If you don’t have children of your own, you’ve probably heard from acquaintances who recently had a baby how difficult their nights are. A newborn often wakes up and cries, and even if they say the hardest period (the first three months) is behind them, not everyone gets better.
By “business” we now mean getting parents back to a normal night’s sleep. At least from midnight to five in the morning. And even better – to a full eight hours of uninterrupted sleep, and that no one cries nearby.
To achieve this, young parents are willing to go to great lengths – first they move the baby to his own crib, then – to another room, then go to courses where they are taught how to teach the baby a suitable schedule of sleep and wakefulness, how to get him to take a nap on a schedule that benefits … Who? Not the baby, of course – his parents.
What question do new parents in the West ask as soon as their foggy first weeks of life with their newborn begins to clear up a bit? “Is he in his own room yet?”
But let’s be clear right away: sleeping in separate rooms with a child is a relatively new “improvement” that Western civilization has embraced. And not everywhere else in the world does so.
In other cultures, the norm is completely different: parents sleep in the same room with their child, or even in the same bed – in some places up to the age of seven. More about myths at the link
“They won’t stick to you forever.”
From the perspective of the rest of the world, the West understands parenting in a very peculiar way. And it’s not just about scheduled naps.
Even something as seemingly ordinary as moving a baby in a stroller is by no means a universal standard (more on that below).
In the United States and Great Britain, parents are advised to sleep in the same room as their infant for at least the first six months after birth. And many parents look at this only as a short and forced transition period to a separate room for the baby.
However, in most other countries in the world, infants stay with their parents for much longer. A 2016 review of research on the topic indicates that in many Asian countries, children share not only a room with their parents but also a bed – 70% in India and Indonesia, more than 80% in Sri Lanka and Vietnam. Statistics for African countries are not very reliable, but where they exist, they confirm: in Africa, too, it is common to sleep together with young children.
But look, the reader may object, it’s because the countries are mostly poor, so they all sleep in the same room… And that would be another (and typical) Western prejudice.
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As Debmita Dutta, a doctor and parenting consultant in Bangalore, tells us, sleeping in the same bed with young children is a strong, well-established tradition in India, even in those totally non-poor families where each child has his own room.
“In the home of a family of four there may be three bedrooms-one for each child and one for the parents. And yet you find that both children sleep in the mother’s bed,” she says.
Sleeping in the same bed is one way to ease the burden of waking babies at night, Dutta says. Her own daughter had a roll-up bed where she could sleep next to her parents – until she was seven years old.
“Even after I stopped breastfeeding her, she loved sleeping in the same room with us,” Dutta explains. For her, an Indian mother, this is normal.
In the West, on the other hand, they think differently, sometimes resorting to extreme methods, such as leaving an infant alone and “letting him cry. What for? To make him sleep for longer stretches of time. Why. So the parents can take a break from him. And, of course, so that he himself is well rested, proponents of such methods hasten to add.
In Australia, there are even state-funded sleep schools for parents (with accommodation), where they tell them how to teach your child to sleep properly.
Such methods of accustoming a child to independence fit in with the typical Western culture’s focus on individualism.
From this point of view, sleeping in the same bed with a child can be seen as if you are encouraging the child to slow down, as if you are encouraging them to remain dependent on their parents for as long as possible.
In Asia, however, a collectivist mindset prevails, and mothers like Dutta see the situation differently.
“You gradually give them more and more confidence in themselves, more and more independence, and they [sooner or later] will become independent, free from your tutelage on their own,” she stresses. – They won’t be glued to you forever.”
Is it dangerous to sleep together with a child?
This difference between Western and Asian (African or otherwise) approaches, the difference in mentality, ultimately affects when and how much babies sleep.
As a study by researchers at Tokyo Bay Urayasu Ichikawa Medical Center found, three-month-old babies in Japan tend to sleep less than babies in other Asian countries-perhaps because “in Japan, sleep is considered a sign of laziness,” the authors note.
