Why Harvard Researchers Say We Need To Co-Sleep

Why Harvard Researchers Say We Need To Co-Sleep

Co-sleeping has been a hot topic parent debate in forums and social media platforms since the internet existed.

The debate started with the invent of modern nurseries, but our parenting generation sees the debate online daily.

Why Harvard Researchers Say We Need To Co-Sleep

While it’s a big debate among parents, it’s also a big debate and research topic among top researchers. In fact, Dr. James Mckenna has an entire Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame.

Recently, a pair of Harvard researchers published an op-ed introducing us to their latest research which found the many benefits of co-sleeping.

Not only did they find co-sleeping beneficial, they found negative cultural impacts from not co-sleeping.

Why Is Co-Sleeping Debated?

There’s often two types of co-sleeping families. For one group of parents, co-sleeping is natural. To them, it’s a normal way to care for an infant as they adjust to life outside the womb, and as they grow and get used to the big world.

The other group of families have opted to co-sleep simply to get rest. They refrain from sharing that they co-sleep in fear of being judged for practicing what they think is an inherently dangerous sleep arrangement. But at 3am sometimes the benefit of rest outweighs the fears of co-sleeping.

In some western cultures, particularly the US, co-sleeping is not only frowned upon, parents are taught it’s inherently dangerous. US parents are rarely given information about safe co-sleeping guidelines, and are generally told to avoid it at all costs.

In fact, one US city’s campaign used dramatised ads with babies in bed with a knife to symbolise the risks of co-sleeping. What it failed to do, however, was provide evidenced based information about the benefits, risks, safety guidelines, etc. It simply tried to tell parents that co-sleeping is deadly.

While co-sleeping is a huge debate in the US, especially given our high infant mortality rates, it’s the norm in many cultures. When parents hear it’s normal in other cultures, they might assume it’s only in developing countries where there could be a lack of cribs.

However, the Harvard researchers looked to Japan for statistics and practical information regarding co-sleeping. Japan is a modern, large and rich country. Yet co-sleeping is the norm there, unlike the US.

Why Does Our Culture Need Co-Sleeping?

Infant mortality is one way to measure the health of a country. Infants are our most vulnerable citizens and thus their wellness helps us to measure how our country is doing overall.

The US has a shockingly high infant mortality rate for a developed country. This was one thing the researchers looked at in addition to parent wellness, and future social behaviour.

Harvard professor, emeritus, Robert LeVine (PhD) and former Harvard research fellow, Sarah LeVine (PhD) had a lot to say in and about their recent op-ed in the Los Angeles Times.

In the US, babies are typically placed to sleep in their nursery right from or shortly after birth and it’s the beginning of shaping them for an individualistic society.

Discussing her op-ed, Sarah LeVine said: “We place an emphasis on being an individual in the United States. After all the work we’ve done, we’re not at all sure that’s the best way. In every country I’ve worked, my assistants—privileged, intelligent university graduates—all slept with their children.”

The LeVines wrote: “The proven benefits of mother-infant co-sleeping far outweigh the largely imaginary risks. Putting a baby in a separate room at night encumbers parents and leads to their exhaustion without guaranteeing the safety or future character development of their children.”

“In Japan—a large, rich, modern country—parents universally sleep with their infants, yet their infant mortality rate is one of the lowest in the world—2.8 deaths per 1,000 live births versus 6.2 in the United States—and their rate of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, is roughly half the US rate.”

Does Co-Sleeping Lead To Infant Death?

Robert LeVine, knowing infant mortality is a big concern when it comes to co-sleeping, had a lot to say about looking at other countries. We may have lower co-sleeping rates, but we certainly don’t have lower infant mortality.

In response to the backlash he’s received, especially from the medical community, he said, “If the AAP is so concerned about all of this, they should do two things: First, they should start analysis and conversation about the way social class in America affects infants. Second, they should send a delegation to Japan, which has a fraction of infant deaths, and see how did they do it.”

In the US, we see a huge disparity between social classes and infant mortality, including co-sleeping related incidences. What we see from the LeVines’ research is that we need to look to other countries with lower infant mortality rather than denounce co-sleeping across the board.

When parents follow co-sleeping safety guidelines, it’s a sleep option which is safe and beneficial for more rest. Co-sleeping outside of safety guidelines can be dangerous but the practice itself isn’t inherently dangerous.

Be sure to read Rolling Onto Baby While Co-Sleeping – Should You Worry? to learn more about co-sleeping safety and concerns.

Should I Co-Sleep?

Ultimately, choosing whether to co-sleep, as in bedshare, is a personal decision parents need to make based on what is healthiest and safest for themselves and their baby.

Following safe co-sleeping guidelines means co-sleeping can be a safe and beneficial option to help families get adequate rest. For other families, it isn’t the safest option and it doesn’t lead to more rest.

You can learn more about deciding where baby should sleep by reading Tips To Help You Decide Where Your Baby Will Sleep.

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