Sleeping: Move Over, Mom and Dad (cont.)

Breast-feeding carries all sorts of benefits, of course. Besides the closeness between mother and infant, nursing lowers a baby's risk of bacterial and viral illnesses and may provide longer-term protection against ear infections, diabetes, asthma, allergies and obesity. For moms, it reduces the risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, osteoporosis and hip fractures.

"The increased duration and success of breast-feeding is very positive ... and that's one reason I'm in favor of co-sleeping, if a mother really really wants to do it," says Dr. John Kennell, professor of pediatrics at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, who pioneered research in bonding.

For nursing mothers who worry about the potential hazards of co-sleeping, putting a crib or bassinet next to your bed offers almost the same convenience and immediacy and may even give nervous parents a better night's sleep.

Together, Again and Again

Many co-sleeping parents describe the closeness they feel to their babies, their rhythmic breathing and warm bodies nestled close. Even elbows or feet in the face, for these parents, pale in comparison to the joy shared sleep brings. The children may even become more secure and self-confident.

However, some studies have shown that adults who share a bed don't sleep as soundly.

"I'm actually supportive of people who want to co-sleep -- I think there's an emotional closeness to it, and it's good for babies," says Dr. Barbara Howard, assistant professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and the mother of two children and two stepchildren. "But I didn't sleep with my own babies because I needed my sleep too badly."

It's essential that both parents agree on the idea of the family bed; otherwise, resentment could brew. Carefully examine your motives, advises Dr. Howard, to make sure it's not a strategy to avoid intimacy with a spouse.

While some may worry that a child in the adult bed is a surefire recipe for abstinence, some parents who co-sleep say the arrangement simply fosters more romance and creativity.

In a recent Mothering magazine essay, a co-sleeping mother of two from Huntington Beach, Calif., Joylyn Fowler, noted that "If the kids are in the family bed, well, that means they aren't in the living room, bathroom, kitchen, guest bedroom, hallway, on top of the fridge ... you get the idea."

Dr. Howard suggests that parents decide how long they feel comfortable with the arrangement. If they want to limit the family bed to infants only, then 6 months is a good age to make the switch. By 9 months, she says, a child may protest exile from mom and dad's bed.

For those who are committed to shared sleeping for the longer haul, Dr. Sears writes that a good time to gradually encourage children to sleep on their own is at age 2 or 3 years. Start the transition by having them sleep on a mattress or futon at the foot of your bed.

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