New Book on Babies and Sleep

I have written quite a few posts on the benefits of cosleeping and the negative effects of allowing babies to cry. James McKenna, PhD., probably the foremost researcher on the topic of mother-infant cosleeping, has written Sleeping with Your Baby: A Parent’s Guide to Co-Sleeping. In this interview from the publisher, Platypus Media, McKenna addresses the most common criticisms of cosleeping. Cosleeping is safe (if practiced correctly) and does not lead to emotional dependence. McKenna believes that the decision to cosleep or not lies with individual families, not the medical establishment. I was going to post only excerpts, but in the end I couldn’t leave anything out! I believe McKenna presents a powerful case and I am looking forward to reading the book, due out in May.

Why did you decide to write this book?
My wife and I came into parenting in 1978 reading all the books and being nervous parents, as is everyone. We were quite surprised to learn that there were no infant care recommendations in the baby advice books that were based on human biology-or even on cross-cultural insights-as to how babies’ best lived. They were based, strictly speaking, on 70- or 80-year old ideological positions that defined babies in terms of who we want them to become, rather than who they actually are-little creatures that are very much dependent physiologically, socially, psychologically on the presence of the caregiver. I decided to begin serious research on the practices that help both mothers and babies to thrive.
Does cosleeping benefit babies?
Benefits are, of course, always relevant to whom is cosleeping, what it means to them, and how they practice it. Cosleeping makes babies happy. From a scientific point of view, cosleeping babies cry less and sleep more. Babies lying next to their mothers can breastfeed easily without having to cry in order to make their needs known. Mothers get more sleep, too (though it is more light sleep). Here in the U.S., we are the most unsatisfied, unhappy and exhausted parents in the world because we place babies at odds with their biology.
Isn’t cosleeping dangerous?
Sleeping alone is not biologically correct. Human infants are born more neurologically immature than any other species (excluding marsupials). Our central nervous systems depend on a microenvironment that is like the in-utero environment, full of sensory stimulation. Babies need the warmth, stimulation and monitoring that comes with sleeping next to a caregiver. Almost all, fully 95%, of the world sleeps with their baby, and there are only very few cultures in the world for which babies sleeping alone is even thought to be acceptable nor desirable. In many Asian cultures where cosleeping is the norm, including China, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is either unheard of or rare. In Hong Kong and Japan, which have almost universal cosleeping, SIDS rates are among the lowest in the world. The vast majority of scientific studies on infant behavior and development conducted in diverse fields during the last 100 years suggests that the question placed before us should not be “Is it safe to sleep with my baby?” but rather, “Is it safe not to do so?” My book includes information on how to bedshare safely and when it should be avoided, information parents need to make sound choices.
Why do parents always get told that they should never sleep with their babies?
Parents are receiving dangerous advice from medical authorities that mislead them into assuming that ALL pediatricians and all SIDS researchers recommend against bedsharing. This is just not true. The American Academy of Pediatrics Task Force on SIDS claims bedsharing is always hazardous. This is flat out wrong! Done correctly, whether this means cosleeping, bedsharing or room sharing, infants sleeping with their parents are more likely to survive! The U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission says never sleep with your baby; the only safe place for an infant to sleep is in a crib that meets current safety standards. It is sad that a small group of “experts” have the parents in western countries bamboozled into believing that the entire history of civilization was wrong, that parents and babies have been doing it all wrong since the dawn of humanity!
Should parents rely on doctors for infant sleep advice?
One of the most important things I am hoping to do is remind parents that while professional evaluation is important for sick children, issues of childcare, especially regarding where babies sleep and the relationship this reflects, are decisions best made by information-armed parents, not by external authorities who neither know the parents, nor the infant, nor how sleeping arrangements might work in any given family. At this point in time, medical authorities seem overly willing to use selected and simplistic medical findings to infer their own conclusions about where babies should sleep. Many employ, in my mind inappropriately, a one-size-must-fit-all strategy for sleeping arrangements. Indeed, cosleeping is being misrepresented-often by people who think they know something about it but choose to dismiss any scientific evidence that disagrees with their own negative position. Many of these authorities only know about catastrophic failures associated with dangerous forms of cosleeping and use these failures to draw simplistic conclusions about a very complex practice.
Won’t my child be emotionally dependent if we cosleep?
Absolutely not! Independence and autonomy have nothing to do with forcing babies to learn how to sleep by themselves. Parents are often under the mistaken impression that if they don’t train their babies to sleep alone every night, somehow some developmental or social skill later in life will be kept from them, or that their babies will never exhibit good sleep patterns later in life. Yet research has consistently shown us that children who routinely sleep with their parents or are not “sleep-trained&quopt; actually become more independent socially and psychologically, are able to be alone better by themselves, and have greater abilities to interrelate and be empathetic.
What are the consequences of not cosleeping?
When babies sleep alone, they spend less time sleeping or eating, and longer periods of time crying. This deprives babies of energy that can be put into growth and fighting disease. Worse, it deprives infants of a kind of special interactions and parental sensory stimuli that builds brain connections needed for optimal development. The baby is burning energy and calories needlessly that could otherwise be invested in more beneficial processes required of the baby. Don’t forget that the only reason babies cry is as defensive adaptive pattern that says something is wrong. It is not manipulation on the part of the baby. What parents are really talking about when they say they want their infant to sleep alone is freedom from caring for their babies during the night. Certainly parents have every right to choose that, but they need to know there are future trade-offs with respect to cutting themselves off from that wonderful interdependence that occurs when you are young in life.
Do you believe that all parents should cosleep with their babies?
No, I believe parents should do what they feel is best for their families. I think it is important to empower parents and let them know that every child born in the world is unique as is each family. Since no child is the same, no solution to what children need is necessarily the same. Parents know their own babies better than anyone. Pediatricians are not trained in human development, childcare strategies, or psychology. They know how to fix sick babies. We have to be very careful to not medicalize behaviors that are not appropriately medicalized: where babies sleep, what is a proper sleeping arrangement, and how parents decide to respond to their baby’s nutritional needs. I do believe that parents should be well-informed so that they are able to make the best decisions for their families, and so that if they do choose to do something like share a bed with their baby, they can do it as safely as possible.
James J. McKenna, Ph.D., directs the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory and is Chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Notre Dame. The first scientist to undertake sleep laboratory physiological studies of both mothers and infants, he is a leading authority on infant/parent co-sleeping, and especially bed-sharing. A sought-after speaker at medical, parenting and policy conferences, he speaks on cosleeping at events around the world. Sleeping With Your Baby: A Parent’s Guide to Cosleeping [ISBN: 1-930775-34-2] is his first book. He can be reached at Jim@PlatypusMedia.com.
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Comments

