Tough Love? No Way, Baby!

December 8th, 2009 by Dionna | 10 Comments
Posted in Ensure Safe Sleep, Feed with Love and Respect, natural parenting, Respond with Sensitivity

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“We’re glad to see you . . . We’re sorry you had to come.”

So says Time Magazine to our newborns, who are biologically wired to seek out responsive and caring nighttime parenting. The quote above is actually the welcoming phrase of the Tough Love International program (1); but it is appropriate, because Time Magazine has advised parents to practice “tough love” with their newborns when it comes to infant sleep concerns.

In the December 7, 2009 article “The Year in Health, A to Z,” the section entitled “B is for Babies” recommends:

When a baby has repeated problems falling asleep, Mom and Dad may need to show some tough love. Lingering with cranky babies too long or bringing them into the parents’ bedroom can make them likelier to become poor sleepers, according to psychologist Jodi Mindell, who gathered data on nearly 30,000 kids up to 3 years old in 17 countries. “If you’re rocked to sleep at bedtime, you’re going to need that every time you wake up,” she notes. Her advice: have children fall asleep 3 ft. away. “If they’re slightly separated, they sleep much better,” she says. (2)

Why is it that so many people (experts included) are quick to banish babies to separate sleeping quarters, even if the babies protest? As social creatures, isn’t it natural to want to share space with our loved ones? Unfortunately, where independence is celebrated as it is here in the United States, bed sharing has traditionally been widely practiced, but rarely discussed. (3)

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Kieran has been sharing our bed since we brought him home.

Nighttime parenting is a time investment, and no credible expert will suggest that there is only one way to help your child sleep. Your goal (in addition to helping everyone in your house get some sleep)  “is to help your baby develop a healthy attitude about sleep: that sleep is a pleasant state to enter and a secure state to remain in.” (4)

It is unrealistic and unsound to counsel against rocking a baby to sleep or bringing baby into the parents’ bedroom. It is healthy to help baby become used to a variety of methods to fall asleep (5), and there are proven benefits to both mother and baby when breastfeeding mothers bring their babies into the family bed.

Regardless of whether you breastfeed or bottle-feed, having your baby room in close to you (whether in a crib, bassinet, or sidecar; aka “cosleeping”) enables you to respond more quickly to your baby’s needs. (6) A baby whose needs are consistently cared for learns to trust her caregivers and is key to a secure attachment. (7) Moreover, “[m]erely having an infant sleeping in a room with a committed adult caregiver . . . reduces the chances of an infant dying from SIDS or from an accident by one half!” (8)

If you are a breastfeeding mother, there are actually more benefits to having baby safely share a bed with you. Research has shown the following benefits when babies safely share the family bed:

1) “Co-sleeping promotes physiological regulation. The proximity of the parent may help the infant’s immature nervous system learn to self-regulate during sleep.” (9) Additionally, the parent’s own breathing appears to “help the infant to ‘remember’ to breathe.” (10)

2) The risk of SIDS decreases with safe bed sharing practices. “In Japan where co-sleeping and breastfeeding (in the absence of maternal smoking) is the cultural norm, rates of the sudden infant death syndrome are the lowest in the world.” (11) Experts around the world agree that safe bed sharing can decrease infant SIDS deaths. (12)

3) Cosleeping and bed sharing result in better breastfeeding. Cosleeping increased breastfeeding success and length, because mothers can more easily respond to their babies’ hunger cues. “In addition to the benefits of breastfeeding, the act of sucking increases oxygen flow, which is beneficial for both growth and immune functions.” (13)

4) Bed sharing is beneficial for parents, too. “[B]edsharing makes breastfeeding much easier to manage and practically doubles the amount of breastfeeding sessions while permitting both mothers and infants to spend more time asleep.” (14) Mothers report that they are more sensitive and in tune with their children’s needs. Bed sharing can also result in less bedtime struggles and can instill a positive, healthy attitude toward sleep. (15)

5) Bed sharing has long term benefits. “Co-sleeping appears to promote confidence, self-esteem, and intimacy, possibly by reflecting an attitude of parental acceptance. . . . A recent study in England showed that among the children who ‘never’ slept in their parents bed, there was a trend to be harder to control, less happy, exhibit a greater number of tantrums, and these children were actually more fearful than children who always slept in their parents’ bed, all night.” (16) Finally, bed sharing can result in general satisfaction with life. “A large, cross-cultural study conducted on five different ethnic groups in large U.S. cities found that, across all groups, co-sleepers exhibited a general feeling of satisfaction with life.” (17)

Time Magazine missed the mark by encouraging parents to practice a “tough love” approach to nighttime parenting. There are far more benefits to responsive parenting when it comes to infant sleep.

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Kieran never sleeps as soundly as when he is tucked safe in mama's arms.

