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Bedtime Battles: A Modern Day Creation?
From co-sleeping to sleep training to bed times and schedules, the topic of where and how our children sleep is a hot button issue in parenting circles. But why? How did we become so obsessed with where our children sleep and why did it become such a divisive issue?
Before I had children, I knew my sleep would be interrupted, segmented, and take on a form I never knew before. I was somewhat prepared for that. What I wasn’t prepared for was how opinionated, loudly opinionated, people would be about where my baby slept. It did not take me long to realize there were two definitive camps: Baby is welcome wherever Mom is OR Baby needs to learn how to self-soothe, i.e. sleep alone. Sure there were variations within the camps, but for the most part it appeared that parenting philosophies on sleep fell into an either/or.
If you take a look at the evolutionary perspective, mommas and babies were never meant to be as separated as they are in today’s hectic times. Science overwhelmingly supports sleeping within close proximity to your babies with proven benefits ranging from increased breastfeeding success to the child’s well being to literally life-saving. My personal experiences have been in line with the science (as well as my intuition).
Breastfeeding my babies at night was much easier when we slept in the same room together. Both of my children slept more soundly and peacefully in close proximity to me. I slept better, too, and was able to wake gently, nurse, and fall back to sleep in sync with my kids.
My first born had a febrile seizure when he was 21 months old. According to the doctor in the emergency room that night, upwards of 5% of babies can have febrile seizures at some point. Further research suggests that those who have them are 40% more likely to have another one. If I had not been in the same room with him, tending to his nightly needs, it is highly likely I would have never known about his seizure. Gulp.
How do you think babies feel about all the fuss? Dr. James McKenna, the world’s leading authority on co-sleeping, offers this perspective:
“Infants usually have something to say about it too! And for some reason they remain unimpressed with declarations as to how dangerous sleeping next to mother can be. Instead, irrepressible (ancient) neurologically-based infant responses to maternal smells, movements and touch altogether reduce infant crying while positively regulating infant breathing, body temperature, absorption of calories, stress hormone levels, immune status, and oxygenation. In short, and as mentioned above, cosleeping (whether on the same surface or not) facilitates positive clinical changes including more infant sleep and seems to make, well, babies happy. In other words, unless practiced dangerously, sleeping next to mother is good for infants. The reason why it occurs is because… it is supposed to.”
This makes so much sense to me. If you take into consideration our biology and physiology and look at this situation rationally, it is weird for there to be such controvery surrounding sleep.
Based on the conversations I have had, observations I have made, and extensive reading on this topic, here are a few reasons I think our bedtime battles are a modern day creation.
Three Reasons Why
1. RIGID SCHEDULES. Alarm clocks control us and schedules are handed to us rather then created by us. People are ignoring their bodily cues to sleep and rest to keep up with the demands of work or school. Sleep deprivation is a huge problem in this country and one that has staggering ripple effects. If adults aren’t getting enough sleep already, then they add a baby or two to the mix…well, it can be a nightmare. Keep in mind, this is not the baby’s fault. Trying to force a baby to fit into your schedule will undoubtedly create frustration if you are not able to be flexible with your schedules. Parents not sleeping when their body requires it, waking a baby who is resting well, or failing to create uninterrupted time for their baby to sleep when needed can create negative ripple effects for both parent and child.
2. EXPECTATIONS. The old adage, “sleeping like a baby” needs to be thrown out with the bathwater. It is true that a comfortably sleeping infant is ever so peaceful and deep in sleep, but this doesn’t tell the entire story. Their sleep is no where close to the 8 hours in a row kind of sleep that we consider normal as adults. And therein lies the rub: Expectations do not equal reality.
Babies are born after nine months of gestation, but of all the primates, human babies are the least neurologically developed at birth–only 25%.
“Parents might well think of human infants as final-phase fetuses who will spend their first three months — a fourth trimester — crossing the divide between womb and world.” -Susan Brink author of Fourth Trimester: Understanding, Nurturing, and Protecting an Infant Through the First Three Months.
We must accept that our babies need us, night AND day. Just because they have arrived outside of our body does not automatically mean they are ready to be separated from our body. Especially separated in a completely different room with a fake nipple pacifier and plush toy or “blanky” for comfort. They desire closeness, touch, the sound of a parent’s heartbeat, the smell of your skin. They are built to be with their parents, not cut off abruptly from the warmth and security they felt while growing for months in your womb. Kangaroo care is also highly beneficial.
Basically, any method that encourages you to ignore your child’s cues or to think of your child as manipulative or clinging, etc. is ignoring thousands of years of evolutionary priming.
3. FEAR. There is no shortage of fear mongering in this world and advice given to parents can be tightly wound in fear. The reasons given to explain why sleeping in close proximity to your baby is “bad” ranges from an adult rolling over onto their child to causing problems with your marriage. Of course these would not be good outcomes and there are absolutely things to consider if your baby sleeps in the same bed as you…DO NOT drink alcohol, do drugs, or sleep beside your child if you have any medical condition that causes you to sleep too soundly. Adult beds were not created for infants, so it is advisable to take necessary precautions to ensure ideal conditions. Dr. McKenna explains those, here.
What I find fascinating is how naturally in sync parents are with their babies. Research in Dr. McKenna’s lab shows how parents awaken ever so slightly when their baby moves and adjusts if necessary. It’s an amazing, lightly sleeping dance. From personal experience, successful nursing and restful sleep were absolutely the result of being in close proximity to my children all hours of the night.
What about toddlers and young children? Shouldn’t they sleep in their own room, in their own bed? My first response to this is: “Why is that a rule?” Why do we have to create more stress by forcing children to be alone while they fight, tooth and nail, to be close to their parents at night? Adults created this scenario, i.e. problem, then turn around and try to solve it by punishing and shaming their kids. It’s so silly, really. There are an endless amount of books claiming to teach parents how to get their kids to sleep. But why did we make sleep so controversial to begin with? Just sleep wherever you get the best sleep and if that means your partner sleeps in a different room for a while or you sleep in a room with a child then so be it.
Recognize this for the short season it is. Your kids will eventually long for their own space and their own room. Their desire to seek you in the night will absolutely wane. It will likely be different for each child based on a number of factors, but understand there is really no magic formula. There can be a peaceful change, a natural progression that respects your child’s emotional and physical development, though. You can alleviate squeals in the night or worries about monsters under the bed if your child has made the supported decision to sleep alone. You can avoid constant calls for attention or for water sips or snacks if your child has had a say so in his sleeping arrangements while he is young.
If, as parents, we stop adhering to hard and fast rules like kids MUST sleep in room A, B, or C and parents MUST sleep together elsewhere from any of those rooms, it is safe to say the havoc in the night can be replaced with quiet, sweet calm.
A dream come true.
Hello! If you are new here, welcome! You can read more of my (shorter) musings over on Instagram @letemgobarefoot. If you are new to homeschooling, are unschooling curious, or have been homeschooling for a little while but seek to transition more to an unschooling/self-directed educational mindset, Ann Hansen of Inner Parent Coaching and I teamed up to create this beautiful, downloadable e-book with you in mind. It can also be helpful if you need support explaining unschooling and self-directed education to a family member, spouse, or friend. Grab a copy here or share with a friend who could use some assurance and a confidence boost. Thank you for your support!