Co-sleeping: what happens to children who don’t learn to sleep alone
Spotted an Error?
Do you spoil your children if you allow them to sleep in their parents’ bed? What are the effects of children falling asleep close to their parents? Experts explain why children are best looked after in a family bed.
In the middle of the night you hear the small, patting feet. The bedroom door will open shortly. A small body will crawl over your back and give you a rough kick.
You slide to the outer end of the mattress, the bedspread is out of reach. But it doesn’t matter. Because shortly afterwards you hear the deep breaths of your child, who has long since fallen asleep again. Peaceful and safe between his parents.
Sometimes you worry about these nightly visits. Ask yourself if you are spoiling your child and are afraid that it may take years before they can sleep on their own. Calm down: Your child will be fine.
It is perfectly normal for parents to sleep in a bed with their children – nature intended it to. Nevertheless, the family bed is a topic that repeatedly triggers discussions.
It is particularly widespread that children who sleep in the same room or even in a bed with their parents later grow into spoiled thumbsuckers without a backbone.
Some parents fear long-term consequences if their child does not learn to sleep alone from an early age.
And finally there is the fear of sudden child death, which many still associate with the so-called co-bedding. Although there is no clear evidence of this, the connection is firmly anchored in the mind.
Instead, new scientific studies indicate that children sleep even more safely in their parents’ bed than in their own room.
Exciting, but no time right now?
The adults are the problem
"The debate about the dangerousness of the parents’ bed in Germany is shaped by ingredients that make a real debate difficult: fears, emotions, hardly verifiable information", said pediatrician Herbert Renz-Polster from Baden-Württemberg. "With the worst worry that parents can have, namely that they could harm their child if they follow their own hearts, many parents in Germany are left alone today".
Discussions may not even come about because parents fear being convicted of their decision.
For example, a UK survey showed that roughly every second mother makes a secret of taking their baby to bed with them, for fear of other mothers’ judgment.
So it is obviously time to clear up some prejudices about family bed children.
1. Children sleep in the family bed as nature intended
Babies and toddlers sleep best near their parents. Nature has designed it so that the attachment system is activated when a baby is tired. It needs closeness and seeks contact with its parents.
A look at human history explains why this is so: Without the protection of an adult, babies would not have survived for a long time – least of all while they were sleeping.
Our culture and living conditions would have changed dramatically in the past 10,000 years, "but the fact that babies need protection, breast milk and body heat has remained the same", said Nicola Schmidt, author of the book "appropriate – the other baby book".
In addition, human babies are physiological premature babies. They would actually have to stay in the womb for three to six months longer, but that is not possible because their heads are too big for this.
"They are not finished yet, they have to ripen", Schmidt said FOCUS Online. "At least during this time we have to give the children everything they need and actually much longer so that they can reach their actual maturity stage."
And that includes a lot of closeness – especially when the child gives up control of the body and senses during sleep.
2. Family bed children have more relaxed parents
"Human mothers also have the inheritance to come to rest best when their little one is safe and secure next to them", Herbert Renz-Polster and Nora Imlau write in their book "Sleep well baby!".
"Today we know that not only small children wake up at night and make sure that they are not alone. Even mothers who sleep next to their babies regularly wake up briefly at night and unconsciously check whether their child is well."
But fathers also benefit from the family bed because their sleep is not disturbed by the fact that the nursing mother gets up at night. Babies who are cared for quickly also calm down much faster, so that neither mother nor father wake up properly and then may have difficulty falling asleep again.
"The whole family gets more sleep", confirms Sarah Ockwell-Smith, child sleep expert and author FOCUS Online. "And it’s a wonderful way to bond with each other."
3. Family bed children are smarter
According to research, co-sleeping children are breastfed more often at night. And that is extremely good for your health.
"Babies are "naturally" designed for night breastfeeding; because only at night did the ‘great’ mother have a lot of time to breastfeed. At night the prolactin is also much higher than during the day and the oxytocin flows better", explains breastfeeding consultant Elisabeth Kurth on her website.
The hormone oxytocin affects, among other things, the relationship between mother and child. Prolactin is the hormone responsible for breast milk production.
Nighttime breastfeeding also has a positive effect on the child’s intelligence:
"I always say, take the children to bed with you, you will save on the tutoring afterwards. Because children who are breastfed frequently and for a long time have an IQ that is up to ten points higher according to the current study situation. We do not know exactly why, but it is true", Schmidt said FOCUS Online.
