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Parents say they co-sleep but feel the stigma

Pediatricians generally discourage parents from co-sleeping with their babies because of its link to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). But many parents still do it—and not just with infants, but also toddlers, and, in some families, with children as old as 13.

A new book, Co-Sleeping: Parents, Children, and Musical Beds (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017), explores the many reasons that parents allow their children to sleep with them instead of in their own beds.

“Everybody thinks they know how to parent better than everybody.”

In some families, children start out in their own bed and then go into their parents’ room in the middle of the night, leading one parent to being “squished out” to the couch or the child’s bed, says Susan Stewart, professor of sociology at Iowa State University.

In other households, children might be allowed to sleep on a mattress or in a sleeping bag on the floor of their parents’ bedroom. The prohibition against co-sleeping is so strong that in one family the mother, wanting to be close to her child, slept on a mattress next to the child’s crib.

When baby dies of SIDS, doctors should tell parents why

Most research on co-sleeping comes from the medical field and is related to SIDS. To take a broader approach, Stewart included parents who slept with infants as well as children up to age 13.

She interviewed 51 parents who co-sleep and learned that some say they sleep better and have fewer disruptions throughout the night when everyone sleeps in one room or bed, rather than spending the night playing musical beds.

“Parents are exhausted, they’re stressed, and honestly, it’s often easier to co-sleep,” Stewart says. “There’s no one size fits all, and in my view, there is no right or wrong.”

While co-sleeping is frowned upon in the US, it is perfectly normal in other cultures. It’s more acceptable in Scandinavian, Asian, and South American countries, where rates of SIDS are far lower than in the US. The decision to co-sleep is sometimes related to economics, because there are not enough rooms or beds in the home.

Why new moms don’t have to give up on sleep

Stewart asked both mothers and fathers how co-sleeping affected relationships and intimacy. Most parents said co-sleeping did interfere at times with physical intimacy, but it was not a major issue. As for emotional intimacy, co-sleeping allows busy parents to spend quality time as a family. This was especially true for dads who tend to spend more time away from home.

“Parents are putting their children ahead of their own relationship, at least in the short-term,” she says. “There is a downside to that, but most of the parents viewed it as temporary.”

If parents co-sleep safely, there are many positive benefits. For example, studies have found that children who sleep with their parents feel more secure or attached to their parents, and as a result are more independent. However, co-sleeping can negatively affect sleep quality. Many parents mentioned waking up numerous times at night as a result of their children kicking them or flailing about.

Many parents say they would prefer not to sleep with their children—and, knowing the stigma associated with it, often don’t tell family and pediatricians that they do.

“There is a lot of pressure,” Stewart says. “Everybody thinks they know how to parent better than everybody. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of judgment and, in general, very little support for parents.”

Source: Iowa State University

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