- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 24, 2003

A dormant phenomenon

I respond here to the inaccurate, misleading, insulting and fully uninformed comments made sadly in a debut column by John Rosemond (“Child in family bed results in chaos,” Family Times, Aug. 3).

Mr. Rosemond’s gross assessment of what he calls the “family bed” will come as a huge surprise to the millions of parents here in the United States and abroad who happily, willingly, safely and successfully share their beds or sleeping quarters with their children without their situation cascading into a state of “chaos.”

Whether or not “chaos” sets in has nothing to with the practice of co-sleeping, per se. Like so many different other categories of our social lives, whether or not any of them proves beneficial, appropriate, safe or meaningful will depend on what the behaviors mean to those who participate and how the practices “fit” into the overall constellations of personalities and overall needs of the individuals involved.

That “co-sleeping” may not be good for one family hardly means that it cannot be positive for others. If a family chooses to co-sleep as part of a child care philosophy and as part of how the parents choose to relate to or nurture their children, then the behaviors have an excellent chance of contributing positively to the healthy psychological development of the children, as well as proving immensely satisfying to the parents.

Solitary infant-child sleeping arrangements have not been proven satisfying to parents in the United States nor especially “non-chaotic.” In every comparative study of sleeping arrangements conducted worldwide, American parents are rated as the most exhausted and the least satisfied of all parents. It would seem that “chaos” and parental stress as regards our infants’ sleep patterns are so common in the United States that adversity and confusion concerning getting your child to sleep alone and through the night are regarded as a normal part of parenting. Such a situation shocks parents from co-sleeping cultures where childhood sleep problems are simply not present to solve.

Mr. Rosemond’s “one-size-must-fit-all” approach fails completely, and most parents know it. Indeed, it may well be that the early enforced solitary infant sleep recommended by Dr. Benjamin Spock and others experienced by present adults as infants and children might itself contribute to the epidemic of adult insomnia experienced by more than 60 percent of contemporary Americans who report being chronically sleep deprived.

Surely the idea so enthusiastically embraced by Richard Ferber and others, i.e., “let them cry it out” to prevent adult sleep problems or promote “good sleep hygiene,” is anything but true.

Mr. Rosemond states: “Despite the claims of ‘family bed’ advocates, not one study done by an objective researcher has demonstrated benefit in either the short term or long term to the children so bedded.” What Mr. Rosemond really means here is that, in his mind, the only “objective” research is research that supports his view that all forms of co-sleeping leads to family unhappiness, chaos and general disaster. This is hardly a view of research that is sustainable in the scientific enterprise.

Contrary to Mr. Rosemond’s claims that positive “objective” findings concerning “bed sharing” do not exist, the following “findings” passed peer review and are published in prestigious journals: Bed sharing (safely) promotes breast feeding, provides more sleep for infants and mothers, reduces infant crying time, contributes positively to emotional sensitivity of infants and children, permits parents to nurture their children the way they see fit, contributes to healthy body images of teenage girls (who co-slept as toddlers) and leads to more comfort with one’s sex and/or gender identity.

In the most recent controlled study on the social and cognitive effects of routine co-sleeping, two researchers from the University of California at Irvine found that compared with routinely solitary sleeping toddlers, routinely co-sleeping children are more, not less, independent, are able to handle being alone better and are able to solve problems more frequently than solitary sleeping children — the exact opposite of what our conventional understandings have maintained.

Does Mr. Rosemond know that where co-sleeping with breast feeding are the norm, and where mothers do not smoke, as in Japan and other Asian countries, sudden infant death syndrome rates are the lowest in the world? Some studies show that co-sleeping increases overall parental satisfaction with their family life because this form of nighttime caregiving increases the amount of time parents can spend nurturing their children in situations where both parents work.

I noticed that it was the grandmother who was complaining (and not the parents) about what she thought were inappropriate sleeping arrangements. Perhaps the first thing that Mr. Rosemond might have suggested is that she should leave well enough alone. Perhaps the parents are quite satisfied with their musical-beds approach to sleep. I know many families that use this system successfully and do not regard it as chaotic. Recall that one parent’s “chaos” may be another’s total fulfillment.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (for which I was a consultant on this issue) did not, and does not, recommend against bed sharing, and neither does the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development. A “middle ground” approach emerged on bed sharing, and the exact words of caution in the bed-sharing AAP statement could be switched around and applied accurately to solitary infant crib sleeping. Moreover, thousands of physicians involved in the American Academy of Breast Feeding Medicine support the choice to co-sleep and rights of parents to be fully informed in order to make their own decisions.

A full understanding of the diversity and complexity of parent-infant or parent-child co-sleeping in all of its diverse forms, as well as knowledge of what specific factors contribute to healthy and positive outcomes rather than to deleterious or fatal ones, will never be achieved if people in authority such as Mr. Rosemond are permitted to pass on their own a priori negative social ideology as if it were scientific truth.

Such comments hurt parents and babies by making much more difficult, if not impossible, honest discussions of a practice that is on the rise in our country and is important to parents for all the right reasons.

Finally, it is because our ancestors practiced co-sleeping that present human beings are alive to discuss the issue today. It is not a coincidence that as breast feeding becomes our cultural norm, the other half of this old but exquisitely designed system, sleeping next to one’s baby, has also re-emerged.

Mother nature really does know many things after all, and all the negative comments or stereotypes in the world will never again turn back this new future for mothers, babies and families. Co-sleeping is as common, expected and basic to human beings as is birth and breast-feeding itself.

JAMES J. MCKENNA

Professor of anthropology and chair

Director, Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory

SIDS Global Task Force

University of Notre Dame

Notre Dame, Ind.

Terrorists, not militants

I am writing in regard to the article, “14 return after hostage ordeal” (World, Thursday).

The subhead of this article refers euphemistically as “Algerian militants” to what are, in fact, terrorists belonging to the Salafist Group for Call and Combat (GSPC), listed as a foreign terrorist organization by the State Department.

Contrary to being a terrorist, being a militant for a cause is value-neutral and can even be deserving of praise.

As German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is quoted in your article as saying, “It is important to see that the kidnappers are terrorists.” That statement reminds us that what is terrorism in New York City or Bonn is not decriminalized to become simply “militancy” when it occurs in Southern Algeria. Terrorism is a global scourge that calls for a global response.

IDRISS JAZAIRY

Ambassador

Embassy of Algeria

Washington

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