The Great Sleep Debate: Maybe There’s No Right Answer

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For all the time that parents spend not sleeping, it’s obnoxious that they have to put so much thought and effort into worrying about it. Sleep, that is. Parents have plenty of decisions to make when it comes to raising their little ones. Attachment or free-range, nursing or formula, infant sports or “slow family.” Personally, no choice is as confusing as the great sleep debate.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, a group that works tirelessly to teach parents how to keep their children safe, believes that co-sleeping increases the risks of SIDS. They strongly encourage all parents to put their babies to sleep on their backs alone in a crib or bassinet with no loose crib bumpers or blankets. According to them, there’s absolutely no discussion. This is how you keep your little ones safe. Sounds pretty straight-forward right?

Except that there are hundreds of groups advocating co-sleeping to help parents bond with their children. And now, these groups have their own scientific research to fight back against the AAP and their recommendations. Dr. Nils Bergman from the University of South Africa, Cape Town, conducted a study which found that two-day infants had three times more stress when they slept by themselves compared to sleeping on their mother’s chest. Dr Bergman believes that those stress hormones will change a child’s brain and make it more difficult for them to form relationships later in life.

So what is a normal parent supposed to do? Do you protect your child from SIDS or do you commit to bonding with your child to make their life easier when they get older?

Some would argue that if your child gets smothered in their sleep, you won’t have to worry about their trust issues. Others say that these accidents only happen when a parent has been drinking or taking medication.

You want to know what I say? Every parent has to decide for themselves what system fits in their life. In a real home, sleeping isn’t an exercise in clinical decision-making. A writer who contributes here at Mommyish talked about choosing to co-sleep simply because it was the only way for her child to calm down and for her to get a nap. I respect that woman and I believe that she was trying to do the best she could to take care of her family.

Personally, I try not to have my daughter sleep in my bed. When she was an infant, I was petrified that I would hurt her if we slept together. Now, sleeping is time for my husband and I to cuddle. And I believe that maintaining a healthy, happy relationship with my spouse is just beneficial for my child’s stress level and emotional development as letting her sleep in my bed might be.

Parents can find support to back up either side of the co-sleeping debate. We could argue ourselves blue in the face about the dangers versus the benefits. Getting any sleep at all is difficult for new parents. Maybe instead of critiquing the way that everyone else is doing it, we should be content to provide information and let parents decide what system works for them and what risks they’re willing to take. Sleep safety is important for infants, but the stress of deciding what’s best shouldn’t keep parents from getting a little shut-eye as well.