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(1) http://www.4troubledteens.com/toughlove.html

(2) “Time Magazine Encourages ‘Tough Love’ for Infants,” http://mothering.com/time-magazine-encourages-tough-love-infants (quoting “The Year in Health, A to Z,” Time Magazine, Dec. 7, 2009)

(3) “Who Wants to Sleep Alone?,” http://www.mothering.com/who-wants-to-sleep-alone

(4) “31 Ways to Get Your Baby to Go to Sleep and Stay Asleep Easier,” http://www.askdrsears.com/html/7/T070300.asp

(5) 31 Ways to Get Your Baby to Go to Sleep and Stay Asleep Easier

(6) See “Who Wants to Sleep Alone?” for a description of the distinction between “cosleeping” and “bed sharing.”

(7) “Pillow Talk,” http://www.mothering.com/parenting/pillow-talk

(8) “Cosleeping and Biological Imperatives,” http://neuroanthropology.net/2008/12/21/cosleeping-and-biological-imperatives-why-human-babies-do-not-and-should-not-sleep-alone/

(9) “Co-sleeping Benefits,” http://www.hpakids.org/holistic-health/articles/38/1/Co-sleeping-Benefits (citing Farooqi, 1994; Mitchell, 1997; Mosko, 1996; Nelson, 1996; Skragg, 1996; see article for full citations)

(10) Co-sleeping Benefits (citing McKenna, 1990; Mosko, 1996; Richard, 1998)

(11) Cosleeping and Biological Imperatives

(12) See Co-sleeping Benefits; Pillow Talk; Who Wants to Sleep Alone?

(13) Co-sleeping Benefits, (citing Clements, 1997; Hauck, 1998; McKenna, 1994; Richard et al., 1996); Cosleeping and Biological Imperatives (citing and linking to studies by Dr. Helen Ball)

(14) Cosleeping and Biological Imperatives

(15) Co-sleeping Benefits

(16) Co-sleeping Benefits (citing Crawford, 1994; Heron, 1994)

(17) Co-sleeping Benefits (citing Mosenkis, 1998)

10 Responses to:
"Tough Love? No Way, Baby!"

  1. Excellent review. As co-co-sleepers I agree that Time was off but it should also be said that they are consistent with convention. Similar to your experience, our baby never sleeps as well as she does when we share sleep in bed. I only hope that one day the messages to parents on sleep change from ‘never co-sleep’ to ‘consider safe co-sleeping when raising your kids’. However, looking at the politics here in Canada behind the most recent crib recalls, I think we’re a long way from that.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Thank you, Kelly! And I should have also added something to the effect of – you have to do what works for your baby/family. Obviously not every baby sleeps better with mama, but for those that do, I wish there were more info available on the benefits & how to do it safely.

  2. Love your approach to the topic!

    I’ve been sharing the family bed with my kids for 18 years now (not the ENTIRE 18 years, mind you). My oldest son slept with his dad and me for 2 years in the family bed and then another year in a toddler bed pushed up against our double bed.

    He transitioned easily into a seperate room and we never had to practice tough love at all to train him to sleep. Sleep is an ability we’re born with and it’s not something that needs to be taught and we certainly don’t need to train our babies to sleep. It’s a biological function just as breathing is.

    Our oldest daughter (5 yrs) and youngest daughter (20 months) still share our expanded family bed. We now sleep in a queen size bed combined with a twin bed. The five year old occasionally will test out sleeping in a seperate twin bed, but her transition is slower. It’s not because she hasn’t been trained to sleep alone, but because her temperament and personality differ from her older brother. We’re all unique and eventually she’ll want independence. Until that time we continue to show her we love her and that we’ll parent her in the way she needs to be parented, not the way any “expert” insists we must parent her.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      My husband jokes that Kieran will leave our bed maybe in 10 years or so ;) I won’t be surprised if he is 5 yrs old before he even cares to try transitioning. It works well for us now, and I can’t see that changing!

  3. Amber   AmberStrocel

    I just really do not like the ‘bad habits’ position on parenting. It isn’t just applied to sleep, either. It basically says that by following our instincts we are creating ‘bad habits’ that we’ll later regret. I just haven’t found it to be true, but it creates so much fear and guilt and anguish.

    Look, babies are small and immature. They have specific needs. Those needs will not last forever, whether it’s breastfeeding or babywearing or constant proximity to an adult. And meeting those needs, instead of denying them and causing everyone grief, is really just the easiest thing. Your 12-year-old will not want to sleep with you, or bring you to the movies with friends, or breastfeed. So enjoy this time and don’t sweat it, I say.

  4. I’m always puzzled when people worry about babies being “too dependent.” They’re babies! It’s their job to be dependent. If they were supposed to be independent they would be born knowing how to walk, talk, etc already. It’s interesting how I keep coming across mothers who admit quietly that they slept with their babies despite advice to the contrary.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      There are definitely more people bringing baby to bed than admit it. It’s silly to see it as some weakness or disservice, when babies are obviously happier with us!

  5. Mom

    Amber made me giggle!!! I am picturing you, as a 12 year old, taking me with you and your buddies to the movies and nursing during the movie…lol
    I think that we co-slept a little…since you always LOVED to sleep with us…maybe that is why is makes so much sense for you, Tom and Kieran!!!

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Honestly, I don’t think it would have mattered what books we read, or what we did as babies, or anything: Kieran would refuse to sleep anywhere but right next to me. That’s just the way he is!

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