or night – learns to trust his parents. The family bed makes the mother available to nurse the baby or simply provide physical contact. The baby then comes to trust his parents and develops a sense of security.
2. If mama’s not happy…
Have you ever heard the saying, “If Mama’s not happy, then nobody’s happy”? There is some truth to that statement! A mother who participates in the family bed gets more sleep than a mother who gets up multiple times during the night, thus making her refreshed and in a much better mood. Also, a mother’s nursing through the night produces “happy hormones” that bond her with her baby and make her feel content.
The family bed fosters strong relationships. For mothers or fathers who work all day, this may be the only time they get to have physical “cuddle time” with their child. And, once again, the family bed facilitates the breastfeeding relationship, which fosters important, healthful bonds that set the stage for healthy, functional relationships later in life.
4. The human pacemaker
While this is a physical benefit, its emotional ramifications are significant. Statistics show that babies who sleep in a family bed arrangement are far less likely to die of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) than those babies left to sleep alone (this is why SIDS is also called “crib death” or “cot death”). In countries where bed-sharing is common (such as India), SIDS is virtually unknown.
When a baby experiences SIDS, she simply stops breathing inexplicably. Studies from as far back as the mid-1900s have shown that babies who sleep with their mothers actually match their breathing patterns to the mother’s – she is like a human pacemaker for her baby’s breathing. Current research supports these studies from the first half of the 20th century.
While society is still coming to terms with accepting the family bed, the important thing is to choose what is right for your family. There are many benefits to the family bed, and many nay-sayers are simply unaware of such benefits.
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