Why Do Co-Sleepers Use the Past As Their Argument?

Here’s what really gets to me when I talk about sleep training. So many of the co-sleepers defend their position by comparing what people did in the dark ages with babies. Here is an example from last week’s post:

“In tribal times, you would have never made your baby cry all alone in a crib. And we wonder what’s wrong with society!!…Until the 1920′s, babies have slept with their parents for centuries. It’s still the norm in all other cultures other than in America.”

I’m not singling out this particular person. I appreciate she read my blog and took the time to comment. But this is the type of thing I generally see when discussing sleep training.

First of all, let’s get the facts straight. America is not the only country to put babies in a crib. Most of the developed world doesn’t co-sleep. That includes Europe and Asia too, which encompasses, oh, a few countries here and there. Let’s not forget Canada. You think crib makers only sell to the United States? Seriously?

But my real annoyance is the comparison of current day to that of tribal and biblical times and what those in third world countries do. I’m pretty sure a villager in Africa would be thrilled with a crib. I am guessing that is the least of their worries though.

Has anyone ever toured the Tenement Museum in NYC? It’s an amazing place. They have reconstructed a real tenement to show how families used to live. This is before housing and labor–including child labor–laws were enacted.  It was commonplace for a family of 8-10 to live in a 300-square foot space with no running water or electricity. No indoor plumbing. There was no room for cribs or separate bedrooms. Infants routinely died from diarrhea. Sanitation was completely lacking. To use those times as a barometer for what is good for today seems completely ludicrous to me.

Also, you think none of these people from past generations let their babies cry? Think again. Whether you were working all day in the fields or in the sweatshops of New York, don’t you imagine that parents were completely exhausted and just collapsed at night? They probably slept through a crying baby. If they did wake up, sure, mom put the baby on the boob so they could both sleep. I get it. It’s called survival.

Today in Sub-Saharan Africa, one in four babies under the age of 5 dies. Who wants to compare those statistics to what we have?

I know what you’re going to say: infant mortality rates have nothing to do with co-sleeping (unless you suffocate your baby, which does happen and thus why the AAP recommends against it).

But what irks me is this instant assumption that if something was practiced “for centuries” and still exists in villages in Africa, that we should use that as an argument for practices today. I spoke before about this in my case against homebirth.

There was a time when pregnant women were routinely drugged into a “Twilight Sleep” and strapped down unconscious to give birth. They were also given a pill to prevent their milk from coming in. Hard to fathom right? Seems completely insane. Inhumane even. But just because I believe in hospital births, epidurals and the beauty of modern medicine and vaccines doesn’t mean that I concur with the major and egregious practices of the past.

So sure, come up with why co-sleeping works for you: that you love having your baby snuggled tight next to you; that it’s a way for everyone to get more sleep; that it is your bonding time. Those reasons make sense. I did it too. Still do for weekend naps. Put Em on the boob and we drift off. It is heaven. It didn’t work for me at night because I was too paranoid of rolling on him. I was up constantly checking myself.  Now he’s in his crib and doing really well. So whatever works.

But for those of us who want to sleep train and have our babies in their cribs getting an uninterrupted 12-hour stretch of one of the most basic human needs, please don’t point to history and lambast us for our decision. And for the record, here is a recent study that backs up why sleep (and thus, sleep training for those babies who don’t just fall into it naturally) is so crucial. I’m just saying…..

Picture courtesy of Shutterstock

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  1. by Wendy

    On September 12, 2012 at 7:46 am

    You forgot the part where prior to 100 years ago not only did entire families share a bed (due to lack of space or people wouldn’t have been so quick to spread out when the opportunity arose…and why rich people WEREN’T sharing a family bed. They weren’t even sharing a bed with their spouse, but I digress…the part where not only were families sharing a bed, they were also sharing the room itself with as much of their livestock as they could squeeze in…do you really want to reproduce this scenario? I like to think my cats are cleaner than a donkey and some cattle.

  2. by Kim

    On September 12, 2012 at 11:06 am

    I`m never sure which end of this argument I`m on. We use a mini crib co sleeper, http://www.amazon.com/The-First-Years-Secure-Sleeper/dp/B00012CHFI,
    and that only until the baby is sleeping a solid 6 hours at night. We also use bottles at night, because I am terrified I will fall asleep and suffocate the baby with my boob. We just did what was best for our situation. That cosleeper style is also approved by our pediatrician, the only one he recommends.

  3. by Chrissy

    On September 12, 2012 at 3:18 pm

    But most importantly, when do these parents of co-sleeping babies get to have sex?!?!?

  4. [...] Why do co-sleepers use the past as their argument? (Parents.com) [...]

