Opinions on the family bed are everywhere from who cares. They vary from “sometimes in moments of desperation” to “hell no.”
Sleeping is arguably one of the most pleasurable experiences a human being can have. It’s also, undoubtedly, a source of frustration for parents and kids alike.
When infants are first born, it’s virtually impossible for them to sleep through the whole night. Nor do you want them to during those first two weeks when consistent, frequent feedings are so important.
The end result, though, is parents who are exhausted and desperate for a little extra rest. It’s during those moments (and almost every mom has been guilty of it at some point), that the child is pulled into bed to sleep with Mom and Dad.
The question we’re asking though is, SHOULD kids be sleeping with their parents?
I’m not referring to those rare moments when you cave and pull an infant into bed out of desperation, by the way. I don’t know a mom who hasn’t had to do that at some point or another.
For this article, I’m referring specifically to co-sleeping.
There is currently a trend called “Natural Attachment,” that encourages parents to keep children in the bed with them, the family bed, until the day the kids decide to leave on their own.
(And let’s be honest, no one is more opinionated than a parent who is 100% confident in his or her choice of parenting style.)
But where did this trend of sleeping with kids come from? And is it beneficial?
To answer these questions (and more), we decided to look at a number of different studies, in order to provide you with the most unbiased observation possible.
Studies Conducted by Psychoanalyst John Bowlby
Psychoanalyst John Bowlby was born into a high-class family in London. His father was a surgeon to the Royal Family. As was common at the time, he saw very little of his parents and was, instead, cared for by the family’s nanny.
When his nanny left at the age of four, he described the separation as “tragic.”
At the age of seven, he went to boarding school, where he felt anxious and insecure.
Years later, Bowlby was the first to use the term “attachment,” to refer to the reliable and positive relationship between a child and mother (or another caregiver).
Bowlby “discovered the importance of this link by observing that children who suffered extreme deprivation of attention and affection were more prone to school and social failure, to mental problems and to chronic diseases.”
He noted that a mother and child who were continuously together would have a secure attachment relationship.
Studies from Alan Sroufe, Developmental Psychologist at the Institute for Child Development at the University of Minnesota
Studies done by Alan Sroufe have shown that a secure attachment isn’t obtained by sleeping next to Mom all night or prolonged babywearing.
Instead, he found that an attachment is formed being able to respond to the signs that the baby emits in a sensitive and effective way.
“These [attachment parenting principles] are all fine things,” he explains, “but they’re not the essential things. There is no evidence that they are predictive of a secure attachment.”
52 Studies from the American Academy of Medicine
In 2006, the American Academy of Medicine conducted 52 studies around sleep and found that psychological techniques for sleep training do not produce any emotional damage in children.
New Zealand Infant Sleep Studies
New Zealand infant sleep researchers, led by Sally Baddock, confirmed the risk that a child’s face will become covered by a sheet or blanket in the night. In a study videotaping 80 infants (40 in cribs and 40 bed-sharing), the faces of the bed-sharing babies were obscured a total of nearly one hour per night.
According to Dr. Harvey Karp, “Typically, the mom or baby cleared the blanket away. But a quarter of those who experienced head covering awoke in the morning, still under bedding… Baddock also found that bed-sharing babies fed 3.7 times more often during the night, and that a quarter of the dads ended up moving out of the bed. And, most disturbingly, these babies spent on average 5.7 hours a night lying on their sides (not their backs, which is a safer position). One bed-sharing baby rolled all the way to the stomach.”
Studies from Germany, Holland, and Scotland have found that sharing a bed with an infant is connected to an increased risk of SIDs for babies under 3-4 months of age.
On the other hand, the opposite was found in Japan. Bed-sharing babies there were found to have a lower risk of SIDS.
Likewise, studies in England, Canada and the U.S. have found that there isn’t an increased risk as long as the parents in the bed are sober, attentive and nonsmoking.
Final Thoughts on the Family Bed
So to sleep or not sleep with your kids?
While I have slept with my child in moments of exhaustion, I personally preferred to err on the side of caution and just have him sleeping next to the bed rather than in it.
It’s important to be aware of the science behind the “Family Bed” and to keep in mind the other consequences to bringing your child into bed (such as a spouse moving to a different bed).
And if you do choose to keep your child in the bed with you, don’t think that he or she will be more prepared for life as a result of that. You don’t need to co-sleep in order to form that critical, secure attachment. You can achieve the same result simply by being nurturing and responsive to your child’s needs.