Posts Tagged ‘sleep patterns’

API Principle #5: Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally

Friday, December 23rd, 2011

Attachment Parenting International is an organization dedicated to promoting a evidence-based information to foster healthy parent-child attachments. Each Friday for the last several weeks, I have examined one of API’s 8 Principles of Parenting. The fifth API Parenting Principle and the topic of today’s post is to Ensuring Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally.

Often when a couple finds out they are expecting they will put a great deal of thought into decorating a nursery, choosing a crib, and selecting bedding. However it is not very common for many expectant couples to devote that same energy to understanding an infant’s sleep needs or patterns. The underlying assumption is that their baby will soon be sleeping solo in their crib through the night. While this may be the case for some families, it is likely the result of intentional sleep training on the parent’s behalf. The most common approach is to allow a baby to ‘cry it out’ by simply ignoring their crying until the baby finally falls sleep on his/her own. Often this approach is validated by claiming it teaches a baby to be independent and how to self-soothe. However “an infant is not neurologically or developmentally capable of calming or soothing himself to sleep in a way that is healthy. The part of the brain that helps with self-soothing isn’t well developed until the child is two and a half to three years of age” (API, 2008). While this method has prevailed for the last few decades, research is now showing the harmful effects of allowing babies to cry themselves to sleep. When a baby’s cries are ignored there is a significant increase in ‘the stress hormone cortisol in the brain which has potential long term effects to emotional regulation, sleep patterns and behavior’ (API, 2008). So while crying it out may indeed be effective in getting a baby to sleep through the night at an early age, we are starting to question at what cost? Science is now providing evidence for what we’ve intuitively known all along; a crying baby needs our love and comfort and we are discovering that there are serious implications to denying those basic needs.

Getting ready to go to sleep in our "Family Bed"; a queen size and a king size bed pushed together

So what does API believe ensures safe sleep, physically and emotionally? API believes that babies nighttime needs are equally important as daytime needs. An effective way for babies to communicate their needs is by crying. When a baby cries at night they are expressing a valid need whether it be they are too hot, too cold, ill, hungry, uncomfortable, or simply needing physical contact/reassurance from a parent. By recognizing these needs as important and responding accordingly, parents instill a sense of trust and security in their child which form the foundation of healthy attachment. What is often misunderstood about healthy parent-child attachment is that it actually leads to greater independence. The fear of creating a an overly dependant child is so prevalent in our society that often parents will go to great lengths to attempt to “teach” independence at a very early age. When a baby/child is prematurely forced into independence, it often results in greater dependence as well as can lead to anxiety and insecurity.

API encourages parents to be open, flexible, and creative in developing a sleep arrangement that allows for optimal responsiveness to night time needs. Typically this translates to baby sleeping in close proximity to parents. Two distinct terms are used to describe such sleep arrangements:

Co-Sleeping – infant/child sleeps in same room as parents, but on a different sleep surface than parents such as in a bassinet, a sidecar crib, or on a separate mattress.

Bed-sharing/Family Bed – infant/child sleeps on the same sleep surface as the parents. “This practice is recommended for only for breastfeeding families using API’s Safe Sleep Guidelines” (API, 2008).

Shared sleeping arrangements such as co-sleeping or bed-sharing frequently report a reduction in parental fatigue thus providing a physiological benefit to the parents as well to baby. Additionally “we should understand the mother and child as a mutually  responsive dyad.  They are a symbiotic unit that make each other  healthier and happier in  mutual responsiveness” (Psychology Today, 2011).

While getting adequate sleep can certainly be challenging as parent, API reminds us to not lose sight of the importance of ensuring a baby with safe sleep both physically and emotionally. By providing baby with a peaceful sleep routine and environment, parents are optimally supporting their child’s development.

What does your sleep arrangement look like? How did you know that was the right fit for your family?