by Kenny Moller
The midwives have cleaned up and left, or you're finally home from the hospital, a family unto yourselves. And it's finally here,the first night alone with your baby. It's exhilarating and all too real, this little creature is yours from now until forever, and somewhere you have the inkling that your life will never be the same, for better or worse. You are ready to curl up and get some much deserved sleep, but what do you do with, and where do you put the baby?
Co-sleeping, or family bed as it is sometimes called, is the practice of an infant sleeping in the same bed as the parent. In the West, co-sleeping is a controversial phenomenon. It stems from incidents in Europe during the 16th-18th centuries where mothers, with no access to birth control and usually suffering extreme poverty, would smother their infants by overlaying. It resulted in co-sleeping with an infant being outlawed in much of Europe, and a permanent aversion in the Western psyche to the family bed.
In other parts of the world, where mothers often have little money for cribs and fully accessorized nurseries, the family bed is the norm. Even in the developed world in countries such as, China, Sweden, Chile, Denmark, and Japan bed sharing is the norm. Helen Ball, an anthropologist specializing in parent-infant behavior, found that in the UK up to 75% of families co-slept, but did not report this to their doctor or midwife. Another study in the United Arab Emirates, which looked at changes in childbirth and parenting over three generations of women, found that birth attendants, breastfeeding length, medication and labor during childbirth, all changed across generations, except for the family bed, this remained a constant amongst Emirati women over time.
SIDS, which stand for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, is often cited as a reason to avoid the family bed. In the United States, SIDS is the leading cause of death in infants past one month of age. Yet there are many reasons why SIDS occurs, none of which holds the entire solution to the prevention of SIDS. So far, the 'Back to Sleep' campaign has been successful in countries like America and New Zealand at reducing the SIDS rates. Of great interest, is that in countries with the lowest rates of SIDS, such as Japan and China, they also report the highest numbers of co-sleeping. The concern with co-sleeping and SIDS is that the infants will be smothered, an age old concern, not well validated by today's science.
Researcher James McKenna has found that mother and infant dyads sharing the same bed display an inordinate amount of sensitivity to each other throughout the night. In his Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory, he found that mothers usually adopted a protective position, on their sides facing their infants throughout the night, increasing the amount of face to face time with their infant. This is stimulating to the infant and believed to stimulate infant respiration,believed to be a protective factor against SIDS. He has also found that the mother regulates the baby's breathing, heart rate, temperature, and that babies had greater daily weight gain when they slept side by side with their mothers.
This is to say nothing of breastfeeding and its relationship to co-sleeping. Bed-sharing is strongly associated with better breastfeeding outcomes. One of the beauties of breastfeeding is it's relationship to mom's sleep, there is no getting up to make bottles in the middle of the night, the food is always ready and the right temperature. Not that bottle feeding mamas are more or less exhausted than their breastfeeding counterparts, all moms work at night, but it does make nighttime infinitely easier if all you have to do is roll over and nurse. In answer to a question on co-sleeping on the Islamic forum, Sunnipath, one teacher answered: "I don't know of any specific Islamic injunction about co-sleeping. There is absolutely no problem with having your baby in the bed with you. In fact, if you're breastfeeding, which, according to Shaykh Muhammad ibn Adam al-Kawthari, is a religious and moral responsibility toward your child, then it makes a lot of sense to co-sleep. " It does just make sense!
Nothing is absolutely foolproof however, and sadly, babies do succumb to SIDS even while co-sleeping. May Allah protect all of our children. Here is a list compiled by Dr. James McKenna, excerpted from Mothering magazine, of how to increase the safety of co-sleeping:
- For parents who smoke, drink, or are unusually heavy sleepers, or use any kind of drugs that inhibit arousal from sleep, co-sleeping on the same surface with a baby is not recommended, said McKenna. For these parents, having their child sleep on a separate surface near them, such as a cradle or bassinet, will protect the baby from overlaying while still providing the baby with many of the same benefits as cosleeping.
- Make sure the surface your baby sleeps on is firm. "There are many adult mattresses that can match the stiffness of CPSC recommendations," McKenna said. Avoid waterbeds, lambskins, and other soft bedding for your baby. Stuffed animals and toys should be kept out of the baby's sleep environment.
- Don't give pillows to babies or young toddlers, and keep their faces away from your pillow. Keep blankets away from babies' faces, too.
- Cosleeping babies are kept warmer than solitary sleeping babies, so they need lighter blankets and pajamas. (Being too warm may be a factor in SIDS.)
- Toddlers should not be allowed to sleep next to infants, said McKenna, because "They are too unaware of the dangers their bodies pose." Instead, either the infant or the toddler can sleep on a separate surface next to the family bed—the infant in a cosleeper, crib, or bassinet; the toddler in a toddler bed or mattress on the floor.
- Headboards, footboards, and side rails can be unsafe, especially if a baby is left alone in bed with these trappings. One of the most dangerous situations for young children is getting their heads wedged in furniture, said McKenna. He suggested making sure the child's head can't fit between the side rail and any surrounding surfaces. If a parent is using a crib as a sidecar, make sure the two mattresses are on the same level and held tightly together, so there is no space that a baby could slip into. If a bed is up against a wall, ensure that there are no gaps in which a child's head can get trapped. Another option is to put the mattress right on the floor, so that side rails are not necessary to prevent a baby from falling off the bed.
- Do not sleep on the sofa with your baby, or leave a sleeping baby alone on a sofa.
- Do not leave a baby unattended in an adult bed. The benefits of the family bed exist only when the parents are there with the child; if the parents want some adult time while baby sleeps, the child should be put somewhere else—such as a crib, bassinet, or mattress on the floor—until the parents are ready for him to join them, McKenna said.