Until only 2 centuries ago, bed-sharing was considered normal for parents and infants 👶. However, over the years, it has become less common with the belief that independent sleeping will improve the parent’s sleep, reduce the risk of SIDS and potentially improve this child’s independence. Many westernized countries now recommend room-sharing but not bed-sharing. Perhaps this change is partly due to how life, society and humanity have changed. Women are no longer expected to be homemakers 🍳, so balancing work 👔 with staying up at night with infants is a real challenge. As a result, independent sleep has become a priority for many families… But is that best for the child? And is it safe? We are now lucky enough to sleep in lovely, high, soft beds with thick blankets. Obesity rates are climbing and smoking 🚬, and or drinking 🍷 are the norm. All these in combination make our beds a more dangerous sleeping option for a baby. Having said that, if bed sharing is practiced safely and it suits the family dynamic, it can be a lovely option.
This article examined whether sleeping locations and sleep practices at 2 months affected infant attachment style at 14 months. They compared two groups – children who had never bed-shared and children who had ever bed shared by 2 months of age. They found that children who had never bed-shared at 2 months were more likely to develop insecure attachment by 14 months - specifically, resistant attachment, or ‘clingy behaviour’ as toddlers. It is not known, however, whether this relationship is causal. Furthermore, the children who bed-shared most frequently were not necessarily more securely attached than those who bed-shared occasionally.
A closer look
There are a number of factors to consider when reading this article. Firstly, there is the possibility that parents who co-slept also shared other parenting styles which may affect the infant’s attachment. Some of these, such as breast-feeding, maternal age, education, parity, depression and temperament, were carefully controlled for in the study. However, it is not possible to isolate this specific factor completely. Therefore other parenting styles may not being discounted as affecting the result. Secondly, the bed-sharing measure was taken at one time point only, with the follow up measure over a year later… a lot can change over 12 months. Nonetheless, it is a well-conducted study showing of positive outcomes for infants from bed-sharing. This is refreshing in a time when bed-sharing has become so controversial even for those who practice safely.
Attachment refers to the bond an infant shares with his or her primary caregiver and how that develops into adult interpersonal and romantic relationships. Infants with secure attachment are shown to cry less, be more obedient, explore more and develop cognitive skills faster than those with insecure attachment. (More on attachment below)**
The attachment theory was proposed by John Bowlby in the late 1960s and developed by Mary Ainsworth over later decades to explain the relationships shared between infants and caregivers and how this might affect adult interpersonal and romantic relationships. The gold standard test for attachment style between infant and caregiver is the Strange Situation Protocol (SSP) .
Attachment quality is developed through the caregiver’s behaviour toward the child from birth. Sensitivity of caregiver in responding to baby’s needs is thought to be the key factor in establishing secure attachments.
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