Babies and sleep pretty much go hand-in-hand. From the moment your little one arrives, you’re always asked, “How does she sleep?”
With an overwhelming number of baby sleep methods, books and experts, it's easy to see we are all a little obsessed with infant sleep. Why?
Sleep is important! Parents need sleep, yet babies need around the clock care. How can everyone's need for sleep be met?
Babies are designed to eat often and feel secure when close with mama. This design means they need care and attention, even at night. Yet mamas who are extremely sleep deprived are more prone to postnatal mood disorders. Was there a flaw in design?
While many Western countries see postnatal depression (PND) rates near 16%, some other countries see very few incidences of PND. In these cultures babies needs are tended to day and night, yet there isn’t a higher rate of PND. How and why is this the case? One of the answers is that in many of these cultures, cosleeping is the norm.
When mama and baby are close, both rest more soundly. When baby is right beside her, mama doesn't need to get out of bed to pick her baby up for a cuddle, to feed baby, etc. For many mamas and babies, co sleeping is the answer to reducing sleep deprivation while still meeting all of baby's nighttime needs.
There are many benefits to co sleeping! Here are 8 benefits of keeping baby close at night:
#1: Babies Naturally Fall Into A Daytime And Nighttime Pattern
It isn't uncommon for newborns to mix up their days and nights. Many babies sleep extra soundly throughout the day but can be restless or wakeful much of the night. Keeping baby close during the day with lights and noise around can eventually help baby stay a bit more alert in the daytime. Keeping baby close at night, meeting their needs in a quiet and dim environment, can help them learn to rest more at night
Babies also rest more soundly when they feel secure. If we are close by making noise during they day it isn't surprising they sleep soundly then. If we try to lay them down alone in a quiet environment, they may sense your absence and not sleep quite so well at night.
Infants are wired to nurse frequently, especially at night. This doesn't mean they are confused about day vs night, it just means they need to nurse often. Co sleeping and finding a good day vs night pattern can mean they rest well between frequent feeds and mama can rest too!
#2: Co Sleeping Helps Babies Practice Rousing Themselves
While your newborn falling into and staying in a deep sleep might sound appealing, it isn't the type of sleep they were designed to have. Professor James McKenna found co sleeping babies were frequently aroused when close with their mamas. They didn't fully wake, but they were in a lighter sleep which is safer for newborns.
This practice rousing can help babies learn to use their self-preservation instinct to rouse when there's any danger such as being overheated, being too cold or something blocking their airway. Being able to easily rouse may reduce the risk of SIDS.
#3: Meet Baby's Needs Without Getting Up
Most babies need to be feed, soothed and changed at night. If baby is close by, mama can do all of these things while in bed and remaining in a restful state. Getting out of bed, walking down the hall, changing on the changing pad, feeding in a glider and soothing baby back to sleep requires being fully awake and alert.
Being able to meet babies needs by simply rolling over can help mama and baby get more rest. When baby's needs are met quickly and in or near their sleep location, baby often quickly drifts back to sleep with little help from mama.
#4: Experience Less Nighttime Crying
Babies sleep well when they feel secure. Knowing mama is close will likely help baby sleep better and fuss less.
Mamas that co sleep are able to notice earlier signs of hunger and needing to be changed. Often mama can wake during these early signs and meet baby's needs before they begin to cry.
When you co sleep there is less trying to get baby to settle down to sleep before laying them down. This often means less crying. You aren't likely to have an overtired baby fussing to protest being laid in their cot.
#5: Co Sleeping Helps With Bonding And Secure Attachment
A secure attachment between baby and caregiver is an emotional bond that leaves baby feeling secure and cared for. This secure attachment, fostered infancy, translates to a child feeling secure and knowing their caregiver will always return to meet their needs. Children with a secure attachment often respond appropriately to situations, show minimal distress when their mother leaves, and are happy when their mother returns.
Co sleeping helps to foster attachment because mama baby closeness helps to release the ‘love hormone' oxytocin. The hormone oxytocin plays a big role in bonding and attachment. Co sleeping also aids in responding quickly to baby's needs, helping them to learn you will always meet their needs. While it is completely possible to bond without co sleeping, it does offer another opportunity for lots of closeness. This can be especially helpful if you have busy days, work outside the home or have older children to tend to. Nighttime closeness offers quiet time with your littlest one with few interruptions.
#6: Co Sleeping Helps With Maintaining An Adequate Milk Supply
Feeding on demand helps mamas maintain an adequate milk supply. Breast milk production is a supply and demand process. Babies are designed to eat frequently at night and co sleeping helps to make it easier for mama and baby to meet this need.
The way our body releases hormones also means many mamas report having the most milk during the wee hours of the morning. Co sleeping helps mama and baby pairs to sync hunger and milk supply even at nighttime.
Frequent nighttime feeds can also help mamas avoid painful engorgement from long stretches between nighttime feeds.
#7: Co Sleeping Can Mean Better Rest For Mama
Mamas, not just babies, are wired for closeness. Studies show that new mamas do not experience a better quality of sleep if their babies go to the hospital nursery at night. Co sleeping may not guarantee more sound sleep for every mama, but many report sleeping better knowing baby is safe and close by.
Mamas also release oxytocin when close to their babies. Oxytocin improves sleep quality and it's also great for breastfeeding.
#8: Cuddles! Lots And Lots Of Cuddles When You Co Sleep
This one may not have studies and evidence behind it, but I don't think it needs any! Nighttime cuddles can be a wonderful part of the mama-baby relationship.
Co Sleeping Safety
There are a lot of benefits to co sleeping but you might be wondering if co sleeping is safe. Perhaps you're concerned about rolling onto baby. When parents follow safe co sleeping guidelines it is a safe option for families to rest well. To safely cosleep:
- Use a firm mattress and a bed surface free of entrapment hazards
- Parents should not be under the influence of alcohol, drugs or any medications that can have a sedative effect
- If you are a smoker, baby should have a separate sleep surface such as a bassinet
- Do not allow children to share a sleep space with a baby under one year
- If baby is bottle fed and not breastfed, they should sleep on a separate sleep surface alongside mama's bed
- If you are difficult to rouse, have sleep apnea or are extremely obese, baby should be on a separate sleep surface
- Do not wear clothing with strings and wear very long hair tied up
- Keep fluffy pillows and blankets away from baby, and be sure baby does not get overheated
Every family needs to find what gets everyone adequate rest. For many families, cosleeping offers many benefits and most of all, adequate sleep!