One Way to Sleep Through the Night and Avoid SIDS

It's the middle of the night.  From a semi deep sleep, I shoot up in bed, slightly disoriented.  "The baby," I say in a panicked voice.  I rouse the baby a bit, enough to get him to move on his own, but not wake up completely.  The baby fusses and wants to latch on.  I lay down, offer the breast and go right back to sleep.

This scene has happened about 6 times over my 15 years of parenting and five children.  The first time it happened was with my oldest, when she was about 3 weeks old.  We had just barely gotten into a nighttime routine, and the concept of a descent night's sleep was becoming reality again.  When it did happen, I didn't go back to sleep right away, I said a quick 'thank you' prayer first, and then vowed I would never let a baby of mine be alone during a sleep apnea episode.

Human children are designed… to nurse *very* frequently, based on the composition of the milk of the species, …the size of the young child's stomach, the rapidity with which breast milk is digested, the need for an almost constant source of nutrients to grow that huge brain (in humans, especially), and so on. By very frequently, I mean 3-4 times per hour, for a few minutes each time. The way in which some young infants are fed in our culture — trying to get them to shift to a 3-4 hour schedule, with feedings of 15-20 minutes at a time, goes against our basic physiology. But humans are very adaptable, and some mothers will be able to make sufficient milk with this very infrequent stimulation and draining of the breasts, and some children will be able to adapt to large meals spaced far apart. Unfortunately, some mothers don't make enough milk with this little nursing, and some babies can't adjust, and so are fussy, cry a lot, seem to want to nurse "before it is time" and fail to grow and thrive.

The same is true of sleeping. Human children are designed to be sleeping with their parents. The sense of touch is the most important sense to primates, along with sight. Young primates are carried on their mother's body and sleep with her for years after birth, often until well after weaning. The expected pattern is for mother and child to sleep together, and for child to be able to nurse whenever they want during the night. Normal, healthy, breastfed and co-sleeping children do not sleep "through the night" (say 7-9 hours at a stretch) until they are 3-4 years old, and no longer need night nursing. I repeat — this is NORMAL and HEALTHY. Dr. James McKenna's research on co-sleeping clearly shows the dangers of solitary sleeping in young infants, who slip into abnormal patterns of very deep sleep from which it is very difficult for them to rouse themselves when they experience an episode of apnea (stop breathing). When co-sleeping, the mother is monitoring the baby's sleep and breathing patterns, even though she herself is asleep. When the baby has an episode of apnea, she rouses the baby by her movements and touch. This is thought to be the primary mechanism by which co-sleeping protects children from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. In other words, many cases of SIDS in solitary sleeping children are thought to be due to them having learned to sleep for long stretches at a time at a very early age, so they find themselves in these deep troughs of sleep, then they may experience an episode of apnea, and no one is there to notice or rouse them from it, so they just never start breathing again. Co-sleeping also allows a mother to monitor the baby's temperature during the night, to be there if they spit up and start to choke, and just to provide the normal, safe environment that the baby/child has been designed to expect.

So says Katherine Dettwyler, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Nutrition at Texas A&M University.

So, does that fact that 'Normal, healthy, breastfed and co-sleeping children do not sleep "through the night" (say 7-9 hours at a stretch)' mean that co sleeping and breastfeeding parents get less sleep than those parents who stuff their babies full of heavy proteins right before bed and put them to sleep in their own bed?

Not according to this study.  In fact, co sleeping parents report getting MORE sleep than their solitary sleeping counterparts. 

What about preventing SIDS?  Is it SAFER to co sleep?  Yes!  According to this study, it is 2X safer to co sleep!

Want to learn how to co sleep comfortably and safely?  Please visit James McKenna's site

To learn more about Infant Sleep, please visit


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