  1. Absolutely fascinating. Thanks for taking the time to type it in your blog – on the eve of the seder yet!

  2. Absolutely fascinating. Thanks for taking the time to type it in your blog – on the eve of the seder yet!

  3. Absolutely fascinating. Thanks for taking the time to type it in your blog – on the eve of the seder yet!

  4. Safranit says:

    I’m a proponent of co-sleeping even though I never read about it or thought about it until after my girls were done with it.
    I only did it for the first 3 months, but it seems so logical that if you child will sleep for only one hour when they are in their crib, but will sleep for 4 hours when they are lying with (or in my case on) you, then it must be the right thing to do. (This despite the fact that she was a big spitter-upper, and I was quite stinky in the morning)

  5. Safranit says:

    I’m a proponent of co-sleeping even though I never read about it or thought about it until after my girls were done with it.
    I only did it for the first 3 months, but it seems so logical that if you child will sleep for only one hour when they are in their crib, but will sleep for 4 hours when they are lying with (or in my case on) you, then it must be the right thing to do. (This despite the fact that she was a big spitter-upper, and I was quite stinky in the morning)

  6. Safranit says:

    I’m a proponent of co-sleeping even though I never read about it or thought about it until after my girls were done with it.
    I only did it for the first 3 months, but it seems so logical that if you child will sleep for only one hour when they are in their crib, but will sleep for 4 hours when they are lying with (or in my case on) you, then it must be the right thing to do. (This despite the fact that she was a big spitter-upper, and I was quite stinky in the morning)

  7. mominisrael says:

    Glad you enjoyed it Joe. I did cut and paste it, of course!
    Safrant–you would think so, wouldn’t you, but as one new mother told me “everyone” knows that it’s not a safe think to do.

  8. mominisrael says:

    Glad you enjoyed it Joe. I did cut and paste it, of course!
    Safrant–you would think so, wouldn’t you, but as one new mother told me “everyone” knows that it’s not a safe think to do.

  9. mominisrael says:

    Glad you enjoyed it Joe. I did cut and paste it, of course!
    Safrant–you would think so, wouldn’t you, but as one new mother told me “everyone” knows that it’s not a safe think to do.

  10. mominisrael says:

    Hi Selena, haven’t seen you around! Often c/s mothers are separated from their babies for the first few days–it’s refreshing to hear of a different approach.

  11. mominisrael says:

    Hi Selena, haven’t seen you around! Often c/s mothers are separated from their babies for the first few days–it’s refreshing to hear of a different approach.

  12. mominisrael says:

    Hi Selena, haven’t seen you around! Often c/s mothers are separated from their babies for the first few days–it’s refreshing to hear of a different approach.

