The benefits of co-sleeping: “The newborn does not exist alone, the newborn exists together with someone else”

Sleeping with a newborn, holding him and carrying him is not only a cute idea, but also a valuable contribution to his well-being.

“It is serious to strive to be equal: it causes neurosis, psychosis, paranoia.
It is serious to want to be equal, because this means forcing nature, it means going against the laws of God who, in all the woods of the world, has not created a single leaf identical to the other”

He is sleeping? How many hours? Where? Raise your hand if you haven’t been asked the same questions a million times about your child’s sleep and the family’s nocturnal habits.

Among the most criticized and frowned upon, probably, is that of allowing the little one to sleep in the “big bed”, between mum and dad.

It is often seen as a “weakness” by parents who are unable to impose themselves and delimit a boundary to their own space right away, or even worse as the prelude to a couple crisis.

Sometimes the reasons are much simpler than one might think: upon returning from the hospital, the new parents simply want to have the baby next to them at night, in other cases it represents a convenience for breastfeeding mothers.

Yet when we let ourselves go to this “confession”, we don’t have time to finish the sentence that we have already regretted it, because unsolicited judgments will inevitably rain down. “You won’t be able to move it from the bed” is among the most widespread.

Yet, contrary to the opinion of most, the experts do not seem to have all these certainties in agreeing in unison that it is a bad habit.

The newborn does not exist alone, the newborn exists together with someone else

In this regard,  Dr. James J. McKenna , a world-renowned expert professor of anthropology, especially for studies on shared sleep in relation to breastfeeding , has conducted research that can be of great help to new parents not only to get a clearer and more correct idea of ​​what the real needs of the newborn are but to regain confidence in one’s ability to decide the best for oneself and one’s family.

“My research into nocturnal contact between mother and baby began when we discovered my wife was pregnant. Like many parents-to-be, we rushed to buy all kinds of parenting books, but after reading a few on the best way to care for a newborn, the conclusion was: either one, or whatever the world teaches us. Anthropology (my major) is wrong, or all these western recommendations on infant care have nothing to do with infants. Perhaps they are just the result of cultural ideologies of the contemporary West, or of those social values ​​that more specificallythey reflect our wishes for what children should become, rather than what they really are and their actual needs.

Ashley Montagu said that the newborn is an exogestation , i.e. an external gestation. Stroking newborns produces changes in their breathing, body temperature, growth rate, blood pressure and even stress levels. In other words, the mother’s body is the only environment to which the newborn is adapted. As stated by the famous child psychologist, Dr. Donald Winnicott, ” The baby does not exist alone, the baby exists together with someone else “.

It is a scientific starting point of absolute truth and makes us understand why no newborn will ever accept or be able to respond to the note according to which he should sleep alone. The environment in which a newborn sleeps alone is neurobiologically critical, as it is a micro-environment whose ecology is unable to meet its essential needs. The truth is that sleeping alone in a room and not being breastfed are now recognized as independent risk factors for SIDS, which explains why much of the world has never felt talk about SIDS. My wife and I were shocked to read what pediatric sleep researchers were saying about what was normal for human infants, and that they should “soothe themselves.” Yet, even then we knew it was nothing more than a cultural construction with no empirical evidence to support its veracity.”

She continues: “When my son was born, I discovered that I could influence his breathing by changing the speed of mine, just as if we were always in sync. My subsequent research confirmed that the breathing rhythms of mother and baby are governed by each other’s presence – the sounds of inhaling and exhaling; the rise and fall of the chest; carbon dioxide exhaled from one and inhaled from the other which speeds up the next breath!

I have argued in my scientific papers that this is an extra signal to remind the baby to breathe , a failsafe in case the various internal infant breathing passages should become jammed. I studied the negative physiological effects of short-term maternal separation in monkeys, analyzing heart rate, respiration, body temperature, susceptibility to disease, cortisol levels, digestion and growth rates.

Could I perhaps wonder that the least mature primate of all – man – is even more sensitive than the others to all sensory signals? Sleeping with a newborn, holding him and carrying him is not only a cute idea, but also a valuable contribution to his well-being . I decided to take my knowledge of primate behavior and apply it to ourselves to see if nocturnal contact (bed sharing and nursing) did indeed regulate the human infant in the ways I had described, and what happened when children slept alone. We showed how the sensory modalities of the mother-infant relationshipthey influence each other. It is not only the mother who modifies sleep and the physiological condition of the newborn, but it is also the newborn who regulates the physiological condition and maternal behaviour.

It’s important to remember that while mother-infant sleep sharing is evolutionary, the same cannot be said of modern beds and bedding. Due precautions are required . Nonetheless, co-sleeping  can be protective when combined with breastfeeding . We know today that many breastfeeding mothers choose to bed-share in order to be able to sleep more, promote milk production, and create a more intense bond with their baby.

When done safely, bed-sharing makes mothers (and fathers!) and children happy, not to mention the positive effects it has on development and growth. Certainly no stigma or accusation of irresponsibility should fall on mothers who choose to share a bed with their children. In fact, in one form or another, 90% of human beings sleep with their babies !”.

As often happens, our beliefs about how we “should” handle our children, about how we “should” behave as mothers, and worse still about how our children “should” be, not only lead us continually astray, but they become every moment and on the most varied subjects, a source of frustration and unhappiness. Too often we convince ourselves that we are inadequate, that we have not been able to teach the little one good routines, without considering the greater evidence. No two children are the same: it seems trivial, but it’s not that much. We support it verbally but perhaps we don’t believe it fully, otherwise we would stop making comparisons.

McKenna concludes thus, restoring trust to the parents: “ Do what is best for your family, no external authority can know your child better than you. You are the one who spends the most time with him, and every child is different. Babies, children and parents relate in as many different ways as possible . There really is no set pattern or pattern to the relationships we develop. When it comes to arranging sleeping arrangements, many families come up with and display very fluid ideas about where their child “should” sleep.

The needs of the child

Parents with the least rigid ideas about when and how to sleep are also usually the most satisfied and are much less likely to resent if their children fail to perform as expected… (i.e. sleep through the night) . Most importantly, remember that babies have no schedule, they are not trying to make your life difficult or manipulate you. With such small and underdeveloped brains, they are more flat on their genes than any human could ever be, and have very little control over their own behavior. In the first six or seven months of life they have no “desires or demands” but only needs . Keep in mind that babies are at least as much a “victim” of their own behaviors as you are.

The secret to parental satisfaction is not accepting that others tell you what to do . Rather, open yourself up to the ways in which the relationship constellations that define your family intertwine and move with the solutions that seem to work best. Try not to judge your baby’s sleep . Don’t confuse the medically perceived goodness of an all-night sleep with a “moral goodness,” the idea that good children should sleep through the night. The worst cultural invention ever, for parents, has been the notion of the “good kid” .

Kathryn Barlow is an OB/GYN doctor, which is the medical specialty that deals with the care of women's reproductive health, including pregnancy and childbirth.

Obstetricians provide care to women during pregnancy, labor, and delivery, while gynecologists focus on the health of the female reproductive system, including the ovaries, uterus, vagina, and breasts. OB/GYN doctors are trained to provide medical and surgical care for a wide range of conditions related to women's reproductive health.

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