Closet Co-Sleepers

by Stacey

Nearly 13 percent of parents in the U.S. practiced co-sleeping with their children in 2000 up from 5.5. percent in 1993, according to a series of studies on co-sleeping published in the August issue of the journal Infant and Child Development. And according to this article in the NY Times, the current number may actually be much higher.

Ask parents if they sleep with their kids, and most will say no. But there is evidence that the prevalence of bed sharing is far greater than reported. Many parents are “closet co-sleepers,” fearful of disapproval if anyone finds out, notes James J. McKenna, professor of anthropology and director of the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame.

“They’re tired of being censured or criticized,” Dr. McKenna said. “It’s not just that their babies are being judged negatively for not being a good baby compared to the baby who sleeps by himself, but they’re being judged badly for having these babies and being needy.”

Pediatricians generally frown on co-sleeping. The American Academy of Pediatrics has said babies should sleep close to their parents but not in the same bed, the article says. The concern is that a sleeping parent could trap a baby in bed covers or in the space between the bed and the wall.

Although some studies suggest bed sharing puts children at higher risk for sudden infant death syndrome, the data are not conclusive. And some researchers say the risk is higher only if parents smoke, drink too much alcohol and fail to take proper precautions to make sure the bed is safe.

Others raise concerns that children will not develop healthy sleep habits or that marriages will suffer if children sleep between parents. In one study, for example, 139 parents were asked about the sleep habits of their young children. Parents who slept with their children reported a much higher frequency of nighttime wakings than parents who did not. But experts say that kids who sleep solo may have night wakings, it’s just that parents don’t know about it. The crux is whether the co-sleeping parents consider night wakings a problem.

As for the toll it takes on marriages, co-sleeping causes trouble if the couple is not in agreement about the arrangement, the article says. Otherwise, couples report equal levels of happiness in their relationship as couples who do not co-sleep.

There are intentional co-sleepers — those who sleep with their children because they want to breast-feed for a long stretch and believe bed sharing is good for a child’s well-being and emotional development. Another group is reactive co-sleepers, those parents who don’t really want to sleep with their kids, but do so because they can’t get their children to sleep any other way or because financial hardship requires them to share a room with a child.

And then there is a third group that she tentatively calls circumstantial co-sleepers — parents who sleep with their children occasionally because of circumstances like sharing a bed on a family vacation, during a thunderstorm or because the child is sick.

Problems occur most often among reactive co-sleepers, the article says, because the situation feels coerced.

My family falls into that third group, the circumstantial co-sleepers. For the most part I like sleeping with my kids. It’s cozy and sweet. But I think if we did it all the time, we’d need to get a bigger bed. The writer of the article says sleeping with kids is like sleeping inside a washing machine and she has a point. All that twisting and kicking. Oy.

By the way, I’m all for people coming out of the closet. If anyone wants to do so here on Fussbucket, feel free.


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Filed under breastfeeding, child development, children's health, dreams, exhaustion, family, family life, kids, life, marriage, mental health, mother love, parenting, psychology, relationships, sex, sleep, sleep deprivation, toddler

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