It has also been found that children in Asian families tend to go to bed later than children in Western countries. Researchers believe that this may be partly because Asian parents want to spend more time with their children in the evening.
Sleeping in the same bed as a child is another reason. In Japanese culture, for example, it is the norm: “parents feel the child as part of their own body.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents sleep in the same room with a young child to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), but its experts are against sleeping in the same bed with a baby because they believe it increases the risk of SIDS.
However, Rashmi Das, professor of pediatrics at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences and author of a review of studies on the safety of sleeping in the same bed with a baby, emphasizes that the lack of high-quality scientific work on this topic makes it extremely difficult to answer the question of whether the risk of SVDS actually increases in such situations in the absence of other risks such as smoking and alcohol consumption.
“We can’t say whether sleeping in the same bed as a baby increases the risk of SVDS,” Das notes.
Research on this topic is mostly conducted in high-income developed countries, where such sleeping is not traditional. But in low-income countries, where it is common, rates of SIDS tend to be among the lowest in the world.
And it’s not just a matter of geography: when Asian-born people move to the West, they import their cultural traditions and their consequences-including a low risk of sudden infant death syndrome.
For example, families of Pakistanis living in Britain have a lower risk of SIDS than white British families, despite the fact that Pakistani mothers tend to sleep in the same bed as their babies. It is also worth noting that studies show that women in Pakistani households are more likely to breastfeed their babies and are much less likely to smoke and drink alcohol. And they do not tend to leave a young child in a separate room at night.
Das, who recommends sleeping in the same bed with an infant, warns that no smoking or alcohol consumption is out of the question in such cases. Parents should also not be too obese, or they could accidentally crush the baby in his sleep.
The Lullaby Trust, a UK charity working to prevent cases of SIDS, has produced a leaflet for parents who want to make their bed safe for their baby’s sleep.
Always together, always there
So, we have already realized that, from the point of view of many nations, a night with a baby in bed is not a burden, it is normal and healthy for both baby and mother, it strengthens the parent-child bond and gives a chance for real intimacy at least at night.
Similar closeness, only during the day, provides carrying a baby in his arms with the help of devices such as a sling. “Sling” – this is not a new trend. Mothers carried their children this way for centuries, only devices differed slightly in technology, ingenuity and convenience.
Only in the Victorian era (second half of XIX century), when baby carriages became popular in Britain, Western society began to gradually move away from the tradition of carrying babies in their arms.
But in the rest of the world the tradition lived on, showing a variety of methods of carrying babies from culture to culture – baskets, crates, hoods, wide ribbons and special scarves…
Even parents who have never used a sling and its variations have probably noticed how quickly the baby calms down when they pick him up and walk around the room with him. “Parents intuitively come to realize that rhythmic movements at a frequency of 1-2 hertz soothe the baby, immersing him in sleep,” notes Kumi Kuroda of the Riken Center for Cognitive Psychology in Japan.
Kuroda decided to begin studying the psychological effects of carrying an infant in her arms after reading the results of a study that claimed no correlation was found between the amount of time a baby is carried in her arms and the amount of time she cries.
“There was no way I could agree with that,” Kuroda says. The results of her own study showed that carrying a baby in her arms reduces the baby’s heart rate and reduces the amount of time the baby cries.
Holding a baby in her arms without moving him or, conversely, moving him in a stroller or car has a similar calming effect, she said, but the combination of one and the other works faster.
Biologically speaking, an infant needs constant close contact with the parent, day and night.
In the first few months, babies need to be fed frequently – around the clock. Even when the baby’s daily biorhythms begin to take shape and his or her main sleeping hours shift to nighttime, it is perfectly normal for a baby to wake up at night during the first year.
“Infant biology hasn’t changed much in hundreds or thousands of years,” stresses Helen Ball, professor of anthropology at Durham University and director of the university’s Parent-Child Sleep Lab. – But our culture has changed radically in recent decades, and our attitudes toward children and parenting have changed.”
