Sleep On Your Own, Kid: A Polemic Against Bed-Sharing
What with the snow and everything, I come to this story late, but I wasn't surprised to read Monday that an increase in accidental infant suffocation and strangulation deaths coincides with an increase in the practice known as bed-sharing.
Researchers aren't certain, but they think babies whose mothers keep them in the parental bed are more likely to end up dead than those babies who slumber in their own cribs.
That's always seemed pretty obvious to me but there is a pretty vocal group out there that believes that sharing a bed with an infant is the way to go. "Parents are sleeping with their babies because this is what they are designed to do. This is what they are supposed to do," anthropologist James J. McKenna of the University of Notre Dame told The Post's Rob Stein.
In my experience, the parents who are most strident about bed-sharing -- or "family bed," as it's sometimes called -- do it because they like it. I mean, who knows what a baby really likes? Yes, it may make for easier breast-feeding, but reaching over to a basket by the side of the bed isn't much of a hardship.
And sleeping with your baby only postpones the eventual ugly separation. At what age do you stop sleeping with your kids? Twelve months? Three years? Six? Eleven? I remember one acquaintance saying, "Oh, we're really having a hard time getting Rebecca to sleep in her own room." Rebecca was 5 years old. If she'd been weaned from her parents' bed at one week old they might not have been having those problems.
But would they have "bonded"? Well, bondedness is not the simple, binary thing it's often portrayed as. Forty years ago there was an explosion of studies suggesting that if a mother failed to have skin-to-skin contact with her newborn in its first few days of life, the two would never establish a strong bond.
You can imagine how this made mothers of babies in incubators or mothers whose own rough delivery had them in intensive care for a few days feel. That magic moment was lost! Except, those studies were flawed and all they succeeded in doing is making a lot of mothers feel bad. And they probably gave ammunition to the family bed people.
A book called "Mother Nature" by evolutionary anthropologist Sarah Hrdy makes for interesting reading. She demolishes much of the bonding myth while pointing out that it's important for newborns to bond with someone, or some group of someones. (Allomothers, she calls these caregivers.)
She also explains the evolutionary justification for infanticide. A section on the rise of changelings in fairy tales is fascinating. These were babies supposedly switched at birth by fairies or demons. Hrdy argues that these "changelings" were probably infants slowly being starved to death by their mothers, mothers who had a deep-seated evolutionary compunction to do so. (Letting an unhealthy baby die so a healthier older sibling can survive increases the chances your genes will live on.)
John Kattwinkel of the University of Virginia, who chaired an American Academy of Pediatrics panel that recommended against bed-sharing in 2005, told The Post: "There is probably nothing more devastating than finding a dead infant in the morning. We should do everything we can to avoid it."
It would seem to me one place to start is getting the kid his own bed.
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