  13. Mom in Israel: I am a big believer in co-sleeping. This book sounds great. I don’t know if I would have done it, but in the hospital, after a c-section, the nurse set up a way for me to sleep with my son, from the first day. It was really thoughtful of her, and it allowed me to sleep, nurse and be with him, since I couldn’t walk around.
    My daughter sleeps pretty well in a crib, but if she wakes up, or is having a hard night (teething, sick, etc) she sleeps with me and usually sleeps better.
    I also beleive that co-sleeping allows children to feel safe and connected to their parents, and they can, therefore, be more independant during the day. Neither of my kids have ever been overly shy or clingly, and I think co-sleeping has a lot to do with it.

  14. Mom in Israel: I am a big believer in co-sleeping. This book sounds great. I don’t know if I would have done it, but in the hospital, after a c-section, the nurse set up a way for me to sleep with my son, from the first day. It was really thoughtful of her, and it allowed me to sleep, nurse and be with him, since I couldn’t walk around.
    My daughter sleeps pretty well in a crib, but if she wakes up, or is having a hard night (teething, sick, etc) she sleeps with me and usually sleeps better.
    I also beleive that co-sleeping allows children to feel safe and connected to their parents, and they can, therefore, be more independant during the day. Neither of my kids have ever been overly shy or clingly, and I think co-sleeping has a lot to do with it.

  15. Mom in Israel: I am a big believer in co-sleeping. This book sounds great. I don’t know if I would have done it, but in the hospital, after a c-section, the nurse set up a way for me to sleep with my son, from the first day. It was really thoughtful of her, and it allowed me to sleep, nurse and be with him, since I couldn’t walk around.
    My daughter sleeps pretty well in a crib, but if she wakes up, or is having a hard night (teething, sick, etc) she sleeps with me and usually sleeps better.
    I also beleive that co-sleeping allows children to feel safe and connected to their parents, and they can, therefore, be more independant during the day. Neither of my kids have ever been overly shy or clingly, and I think co-sleeping has a lot to do with it.

  16. Ari Kinsberg says:

    we did it (though not by choice) and we are still paying for it in every way. ideally i would do everything possible not to do it again.
    “Isn’t cosleeping dangerous?”
    there was a city-sponsored advertising campaign on the nyc subways last year arguing againt cosleeping.

  17. Ari Kinsberg says:

    we did it (though not by choice) and we are still paying for it in every way. ideally i would do everything possible not to do it again.
    “Isn’t cosleeping dangerous?”
    there was a city-sponsored advertising campaign on the nyc subways last year arguing againt cosleeping.

  18. Ari Kinsberg says:

    we did it (though not by choice) and we are still paying for it in every way. ideally i would do everything possible not to do it again.
    “Isn’t cosleeping dangerous?”
    there was a city-sponsored advertising campaign on the nyc subways last year arguing againt cosleeping.

  19. mominisrael says:

    Ari, I’m sorry you didn’t have a positive experience. I know about the subway ads. There are many dangerous co-sleeping arrangement and parents need to be educated about it. I don’t believe forbidding it is the answer because cribs pose risks as well.
    How can co-sleeping be “not by choice?”

  20. mominisrael says:

    Ari, I’m sorry you didn’t have a positive experience. I know about the subway ads. There are many dangerous co-sleeping arrangement and parents need to be educated about it. I don’t believe forbidding it is the answer because cribs pose risks as well.
    How can co-sleeping be “not by choice?”

  21. mominisrael says:

    Ari, I’m sorry you didn’t have a positive experience. I know about the subway ads. There are many dangerous co-sleeping arrangement and parents need to be educated about it. I don’t believe forbidding it is the answer because cribs pose risks as well.
    How can co-sleeping be “not by choice?”

  22. Ari Kinsberg says:

    “How can co-sleeping be ‘not by choice?'”
    to be more specific it was not by our choice. it was by his choice.

  23. Ari Kinsberg says:

    “How can co-sleeping be ‘not by choice?'”
    to be more specific it was not by our choice. it was by his choice.

  24. Ari Kinsberg says:

    “How can co-sleeping be ‘not by choice?'”
    to be more specific it was not by our choice. it was by his choice.

  25. mominisrael says:

    Ari, parents feeling coerced by their children into doing something against their sets up an unhealthy situation. As I guess you figured out, as you say you want to prevent this next time. Good luck!

  26. mominisrael says:

    Ari, parents feeling coerced by their children into doing something against their sets up an unhealthy situation. As I guess you figured out, as you say you want to prevent this next time. Good luck!

  27. mominisrael says:

    Ari, parents feeling coerced by their children into doing something against their sets up an unhealthy situation. As I guess you figured out, as you say you want to prevent this next time. Good luck!

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