Anyone who has kids has probably heard of Dr. Bill Sears. He's one of the world's most renowned pediatricians and the coiner of the phrase attachment parenting. Attachment parenting, sometimes called AP, is a philosophy that encourages moms and dads to stay as close (physically and emotionally) to their children as possible. It encompasses methods like baby wearing and co-sleeping to keep you in tune with your little one.
Co-sleeping is the sleep training method Dr. Sears endorses the most. Sometimes referred to as bed-sharing, it's meant to keep baby calm and mama at hand. Is Dr. Sears' method right for you and your little one?
What is the Sears Sleep Method?
Dr. Sears believes that strengthening the bond between parent and child is essentially the most important thing you can do in the first 12 months. Because of that bond, he endorses co-sleeping, the method in which your baby sleeps in your "family bed" until she's completely attached and is then phased into her own crib separately. Some parents choose to co-sleep for a few weeks or months, while others co-sleep for the entire first year of life. In fact, Sears himself used the co-sleeping method when his fourth child proved to be a troublesome sleeper, pointing out that co-sleeping is a revered custom in many parts of the world.
Dr. Edward Kulich, a pediatric sleep expert and author of The Best Baby Sleep Book, expresses some concern about co-sleeping as a viable training (or non-training) method. "I have seen many of these infants who were initially co-sleeping and cannot make the transition to sleep in their own crib without some significant behavioral intervention." he notes. "In addition, some parents may like the idea of attachment parenting, but may not realistically be able to implement it, and then have trouble when their baby is not just attached, but clingy and won't be put down, both at night for sleep, and during the day for regular playtime or [when] passed off to a nanny or babysitter."
Unlike harsher methods that require your baby to self-soothe, co-sleeping is the most permissive of all of the sleep training methods. Keeping your baby nearby can help you settle into sleep faster after nighttime changings and feedings, plus it could simply be easier on a parent who has trouble listening to her baby fuss or cry. And, if you're interested in attachment parenting on the whole, co-sleeping is a major part of embracing the philosophy.
The American Academy of Pediatrics notes that the safest place for a baby to sleep is on her back, in her own sleep environment. There has been plenty of controversy surrounding the co-sleeping movement. In 2009, a study was published in the British Medical Journal which found that in an investigation of babies who died of SIDS, 54 percent were co-sleeping. Co-sleeping environments can be hazardous to your little one's sleep health, so make sure you talk it over with your doctor and get tips on how to co-sleep safely if you decide its right for you.
If the idea of keeping your baby at arm's length sounds attractive to you, make sure that you keep safety in mind at all times. Here are some tips to ensure that you have a positive and healthy experience with co-sleeping.
- Arrange for a separate sleep environment. Soft surfaces like an adult bed piled high with blankets are inappropriate for your little one's sleep environment. Since they could pose a suffocation risk, it's best to invest in a co-sleeper crib, which attaches to the side of your bed. That way, your little dreamer is nearby, but safe in her own space.
- Never take sleep aids or alcohol while co-sleeping. The British Medical Journal study found that when conditions were hostile, SIDS claimed the lives of more babies. Taking sleep aids or drinking alcohol before bed could render you less responsive, which could become a fatal problem if you were to roll onto your baby or not place her back in her co-sleeper after a feeding.
- Expect a degree of attachment. When your baby sleeps in your bed, she inhales your scent, listens to your sounds and basically learns to depend on you being close by at all times. This could make it difficult when transitioning to a separate crib or if it were necessary to use a babysitter. However, Sears contends that this level of attachment is healthy and is a sign that you're forging a strong bond with your little one.
Kulich gives excellent advice to parents considering co-sleeping: "While attachment parenting is certainly a valid option for some parents, make sure you read the fine print and are completely committed to parent this way in the context of your family's 'real world.'" Co-sleeping is as much a lifestyle choice as it is a sleep training method, so make sure both you and your partner are on board the S.S. Attachment!