A Dad’s Opinion on Co-Sleeping – Alexandria, VA Chiropractor
When we were expecting our first child and beginning to make preparations for him, we eventually came to talk about the concept of co-sleeping. It was a completely new term to me despite it being a very common practice worldwide. In a nutshell, it means your baby sleeps with you rather than in a separate crib or different room. If you decide to do this like we did, prepare for well meaning friends, family, and internet articles to tell you two things: 1. co-sleeping may not be safe 2. co-sleeping compromises the relationship between partners.
Before we delve into the incompleteness and untruthfulness of those statements, let us first consider the benefits of co-sleeping. In his book The Polyvagal Theory, a renowned world expert in the neurodevelopment of the infant’s nervous system Stephen Porges speaks to the importance of the issue. He provides the most recent research showing that as a new human being to this world, our brains are constantly scanning the environment for stress and giving input into our nerves about how they should develop. Being that human infants are completely dependent on their caregivers for survival, being left alone constitutes the perception of stress in the infants brain. The more stress the brain perceives stress, the more it illicits a reaction in something called the sympathetic nervous system. This is the system that fires up when someone cuts you off in traffic and slams on their brakes. Blood rushes from higher brain centers to more primitive ones, pupils dilate, breathing increases, organs receive less nutrients and muscles receive more nutrients. It is designed to be a response to a short-term physical stressor. The issue with this is, the more the sympathetic system is fired up the more it gets hardwired into the neurology of the infant. Have you or someone you know ever felt that they are unsafe or anxious in perfectly normal situations? Have you seen someone who has a difficult time interacting with others? Many individuals have a hard time turning off their sympathetic nervous system response appropriately, and the numbers are continuing to rise.
The flip side of the coin is something known as the “ventral vagus” system. It is a fancy term to describe the hardware and the software that control your facial expression, vocal tone, breathing and swallowing responses, social acuity and ability to handle stress by coordinating with others. Guess what stimulates the development of this system in an infant? Social interaction and perception of safety! The more I learned about this the more grateful I was that we made the decision to co-sleep. Overall, co-sleeping has been a no-brainier for me and our family. It is supported heavily by the latest neuro-developmental research for creating an environment that develops our highest processing brain centers as human beings.
As for the earlier proposed cons of co-sleeping, the figures that speak against co-sleeping are heavily weighted by the tragic circumstances of parents or caretakers heavily under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol and then sleep in the same bed as their infant. For the people who say it will create stress on a relationship? I have found the opposite to be true. It has been an irreplaceable opportunity for us to bond as a family. Especially for new dad’s out there, it is easy to feel sidelined or out of the mom-baby equation. I found that co-sleeping was and is a great way for me to stay connected to everyone.
With all this in mind if co-sleeping is something that you are considering, keep in mind a couple of options (particularly for brand new infants).
– Side-car the crib. Many cribs have the opportunity to drop down one side of the crib and you can literally push the crib right up against the bed so that baby is sleeping right next to you, mom can still roll over and grab him/her in the middle of the night but baby also has its own mattress space. Note: there are multiple steps of how to make sure this can be done safely that can be found online
– There are co-sleepers specifically designed to place on a normal mattress such as Doc-a-tot and Askra and Eve
With all the available options out there, co-sleeping has turned out to be a transformational experience for me. What I had initially framed in my brain as an issue of convenience was quickly demonstrated to have far-reaching implications for my baby. Most of us as parents or caretakers would happily give our right and left arms to ensure that our children do not experience stress or hardship. Let’s not miss the low hanging fruit of being able to snuggle up to a baby while it sleeps to put it in a great position to develop to its maximum potential.