“This new attitude, among other things, has given rise to the myth that infants should not wake up at night,” Ball says.
The Myth and Its Consequences
And this myth has consequences. Sleep disturbances early in motherhood have begun to be linked to postpartum depression. But, as Professor Ball points out, trying to “fix” a baby’s sleep is addressing the wrong problem.
“Parents who are depressed are much more affected by sleep interruption than those who are not depressed,” she stresses. – It’s not the child we need to fix, it’s what’s in the parents’ heads. We need to support them, help them start to see the situation differently.”
To equip young parents with accurate knowledge, Ball has compiled a kind of infant sleep guide.
The very idea that more “mature” infants should sleep through the night came from research in the 1950s, when it was found that in a group of 160 London infants, 70% started “sleeping through the night” by the age of three months.
However, those researchers defined this same “sleep through the night” as not waking up parents crying and not disturbing from midnight to five in the morning, which, you will agree, is not the same as a normal eight-hour nap, which a tired mother dreams of. In addition, there was no indication of exactly what infants were doing when they “didn’t disturb” their parents at night – whether they were actually sleeping…
Anyway, 50% of infants, already seemingly “sleeping through the night,” then, during their first year of life, started waking up more often during the night again.
Tango with a baby
Surprisingly, even now, most studies of infant sleep are conducted among a very specific population, namely the young children of the Western world, Helen Ball points out.
It is fair to say, however, that even within cultures there are disagreements about how to raise children. For example, not everyone in the West agrees that babies should sleep in a different room. In one study, for example, Italian parents called it cruel.
Also, different families have different circumstances and different options. Some might want to spend more time with their baby in their arms or in their bed, but just can’t afford it. And for some, the night is the only opportunity to be with their child, to hold him, to hear his heart beating.
For example, Japanese Kumi Kuroda slept with her four children to make up for her absence during the day.
“I work full-time, and if I also spend time in a separate room at night, there is minimal contact with my child,” she says. – And this way we communicate closely, even if it’s at night. It’s full-fledged communication, it’s time we spend together.
But, as Kuroda stresses, people should decide for themselves what’s best for them and their child, and not worry about what people say about them or what other parents do differently.
“I think parent and child can adjust to each other,” she says. – It’s like in tango [you can’t dance without two people involved].”
So, if we go back to our set of preconceptions, it’s a clear understanding that a child was not born to manipulate us. Even if we sometimes feel that way at 3:00 in the morning.
You need the right conditions for sleep.
There is a perception that there is nothing wrong with a child falling asleep to the sound of the TV, talking, it is believed that such a Spartan manner of education allows a child to grow up not unfazed. But this is quite a serious misconception.
Special electroencephalographic studies have shown that in such an environment, the baby falls asleep shallowly, and therefore the nervous system does not get a good rest.
If such shallow sleep is a common phenomenon, the child becomes restless, irritable for no reason, cries often, loses appetite, loses weight. Sometimes children become lethargic, lethargic, apathetic. It is not recommended for parents to contradict the laws of physiology. We Asked a Pediatrician and a Sleep Consultant The Best Way to Sleep Train, Here’s What They Said
How to properly organize sleep?
From an early age, put your baby to bed at the same time.
Think of a ritual of falling asleep – washing, bedtime reading – and try not to change it ever.
A couple of hours before bedtime, the child should finish noisy games, do homework and turn off the computer. Quiet reading or quiet play with toys will help calm you down and help you fall asleep quickly.
Your baby’s bedroom should be cool, dark and quiet so nothing interferes with a restful sleep.
Once your baby is asleep, turn off music, work on the computer with headphones, turn off overhead lights, and talk in a low voice.
The Most Important Things About Baby Sleep
Sleep is very important for normal child growth and brain development, and regular lack of sleep can lead to serious illness. Give your baby the right conditions to fall asleep and make sure that nothing interferes with his sound sleep. Read more about baby sleep