It depends! Ask this question in China and see how people react. Ask this question in the western hemisphere and the ground remains divided between advocates of co-sleeping and separate sleeping. When I had my first child (9D), I lasted exactly 40 days before I surrendered and took her to bed with me against my mother’s heavy protests.
Being a first time inexperienced mother, I had been working fulltime until the day I delivered; I had no idea (non whatsoever!) about having babies! I had not had time to read up on anything. My plan was to learn as I went along and I didn’t think it would be difficult when my mother had so generously offered her help for the first three months. She would be the perfect coach for me. After all, she had raised me and my siblings and we were okay (I now wonder what kind of person I would have been, had I been allowed to co-sleep with my parents… Well, I guess I will never know ). Anyways, my mother had her own ideas about how to put a baby to sleep and co-sleeping was not one of them. My mother’s typical outbursts to my insistence on co-sleeping were somewhere along these lines: “Are you out of your mind? You may roll over and kill her in your sleep! She is so tiny and you don’t know what you are doing when you are asleep! Is this really the right thing to do?”
At the time, I did not have much to say except to steel myself against all the remarks, but now I want to say: “Really? How many times have YOU rolled over and fell out of your bed or rolled over and found yourself on top of your partner in the morning? I, personally, have an exceptional ability to know where my bed ends when I sleep and I have never fallen out of my bed in my entire life. I had a feeling that I could also extend that ability and use it to prevent rolling onto my baby when I slept. And guess what? I was right! Both my children are still alive ”
And then there was the pediatrician… As every responsible parent knows, sleep is one of the topics of discussion at every pediatrician visit (at least in the U.S.). Although 9D’s pediatrician did not approve of co-sleeping, she was not against it until 9D turned one. And then I received (again!) strong advice, this time from 9D’s pediatrician to employ Ferber’s method. I never understood what was so magical about turning one year old that required the baby to start sleeping on their own. If anything, it sounded like a bad first birthday present! Long story short, it did not work with my baby. After five days’ of torture guess what happened! I gave up (one more time!) and took her back to bed with me.
There are strong advocates of both separate sleeping and co-sleeping in the western hemisphere: the so-called Ferber’s method, a pretty mechanical way to teach babies to sleep on their own; and the co-sleeping method, which allows babies to sleep with their parents. Both methods are used by many parents. Co-sleeping method is probably more widespread around the globe if we include the eastern cultures (most of which have not even heard about separate sleeping) and closet-parents like myself who begin to lie to pediatricians because I was incapable of employing Ferber’s method successfully and was tired of all the sleep talk in the doctor’s office! (There are more of you out there like me, right?)
Of course, my experience does not mean that Ferber’s method is useless. In fact, I have read and heard of many stories where parents and children sleep happily ever after (or were some of them closet-parents like me?). It just does not work with everyone. Ferber’s method is mechanical, requires consistency and sticking to schedules. If your life does not move around the clock, I have a hunch that Ferber’s method may not work since any change in schedule may (and probably will) require you to start the training all over again. If your first instinct to your baby’s cry is to go and cradle him in your arms, then Ferber’s method is definitely not for you. There is also no real science behind this method and no scientific evidence to show that this is the best way to put babies to sleep. It does not sound much more different than an old wives’ tale to me (not that I don’t rely on them sometimes!), except the fact that this tale has been told by Pediatrician Richard Ferber, the director of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Children’s Hospital in Boston. Sometimes we let the authority figures talk us into doing strange things. Nonetheless, I recently read that even Ferber has adjusted some of his stricter rules.
What about co-sleeping? Co-sleeping requires no training, no schedules, and is relatively effortless. It has been practiced by parents for thousands of years. The Japanese parents sleep like a ‘river’: with both parents being river banks and the child being the water running in the middle. How poetic! Despite my mother’s worries of me rolling over and suffocating my baby, cases of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) occur LESS with co-sleeping! Apparently, the baby learns to regulate breathing and heart beat during sleep from their parents. It turns out that the parent can help the baby and put them out of harm’s way faster if they sleep together (e.g., in case of fire, it may be too late by the time parents get to the baby’s room or in the case of kidnapping). As an added plus, breastfeeding mothers do not have to get up in the middle of the night for feeding, they can learn to do it in bed!
Co-sleeping is natural for the baby, but requires the adult to learn to sleep with a baby whereas Ferber’s method tries to teach the BABY to sleep like an adult. (However, if my husband could do it, I say, EVERYONE can do it! ) There are drawbacks to sleeping with a baby: you will never sleep like a baby! Co-sleeping has to be done responsibly. This means you have to go to bed with a clear head (no alcohol, no drugs, etc.) so that you will know what is happening even when you are sleeping. Soft beds, fluffy pillows, electrical blankets and smoking should be eliminated from the bedroom.
Sleeping is a strange activity. Think about it: we all need to sleep for almost half the day. In the end we spend almost one third of our total life span in sleep. Some babies sleep easily and some don’t. Learning to fall asleep takes time. It is a skill to master to switch our brain from emitting beta waves to alpha waves to theta waves.
Keep in mind that every baby is unique and there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ method to help your baby fall asleep. Learn about different options and in the end do what feels right for you and your baby.
- Co-sleeping safety
- Benefits of co-sleeping
- Ferber method demystified
- Stages of sleep
- Children should sleep with parents until they are five
- Co-sleeping and SIDS fact sheet
- Co-sleeping around the world