4. Family bed children sleep more safely
Many parents are afraid that they will die suddenly if they take their babies to bed with them.
However, a study by the British child death researcher Peter Blair shows that this fear is unfounded.
The study is based on very good and up-to-date data, and Blair comes to a clear conclusion: If all known risk factors are avoided, sleeping with a baby is not a danger.
According to Schmidt, risk factors include thick pillows, mattresses or water beds that are too soft, but also depression of the parents, drugs, medication, postpartum depression of the mother, and extreme overweight.
"The baby should sleep on the outside of the bed next to the mother and at breast level", Ockwell-Smith said to the Huffington Post. "Long hair should be tied together in co-bedding and nightgowns should not have loose straps."
If these factors are taken into account, babies sleep in their parents’ bed even more safely than in their own room: "We know that in co-sleeping families, when the mother is breastfeeding, the risk of sudden infant death is less than in other families", said Schmidt.
If the risk of co-bedding, i.e. sleeping together in a family bed, is too high, you should at least consider co-sleeping.
Co-sleeping means that the baby sleeps in the same room as the parents, but in their own bed.
"Everyone should let their child sleep in the same room unless they are heavy smokers and also smoke in the bedroom. Because smoking has been shown to increase the risk of sudden child death", said Schmidt.
Babies also notice the smells, sounds and movements that come from their parents’ bed while they sleep.
This is important because it prevents the little ones from falling into a deep sleep. Researchers believe that sleeping too deep can be dangerous. The little one’s nervous system is not yet fully developed, which makes it difficult for them to react appropriately to breathing interruptions or other dangerous situations.
"It is better if the babies – as it has been in the last 120,000 years of human history – sleep with others so that their nervous system can mature at night and through the pheromones, smells, breath and movements of the parents is protected", says Schmidt.
5. Family bed children find sleep comfortable
Children who are allowed to fall asleep in their parents’ bed are more relaxed. They find sleep a pleasant, cozy experience.
Babies, for example, by crying "trained" on the other hand, so that they fall asleep alone in their own bed are under stress all night.
"It can be assumed that this tension also accompanies the children to sleep, after all, they see the world with half an eye, especially on the first stretch of sleep", write Renz-Polster and Imlau.
"Measurements of the stress hormone cortisol actually indicate that babies who have to cry themselves to sleep are ‘live’ during the rest of the night."
Babies whose basic needs – and this includes the proximity of their parents – are satisfied, are generally more relaxed and develop a more positive attitude towards bedtime, even in toddlers.
6. You get used to the parents’ bed yourself
Those who openly admit that they allow their children to sleep in their parents’ bed quickly find themselves faced with criticism. "You’ll never get him out of bed again", it is often said. But that’s really true?
"There are two effects that we have with co-sleepers that some people may not find so positive: they often fall asleep later than other trained children and they sleep through the night alone later", Schmidt said FOCUS Online.
"But once co-sleeping children have moved out of their parents’ bed, they usually don’t come back."
Renz-Polster and Imlau also recommend taking it easy. At some point, every child wanted to sleep in their own bed. At around three years of age, children were in the so-called autonomy phase and then automatically felt the urge to sleep in their own bed.
"If parents only want to share the mattress with their baby in the first few months of life, the best way to get their child used to their own bed around the seventh month of life.
At this age, babies have already developed a lot of basic trust, but they are not yet strange: a good time to gently develop a new evening routine."
7. Family bed children are never spoiled
Another misconception that has crept into the mind when it comes to children’s sleep concerns the fear of being pampered.
Education expert Schmidt has a clear answer: "You cannot spoil children under the age of two, because there is not too much love", she said FOCUS Online.
"Pampering means that I am doing something that the child could do too. The child cannot sleep safely himself, which means that if I make sure that the child sleeps safely, I will not spoil the child."
Pediatrician Renz-Polster is obviously of the same opinion. He invalidates the rumor by a very vivid comparison:
"In [Africa and Asia] the little people are breastfed as soon as they make a joke. When they cry, there is always someone there. They sleep next to their mother at night. And they are worn pretty much all the time. The full pampering program! And yet there is no trace of spoiled children, on the contrary: the children are self-employed relatively early, take on tasks for the family as adolescents and get on well with life."
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