New parents have to decide where their baby will sleep. For some people, there is no question: a baby belongs in his or her own room in his or her own bed. Other parents explore other possible sleeping arrangements: cradles, the parents’ bed, a sibling’s room and so on. Is there a right or wrong sleeping place for a baby? Not really. Personal preference is the determining factor.
Many different sleeping arrangements for babies are practiced all over the world. Westerners, in general, prefer to give their children their own room, or at least their own crib. Parents from Eastern countries, on the other hand, prefer to have kids sleeping in the same bed or mat where they sleep. Culture definitely plays a role in deciding where newborns rest.
Each sleeping arrangement has its own advantages and disadvantages; parents should consider their own personalities and what would work best for their unique family situation as they consider the pro’s and cons of various possibilities. They can think about the safety issues, comfort and convenience of each sleeping option.
The main advantage of babies sleeping in the same bed as their parents is accessibility. As soon as a baby murmurs, a parent can tend to its needs. The baby doesn’t have to work up to a pitch of hysteria to be heard from another room or intercom system. Moreover, the mother doesn’t have to leave her bed in order to nurse a baby and either parent can easily change the infant’s diaper without having to get up, walk down a hallway and so forth. All in all, less energy need be expended by tired parents in tending to the night-time needs of their child.
Moreover, the physical closeness achieved by “the family bed” is thought to enhance parent-child bonding. In fact, one reason why Easterners are more comfortable with kids sleeping with them is because Eastern cultures are collectivist cultures – they value togetherness before individuality. Sleeping together, even after baby grows older, is a sign of closeness and not immaturity.
However, co-sleeping also has its dangers. It is possible for an adult to accidentally smother a baby by blocking its airways with his or her body or with blankets. It is not clear whether more babies die of SIDS in their own cribs or in their parents’ bed. Parents must do their own research on this subject and draw their own conclusions.
Giving Babies Their Own Room
Most Western cultures are individualistic cultures; they value independence. Nurturing independence is actually one of the reasons why many Western parents prefer to give babies their own room, some even as soon as they are born. Parents want to teach kids to be autonomous, and not overly-reliant on their parents help. Babies who sleep alone are better able to sleep on their own; many times they just need to be settled on their backs with the light off, and they doze to sleep.
Giving babies their own room can help bring more order to bedtime routines; parents have their own space and the baby has his or hers. Parents appreciate the simplicity and privacy of this arrangement when it works well for them. (Many times, however, babies with their own rooms end up calling for parents in the night and may end up in the parental bed at least part of the time – in which case the benefits of the separate spaces are obviously reduced.)
When babies are in their own room, parents cannot so easily see what is happening in the night. To increase safety and reduce risk, be sure to buy a quality crib with no protruding pieces or oversized pillows. Make sure that a bassinet is securely settled on the floor, with no risk of toppling over. Set an audio or video baby monitor near the baby so that you can be alerted if your presence is needed.
A Little of Both
Some parents start the baby in their own bed and, after a few weeks or a few months, move the baby to a crib in the parental bedroom or to a crib in a nursery. Although this often works very well, providing the most important advantages of each location at the right times, it can sometimes be a challenge. A baby who has gotten used to the body warmth, smell and texture of a sleeping parent may be very reluctant to give it up in exchange for a room of his own. Most kids aren’t interested in having their own room until they are at least in grade school and some can wait quite well until adolescence! In fact, some people say that doing the “switch” as early as possible is important in achieving a successful transition. Again, each family must find its own way with this idea. Each couple and each baby is unique and what works well for one doesn’t necessarily work well for another. Do what makes most sense in your own situation.