Will Co-sleeping Psychologically Impact My Child?
Q: Hello Martha. I separated my son’s bedroom at 5 months. He’s 11 months now and still nurses 2x/night. He got sick a couple of weeks ago and I had to keep him in our bed. Now he refuses to sleep in his crib. I honestly don’t mind having him in our bed. I know he won’t leave until he is at least 3 but that’s ok. I’m worried if sharing a bed will somehow psychologically hurt him?
Can you guide me? He is very much attached to me. I would like to know if co-sleeping is harmful to him? Thank you!
A: In nearly 50 years of pediatrics practice, Dr. Bill has seen many healthy things happen with babies and mothers who enjoy co-sleeping. In our book, The Baby Sleep Book, we have a chapter entitled “Nine Benefits of Co-Sleeping”. Here they are:
Nine Benefits of Co-Sleeping
- Babies sleep better. The presence of a parent can ease baby through the transitions from light sleep to deep sleep which happen in the sleep cycles several times throughout the night.
- Mothers sleep better. Many co-sleeping mothers and babies share what we call “nighttime harmony” – their sleep cycles are in sync. Mothers are seldom awakened from a deep sleep to attend to baby.
- Babies grow better. Instead of wasting energy crying at night, baby can use that energy to grow. Extra touch co-sleeping babies get stimulates brain growth. Babies who sleep with their mothers get more milk at night.
- Mothers “grow” better. The extra nursing helps mother thrive and grow as a mom. Moms and babies are “in touch” for more hours, so moms enjoy higher levels of prolactin. They learn to know their babies very well.
- Fathers “grow” better. Many fathers do not have a lot of time with their children during the day. Co-sleeping gives dads extra hours of closeness at night.
- Night feedings are easier. Because breast milk is digested more rapidly than formula, breastfed babies need more frequent feedings. With sleep cycles in sync, mom can partially awaken just in time for a feeding and easily drift back to sleep. Co-sleeping often helps breastfeeding work better – milk seems to flow better.
- Co-sleeping is valuable for moms who work outside the home. Breastfeeding at night helps to perk up a mom’s milk supply, which can dwindle if she is pumping rather than nursing during the workday.
- Co-sleeping babies tend to be better behaved. We have noticed, and long-term studies have confirmed, that co-sleeping babies tend to be easier to discipline. There is a lot more to say about this, check out the book!
- Co-sleeping is safer. There is also a lot to say about this sometimes controversial point. Last week we posted this information for a question from another reader. Take a look at the information in that post.
Since you are wondering if sharing a bed with your baby will somehow psychologically hurt him, consider this. Co-sleeping occurs at the peak stage of brain growth – the first two years. Co-sleeping babies are less stressed at night. Babies forced to sleep alone against their desire are likely to have high levels of stress hormones at night. There is actually a term for stressed-out babies: glucocorticoid neurotoxicity. This is not something you want for your baby’s brain. Our colleague, Dr. James McKenna, Director of Mother-Baby Sleep Lab at Notre Dame University, has published eye-opening research on the psychological benefits of co-sleeping. Above all: Mother Knows Best. If your mother’s intuition tells you this is right for your baby, lie back and enjoy the long-term benefits of this warm relationship.
Martha Sears, RN