  5. by Stephanie Sprenger

    On September 12, 2012 at 7:11 pm

    Another important difference is that we no longer live in a culture where our mother, aunts, sisters and friends are in our “village” to help us out when we need it! Times are different! I say this as a mother who HAS practiced co-sleeping for all of the logical reasons you mentioned.

  6. by Leelah

    On September 12, 2012 at 8:40 pm

    Co-sleeper here. Above post hubs and I have plenty of sex. Not always has to be in the bed or at night. You should try it sometime. And to the pediatrics. First they are the same people who say I should currcumsize my son. I think not! Don’t think many of those people had babies. My son gets 12 hrs uninterrupted sleep sleeping with me than he does when in his crib that he can climb out of and hurt himself. I had more of a fear that he was going to die from SID in the crib than me suffocating him. But I just saying. I’m the same person who let him sleep on his belly what do I know

  7. by Cathy

    On September 12, 2012 at 9:54 pm

    I am neither against or for babies sleeping in the parents bed. It silly for people to get upset and disagree about this. It what works for the monther. My children have all had cribs and slept in them and there where time they slept with me. Nothing bad happen to them. A baby can sleep in a crib and die of SIDS or a baby can die by the mother rolling on to the baby. Either choice a parent makes can lead to something bad.
    I think it silly parents that co-sleep with thier baby brings up history when family’s had to share a bed come on I bet they would rather had a bed to themselves and a room.
    Parents just have to chose what works for them either way a mother is going to wake up to feed the baby either breastfeeding or bottal feeding.
    There is one thing I don’t think a parent should do and that is to sleep training a baby. Study’s have showing letting a baby cry for long periods isn’t good I understand it okay to let a baby cry for awhile but for hours because you want to sleep is bull. I am sorry when a women has a baby that means waking up every two to four hours to feed and change them, if you want to sleep 8 to 12 hours then don’t have a baby. I heard women doing this when the baby is two three months old that’s not right that is just begin lazy.

    Like I said if a mother feels more comfortable sleeping with her baby do it or if the mother feel it safer for the baby yo be in a crib do it but it is dumb for people to disagree over a silly thing like this what matters is the baby happy and healthy ,

    Oh and people that make comments about having sex if it so importing you will find away and it might make things exciting for you or your husband when the kids get older and have a scary dream at night they going to want to sleep with mommy it part of beging a parent

  8. by amandaA

    On September 13, 2012 at 2:52 am

    My son has slept with me since i brought him home from the hospital. I’m a single mom. I have a huge king size bed. We did just fine. He’ll be 2 in January. Still sleeps in my bed when I’m not working(3rd shift). I can’t remember exactly when he started sleeping all night, right around 6 months. I love waking up to his kisses and hugs. I’m at work now and he’s home, sleeping in his crib. He’ll be either still sleeping when I get home, playing quietly with a stuffed animal or playing loudly and waking my sister up.

  9. by Kim

    On September 21, 2012 at 6:37 pm

    Thank you thank you thank you for this post! At the end of the day every parent needs to do what’s right for them and their family, but sleep training was the only way any of us have been able to get any sleep at all after trying to cuddle and co-sleep for the first 6 months

  10. by Jill SIMONIAN

    On September 21, 2012 at 7:15 pm

    Again! Praise for Jill’s thoughts! Although I DO enjoy freedom of opinions/thoughts re parenting, I’d like to add: Co-sleepers might want to consider unplugging an stop tweeting, going online, watching tv… Cause they didn’t have any of those things back then… ;)

  11. by Heather

    On September 21, 2012 at 8:36 pm

    Thank u for being one of the few people to recognize 1) that babies need 12 hours of sleep and 2) that they do not suffer for not being jlued to you 100% of the time. Also its important to know that sleep is a LEARNED habit & the only time babies grow is when they sleep!

  12. by Melissa

    On October 26, 2012 at 5:00 pm

    Amen, sister! I breast fed both my girls. Our first night home from the hospital with my first I had a bassinet next to the bed. I was up ALL night. Babies are the loudest creatures on the planet! It was like having an animal, like a raccoon or something in the room. I picked her up at 2:30 a.m. on the second night home and put her in her room in her $800 crib and never looked back. I slept between feedings and had a video monitor. The second one didn’t even come in our room. First night home–right in the crib. I have never had a child sleep between my husband and me, and man, am I well rested. No heels to ribs, no tiny elbows in the face… This year was the first time I ever had a kid in my bed, and it’s b/c my 2.5 year old is petrified of lightning, and that’s ok. My bed is my bed, and man, there is nothing like a Saturday morning when they join us at a reasonable hour to snuggle and chat and love it up. When I relate this to people I get either looks of envy from some and looks of horror from others. LOL. At any rate, it worked for us.

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