We have built an entire industry around the sleep of babies in the Western culture. Yes, your baby’s z’s became a profitable business for many companies. When a mother is creating her registry, the categories include the “necessities” for the baby’s room; these online registries require you to add a crib, mattress, sheets, room decor and more to qualify for the free baby registry item/package. After your baby registry has been completed, companies mail you a booklet of products along with a small discount. Essentially, the messaging of the social norm is apparent.
Let’s not mention how shocked people are when you tell them that you and your partner decided to ditch the crib to co-sleep instead. At that moment, medical professionals look at you in horror. We have moved away from trusting our natural instincts to forcefully trying to acclimate an infant to an unfamiliar world. So, let’s look at five reasons why co-sleep isn’t really a bad thing after all.
In the past, the terms “crib death” or “cot death” were used to describe Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). SIDS can happen regardless of social, economic or ethnic background. Of the top five causes, SIDS is the main case of death in infants between 1 month and 1 year of age. Unfortunately, the cause of SIDS is still unknown, but overheating, trigger stressors (maternal and second-hand smoke), suffocation, and low birth weight are among the list of risk factors. Also, the chemicals used in cribs are not regulated by the government and can lead to other issues, such as asthma, after long-term exposure. Oh and non-toxic cribs will cost you a pretty penny.
If you are afraid that you will roll over on your baby, just remember how attentive and alert you are(were) when it concerns(ed) your precious newborn. I almost had that same fear projected into me in the hospital, but quickly dismissed it. Our son never slept overnight in the rolling cot at the hospital. He would cough up the mucous that was left over from birth and would sometimes choke on it. For instances like chocking, a mother in postpartum should have direct access to her infant. A crib across the (or in another) room adds longer response time.
Dr. James McKenna’s sleep research, at the Center for Behavioral studies for Mother-Infant Sleep, noted that an infant sleeping with their mother are given important breathing cues, which reduces SIDS. So, co-sleep has health benefits!
A crib does not instill independence; it does the exact opposite.
YOU’RE NOT ALONE
Cribs are considered a necessity in Western society, but are viewed as a luxury and/or unnecessary in other cultures. For example, co-sleeping is extremely common in Hong Kong, which is also where the occurrence of SIDS is the lowest. Japan has one of the lowest infant mortality rates and one of the lowest rates for SIDS. In fact, as co-sleeping and exclusive breastfeeding increased in Japan, maternal smoking and SIDS decreased as well. Surprisingly though, Japanese co-sleeping rates don’t really differ from that of the US. It’s socially recognized and accepted in Japan, whereas mothers in the US are purchasing cribs that they rarely use. So, although it is more common in Japan, US mothers are not that far behind, but possibly feel the need to purchase a crib due to social norms and social acceptance surrounding co-sleep.
Infants that exclusively breastfeed and co-sleep with their mother take in three times as much milk. When an infant sleeps near their nutritional source, it promotes healthy weight gain. One has to remember that breast milk is not as dense on an infant’s stomach when compared to formula, so multiple feedings throughout the night are expected. Also, when a baby sleeps near its mother, they are less likely to experience stressors associated with feeling away from their nutritional source. If you need breastfeeding information, please check out my Breastfeeding 101 blog post.
Cribs force babies to be isolated and confined years before they are psychologically prepared to handle it. A crib does not instill independence; it does the exact opposite. If your infant is not ready to be without you, that is normal. After all, your infant is just that: an infant. We have to keep in mind that an infant has to transition into our world. They are born from warmth, darkness, their mother’s voice and the constant reassurance of their mother’s heart beat. Placing an infant in a crib brings about unwanted stressors that inadvertently teach your infant powerlessness and loneliness.
Alternatively, those that recommend cribs also recommend letting an infant “cry it out”. Forcing an infant to cry it out in a crib is “a good way to make a less intelligent, less healthy but more anxious, uncooperative and alienated persons who can pass the same or worse traits on to the next generation“. Does that sound like healthy independence to you? Your infant should have freedom of movement to visually and physically explore their new world.
When I was a teenager, I did not understand co-sleeping at all. I would baby-sit my niece for my sister and immediately freak out when she started crying (funny memory). I didn’t understand why my sister never used the crib that was bought for her. In my early 20’s, I had the opportunity to witness my aunt co-sleeping with all of her children. It was the most beautiful bonding moment that I had ever seen. It touched my heart so much that I photographed it. When you sleep with your infant, when your infant sleeps with their siblings and when the father sleeps with their infant, the bond that is establish is unmatched. I can attest to the fact that co-sleeping builds beautiful, deep bonds for a family. We are at our most vulnerable when we are sleeping, so when you sleep with someone, it is one of the highest forms of intimacy.
At some point, we have to start calling a spade a spade. Why haven’t we been urged to abandon cribs altogether? The numerous deaths, safety recalls and injuries are in black and white. To be fair, if it makes a mother uncomfortable, she doesn’t have to fully co-sleep; bedside bassinets can serve the exact same purpose. What’s baffling is that a mother is never told to avoid cribs when she mentions death by cribs. She is urged to just buy a safer crib and is given safety recommendations. However, almost all, if not all, medical professionals urge mother’s to avoid co-sleeping with their infant. Instead of educating the mother on safer co-sleeping, the automatic education is crib safety and co-sleeping avoidance. So, what’s really going on?
Default Picture Artist: Katie m. Burggren