Dr. William Sears is considered by some to be this parenting generation's "Dr. Spock." He is well-known for his suggested parenting methods which have grown into the attachment parenting movement. Part of Dr. Sears theories focus on his beliefs regarding baby sleep, including cosleeping.
On the spectrum of infant sleep theories, Sears is pretty much opposite the ideas of Dr. Ferber's "cry it out" methods. He advocates "gentle methods" of encouraging babies to sleep through the night, rather than methods that might increase a baby's stress and anxiety level.
Not so many years ago, an incredulous look complete with jaw drop would greet the mother who had just admitted to cosleeping with her baby. Though cosleeping is somewhat common in other cultures, it has taken off here in the United States in recent years. As more parents accept the practice and more literature is published on the topic, perhaps it is becoming less strange to our American society.
If you are unfamiliar it, you might think that cosleeping means sleeping with your baby in your own bed. While this is common, Sears has changed his description of cosleeping to include other ways you can sleep with your baby. Sleep that occurs within arm's reach of your baby is also cosleeping. Sears widened his description of cosleeping to include having the baby sleeping in her own crib located right beside the parents' bed or in a cosleeper bassinet that abuts the parents' bed.
When Sears clarified his position on cosleeping to include sleeping close to your baby, he also posed that a better way to refer to cosleeping is "shared sleep." Presumably, his attempts to spell out that shared sleep can take on other forms came on the heels of increasing concerns about cosleeping safety voiced by the AAP. Regardless, Sears still maintains that when the appropriate safety precautions are taken, however parents and baby share sleep, it has benefits to all of them.
What Are the Advantages to Shared Sleep?
Many parents, those who consider themselves to be attachment parents and those who do not, see several advantages to shared sleeping arrangements. They cite research studies that indicate the benefits, including:
- Infants who cosleep go to sleep faster and stay asleep longer.
- More mothers report a better night's sleep.
- It promotes breastfeeding by allowing a mother to respond to her baby's feeding needs without having the child (or even herself) wake up fully.
- Some research suggests that infants who cosleep have stronger emotional relationships with their parents and with other people.
- Cosleeping advocates point to research that suggests that when parents take sleep safety precautions it reduces the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
What Do the Critics Say About Sears' View of Baby Sleep?
One of the biggest disputes regarding cosleeping focuses on safety. While the AAP nods in agreement that sharing a room with your infant is a wise move, it provides strong opposition to sharing a bed. Attachment Parenting International and the AAP have certainly gone several rounds over the argument of which method is safer, each showcasing studies that support their viewpoint and pointing out holes in the research of the opposing view.
What Sleep Safety Precautions Should Be Taken When Parent and Baby Sleep Together?
If you choose to share sleep with your baby, taking precautions can ensure a safer night's rest. Most of these suggestions are common sense ideas that attempt to reduce the risk of smothering the baby during sleep.
- Keep bedding away from your baby at night just as you should if you would place her in a crib. Sleep sacks are a wonderful alternative to blankets.
- Never sleep with your baby in a water bed or on unstable, overly soft bedding or couch.
- Mothers who smoke should not share a bed with their baby.
- Never sleep with your baby if under the effects of alcohol or medications that alter your conscious level.
- Parents who have sleep disorders, are extremely sleep deprived, or who are excessively obese should opt to have their baby sleep in a bassinet or crib located beside their bed.
What Are More Aspects of Sears' Sleep Philosophies?
Sears does not limit his thoughts on baby sleep to sleeping arrangements, but also offers his opinion on many aspects of infant sleep. Some nuggets of his theories include:
- Sleeping through the night is developmental. Sears urges parents not to expect their baby to be like another's whoslept through the night at 6 weeks. The age at which babies are developmentally ready to sleep through the night varies greatly.
- There are health benefits to nightwaking. Sears maintains that coercing a baby to sleep through the night by methods such as crying it out or increasing daily caloric intake may not be healthy. As babies drift in and out of sleep, they are more able to communicate their needs, such as feeding. He professes that babies sleep as they do because they were designed to wake frequently through the night. When their natural sleep rhythms are thrown off, it may cause serious health problems.
- There is nothing wrong with helping a baby fall back to sleep. While some babies can settle themselves back to sleep easily, Sears recognizes that others struggle during this "vulnerable" period of light sleep. He encourages parents to use soft words, feeding, or a gentle touch to help put a baby back into deeper sleep.
Blair, P.S., Fleming, P.J., Smith, I.J., Platt, M.W., Young, J., Nadin, P. & Berry, P.J., (1999). Babies sleeping with parents: case-control study of factors influencing the risk of the sudden infant death syndrome, British Medical Journal, 319(4): 1457–62. Crawford, M., (1994). Parenting practices in the Basque country: Implications of infant and childhood sleeping location for personality development. Ethos, 22(1):42–82. Hauck, F. R., et al. (1998). Bedsharing promotes breastfeeding and AAP Task Force on Infant Positioning and SIDS. Pediatrics, 102(3) Part 1: 662–4.
Blair, P.S., Fleming, P.J., Smith, I.J., Platt, M.W., Young, J., Nadin, P. & Berry, P.J., (1999). Babies sleeping with parents: case-control study of factors influencing the risk of the sudden infant death syndrome, British Medical Journal, 319(4): 1457–62.
Crawford, M., (1994). Parenting practices in the Basque country: Implications of infant and childhood sleeping location for personality development. Ethos, 22(1):42–82.
Hauck, F. R., et al. (1998). Bedsharing promotes breastfeeding and AAP Task Force on Infant Positioning and SIDS. Pediatrics, 102(3) Part 1: 662–4.
Task Force on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. The Changing Concept of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome: Diagnostic Coding Shifts, Controversies Regarding the Sleeping Environment, and New Variables to Consider in Reducing Risk. PEDIATRICS Vol. 116 No. 5 November 2005, pp. 1245-1255 (doi:10.1542/peds.2005-1499.