I am a social worker and parent in Australia concerned about the western practice of a method called 'controlled crying' that is used on infants to get them to sleep. This blog talks about the use of this method and other parenting methods. Search all the information on this site to be better informed about the practice of controlled crying. For any comments or questions, my email is

Friday, June 30, 2006

The Benefits of Co-Sleeping

Lower your baby's risk of stress
disorders, SID and more

by Jennifer Cobrun courtesy of The Compleat Mother

Note: This is a media article on the research of Harvard psychologists.
It can be found at this link (at the very bottom) after an article on Commons and Miller's
research presented to the AAAS.
(Co-sleeping isn't for everyone, and it can take some getting used to, but it is wonderful for some families, who really enjoy sharing cuddles together all night long!)

Harvard psychologist Michael Commons and
his colleagues recently presented the
American Association for the Advancement
of Science with research that suggests that
babies who sleep alone are more susceptible
to stress disorders.
Notre Dame anthropology professor and
leading sleep researcher, James McKenna, has
long held that babies who sleep with their
mothers enjoy greater immunilogical benefits
from breastfeeding because they nurse twice
as frequently as their counterparts who sleep alone.
In his book on Sudden Infant Death
Syndrome, pediatrician William Sears cites
co-sleeping as a proactive measure parents
can take to reduce the risk of this tragedy.
McKenna’’s research shows that babies who
sleep with parents spend less time in Level III
sleep, a state of deep sleep when the risk of
apneas are increased. Further, co-sleeping
babies learn to imitate healthy breathing
patterns from their bunkmates.
Every scientific study of infant sleep confirms
that babies benefits from co-sleeping. Not one
shred of evidence exists to support the widely
held notion that co-sleep is detrimental to the
psychological or physical health of infants.
If science consistently provides evidence that
the American social norm of isolating babies
for sleep can have deleterious effects, why do
we continue the 150-year crib culture in the
United States? Why do parents flock to Toys
R’’ Us to purchase dolls that have heart beats,
sing lullabies and snore when they can do the
same for free?
McKenna suggests that there are several
factors that maintain this cultural norm.
Foremost is the American value of selfsufficiency.
Independence is an important
characteristic for a successful person in our
society. We take great pride in watching our
babies pick themselves up by their own bootie
straps. But the assumption that co-sleeping
inhibits independence is pure cultural
mythology. In fact, the opposite it true.
Children who share sleep with their parents
are actually more independent than their
peers. They perform better in school, have
higher self esteem, and fewer health
problems. After all, who is more likely to be
well-adjusted, the child who learns that his
needs will be met, or the one who is left alone
for long periods of time? McKenna suggests
that it is confusing for a baby to receive
cuddles during the day while also being
taught that the same behavior is inappropriate
at night.
The Commons report states that when babies
are left alone to cry themselves to sleep,
levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, are
elevated. Commons suggests that the constant
stimulation by cortisol in infancy causes
physical changes in the brain. "It makes you
more prone to the effects of stress, more
prone to illness, including mental illness, and
makes it harder to recover from illness," he concludes.
The best-selling book on infant sleep is
frighteningly misdirected and offers
absolutely no scientific grounds for its thesis.
Richard Ferber suggest that the best way to
solve your child’’s "sleep problems" is to
isolate them in another room, shut the door,
and let them cry for ten minutes without
interruption. Then parents may enter the room
and verbally soothe the baby, but are warned
against making physical contact with their
baby. Shortly after, they are advised to leave
the infant to cry for another timed interval a la
"Mad About You."
Most sleep disorders are not biologically
based, but rather, created by well-intended
parents. Making oneself available by intercom
is simply not meeting the nighttime needs of
an infant.
Many parents argue that they tried
"Ferberizing" their baby and enjoyed great
success with the technique. Indeed, the infant
may stop crying and learn to go to sleep on
his own, but this is a short-term pay off for
parents. The baby has not suddenly
discovered quiet content. He simply is
exhausted from his futile efforts to be
Fifteen years later, the same parents
shrug their shoulders and wonder why their
kids are shutting them out.
Though co-sleeping is common in most parts
of the world, many American parents would
not consider it because they fear it will cause
them sleep deprivation. Every scientific study
concludes that parents who bring their babies
to bed sleep longer and better.
A few parents do experience difficulty
sleeping with a baby in their bed. For them, a
"sidecar" or bedside sleeper is an ideal way to
meet their needs for rest and their baby’’s
need for co-sleep. Keeping a crib or bassinet
in the parents’’ room is another option. A
"family bed" is not for everyone, but creative
solutions for co-sleep are abundant in our
consumer-friendly culture.
The most common question co-sleepers are
asked is about maintaining a sexual
relationship with one’s partner. The answer
is simple. Go someplace where the baby is
not. Enough said.
For those who consider unlimited access to
their sexual partner more important than
meeting the needs of their baby, cat
ownership is a wonderful alternative to
parenthood. You can just toss a bowl of Nine
Lives on the floor and frolic around the house
whenever the mood hits you.
Co-sleeping is not right for everyone. Heavy
drinkers and drug addicts should avoid
sleeping with their babies. Of course, these
folks should probably avoid parenthood altogether.
If scientific research consistently
demonstrates that co-sleeping offers
tremendous benefits for babies and has no
deleterious effects, it’s time Americans join
the rest of the world and parent our babies 24
hours a day.
Jennifer Coburn
San Diego, California

For information on safe Co-sleeping see these articles

API Position review

CPSC Data on Co-Sleeping

Co-Sleeping Research

UK Research

NZ Discussion paper; SIDS and Maori Co-Sleeping/Smoking

Invoking sudden infant death syndrome in cosleeping may be misleading; Letter;

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