The Great Co-sleeping Debate

It’s a big deal here in the United States. The most recent uproar started with the Milwaukee Health Department’s new public service announcements that show babies tucked in bed next to butcher knives in what appears to be a parents bed. Now, I know that I’ve sworn in past blog posts that I’d no longer share our “anti-mainstream” parenting on Facebook or parenting sites, that I’d keep myself to myself… and I meant it. But sadly, a few days ago, I fell off the wagon. I found a Facebook page speaking out against the Milwaukee Co-sleeping Campaign and I couldn’t help myself, I joined. Then, as PeaceLoveCloth, I posted two pictures of Leo and FireDaddy bedsharing (because of course, as the family photographer, there are no pictures of ME bedsharing) Here’s the one that led to this blog post. I posted it with the following caption: Last one – I promise. I took this one when he was about 2 or 3 weeks old – and I was afraid to post it on FB for a long while because of the stigma in the area we live in and in hubby’s family toward co-sleeping and bed sharing. I’m over the fear now – I’m loud and I’m proud ya’ll!At first, the feedback was friendly, a few likes, a few positive comments. I didn’t really think much of it, being as I assumed the page was simply a small, positive page for pro-cosleeping parents to convene, share and support co-sleeping Milwaukee parents. And then – I was notified of more comments. The first time I read them, I thought I was mis-reading the  posts.

” This is exactly why babies die from bed sharing!!! this is bed sharing unsafely at it’s finest and sadly you being proud of this picture is scary. Dads shouldn’t bed share, and no pillows blankets & a firm mattress which I can tell this isn’t!”  Two other people “liked” this comment.

“I’m very against co sleeping; even though my daughter died in her own bed. It is infact sad that you are proud of this picture. Sorry.”

” dislike”

Ummm – okay?! Thanks for….  sharing? I was at a loss for a while, and then I posted my reply.

“Aaand let the trolling and rudeness begin. Yaaay. Sorry folks, but my family and I are safe, healthy and happy. This picture was taken during a brief trip I took to the restroom during a mid-morning nap. MY side of the bed – pillow free, and a light blanket only. And the statement that Dad’s shouldn’t bed share – completely false. My husband is as sensitive as I am to where my son is during sleep. A week after this picture was taken, we purchased a super firm king mattress. Despite my personal feelings on crib sleeping, I do not judge those who chose to do so, nor do I tell them their choices are “sad” or “scary”. If you don’t agree with or like co-sleeping, why are you on this page?”

Do I feel ashamed that I felt the need to justify and defend myself to complete strangers who don’t know me, what kind of person I am, or how I REALLY parent? Yes. Am I going to leave my comment and picture up nonetheless?  Damn skippy!  I stand by my comment, my choices, and my beautiful picture.

Of all the parenting choices I’ve made and been judged for in the short 15 months I’ve been a Mama, bedsharing seems to be the one people are the most comfortable and adamant in condemning,  and I’m a bit lost as to why. I agree that SIDS is a serious problem. As a matter of fact, I chose to co-sleep BECAUSE I was worried about the risk of SIDS. Here is an excerpt from The Natural Child Project that sums up the  research I found that supported my instincts – Preliminary findings of cosleeping research indicated that cosleeping mothers and infants had a significantly higher levels of partner-influenced arousal overlap and synchronous sleep patterns. Since there is a suspected relationship between arousal deficits in infants and some deaths from SIDS (McKenna et al., 1993; Sears, 1995b), McKenna’s hypothesis that the influence of cosleeping on the infant’s respiratory patterns, central nervous system, and cardiovascular systems may have a protective effect seems quite valid. Intriguingly, in a 1994 study in the United Kingdom of physiological development, infant sleeping, and SIDS risk in Asian infants, Petersen and Wailoo found that although the Asian babies had several increased physiological risk factors for SIDS, the SIDS rate is much lower in this population. The authors note that perhaps this is due to the increased stimulation the infants receive as a result of Asian infant care practices. These practices include cosleeping, carrying, and other activities which involve the child more in household life (Petersen & Wailoo, 1994). SIDS rates in Asian countries, where cosleeping is often the norm, are significantly lower than those in western society (Thevenin, 1987).

I was raised in Latin America. In the countries where I spent my early childhood, it was standard practice for parents to sleep with their babies and children. Family beds were the norm, as was “baby-wearing” and breastfeeding – (even in public *gasp*) And never, not once, did it occur to me as I grew up that I wouldn’t do the same with my children. I can’t speak as to whether or not children in these countries are “safer” – but I do know that they seem just as healthy and happy – if not more so – than their crib sleeping American counterparts. So when I started preparing for Leo’s arrival, I was floored when a friend I was discussing my co-sleeping plans with told me bedsharing is “always dangerous and wrong. Period.” I was stumped when an overwhelming number of friends, family, and random acquaintances INSISTED I use a crib from the get-go or live to rue the day and suffer the consequences. The consequences we were threatened with ranged from never getting him out of our bed, the demise of our sex life,  never getting any sleep, and of course, the ever-present smothering and instant death warnings of doom. PLEASE don’t misunderstand me – I agree completely that co-sleeping can be done incorrectly, and yes, dangerously. I would love to see more public education on how parents can co-sleep safely and properly. As one of my critics pointed out in the comments above, there IS a correct and incorrect way to bed-share, and in the very beginning, FireDaddy and I made mistakes. Thanks to fabulous resources such as askdrsears.com, Dr. Laura Markham’s Aha! Parenting.com, and the above quoted The Natural Child Project,  we quickly remedied them. We traded in our pillow-top mattress for a very firm one. We got rid of all but two firm, necessary pillows. We switched from a thick fluffy comforter to separate light covers. We bought a Bedside Co-sleeper that attached to our bed, and used it as often as Leo allowed us to – he having decided QUITE early in the game that his favorite sleeping position was propped up in the crook of my arm. As he got older, we put a Mini-Crib in our bedroom, and now that he’s gotten quite independent, he has his own mattress on the floor in “his” corner of our room. However, as a breastfeeding Mama, I have found that still allowing Leo into our bed doesn’t just benefit Leo, but myself and FireDaddy as well – we actually sleep at night. We are well rested, and we all enjoy the closeness of sleeping as a family. Is bed sharing right for every family? Obviously not. It IS right for mine, and just as I’ve said a million times before, in a million different ways – try to respect my parenting, and I will try to respect yours. There is absolutely NO advantage to rudely condemning people we’ve never met, especially when we don’t have any possible way of knowing all the facts involved, and there is no point in condemning an entire group of people based solely on personal prejudice. Don’t agree? Then don’t read my blog, don’t visit co-sleeping group pages and post rude comments, and get on with your life and YOUR parenting choices. Okay folks, rant officially over. Thanks for listening.

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One thought on “The Great Co-sleeping Debate

  1. love your post, im still co sleeping with my nearly 4 year old, and i look back to when i was pregnant, saying that i would never ever co sleep, i look back and laugh lol. when my daughter was born the midwife tucked her in the bed with me and told me how much easier it would be to breastfed, i now love that woman, i breastfed until she was 10 months (i only stopped as i was pregnant with my beautiful angel son who was stillborn). We bonded more , she was an early developer, she is independant, and loves a cuddle, she had her own bed but i can honestly say that was £130 badly spent, co sleeping is amazing, Why are we the only mammals whos natural instinct to nurse and sleep with our tots is pushes aside and frowned upon? x

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