How Co-Sleeping Impacts Infants
Mothers who were breastfeeding their infants provided more than just nutrition when they slept alongside their young. For countless years, the two have had a symbiotic relationship with one another when considering co-sleeping. This is due to the infant receiving protection and nutrition, while both the mother and child receive warmth and emotional reassurance from one another.
There are actually a multitude of benefits from this sleeping arrangement, as it allows the child to be closer to the parents in case of an outside emergency (like the home being on fire), or an internal emergency (like the infant crying due to being too cold or hot). The proximity of the mother also allows the baby to feed when they need to feed, which helps it build antibodies so that it can fight off disease more easily. This in turn helps the mother to prevent a new pregnancy because it blocks ovulation and changes the mother’s hormone level. This allows the mother to restore her lost fat and iron so that she can be at her highest health when she does become pregnant again.
However, in Western societies, it is found to be strange and dangerous for an infant to sleep in the same bed as its parents due to the possibility of accidental suffocation and an increase in dependency from the child. This is strange in itself due to a few studies suggesting that children who co-sleep with their parents in a loving and safe environment are normally better adjusted adults than those who did not co-sleep with their parents. There are also millions of years of history to show that infants co-sleeping with their caregiver was a natural thing. So the increase in low parental contact and the decrease in infant-parental interdependence is a bit of an oddity considering the facts.
Concerning the fear that people have over suffocating infants due to co-sleeping, or overlying, these reports can be considered misreported. In the middle ages, it was common for the poor to deliberately suffocate their infants due to overcrowding and not having enough food. When the church realized what was happening, they forbid parents from co-sleeping with their infants in order to stop the deaths. However, this only led them to start using opiates and alcohol to put the babies to sleep, only for them to never wake again. For both types of death, suffocation and poisoning, it was always assumed that the mothers accidentally killed the babies by co-sleeping. Today, due to smoke-filled and poorly ventilated rooms, babies die due to asphyxia, which has been used by Western health officials to promote co-sleeping as a reason for why infants die from SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). However, even though they continue to try and spread this philosophy to other countries, it is shown that these countries SIDS rates are much lower than in the west. For example, it is normal in Japan to co-sleep, and their SIDS rates are he lowest in the world.
Human infants, unlike mammal infants, take much longer to develop both mentally and physically. When born, a human brain is at 25% of its possible weight, while a mammal’s is at 60%-90%. A mammal can become dependant of their parent after about one year, while a human can become dependant between 14 to 17 years, and sometimes may even take longer. Also, unlike their mammal counterparts, human babies cannot move about, keep themselves warm, or feed themselves until much later in life. This is why human infants need a constant amount of attention.
It is also important to note that it seems more of a cultural decision than a physiological or psychological need for a mother to be separated from her infant during the night. This is due to the fact the the infant’s hunger and sleep cycles are short due to human milk being composed of small amounts of fat and proteins with high amounts of fast absorbed and metabolized sugars. With the help of sleep laboratory studies, it has been found that sleeping in separate rooms caused almost double the feeding sessions and caused both mother and child to receive much less sleep than those who co-slept.
Thanks to scientific studies, it has been shown how tightly bound the social and physiological aspects of the mother-infant relationship are. There are also studies that show the adverse consequences of non co-sleep scenarios, and anthropological considerations have been suggesting that separation of the mother and infant should be kept to a minimum. Western societies need to carefully look into how far they want to push infants away from their mothers, as it affects the infant’s emotional, nutritional, and social needs. Mother’s maternal responses to their child’s behavior must also play a key role in the decision making, as less time spent with the child can lead them to not know when something dangerous is happening.