Last year it was revealed that babies who are left to ‘cry it out’ suffer from high levels of cortisone, the stress hormone. Another ‘tough-love’ approach to child rearing that has been borne as much out of this parenting style as from health warnings about this is to have babies sleep in their own cots and, from six months, their own rooms.
It is known that if a parent is a particularly heavy sleeper, is overly tired or is under the influence of alcohol or drugs then sleeping in the same bed as their baby, or on the sofa with their baby, there is a significant risk that the baby will be smothered. It is for this reason that official advice is to put babies in their own cots, but in order to help to minimise the risk of cot death the baby’s bed should be in the parents’ bedroom until at least six months.
Now, though, a paediatrician has said that in fact placing a baby in a separate bed places the baby’s heart under stress and that actually having the baby sleep on his mum’s chest gives the baby better quality sleep. The paediatrician, Dr Nils Bergman of the University of Cape Town, also says that sleeping separately also makes bonding between mother and baby harder and that brain development can be hindered, leading to behavioural problems later.
The current health advice to sleep separately is based on the alarming data that says that nearly two-thirds of all cot death cases in the UK occur when the baby is sharing a bed with an adult. The Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths insists that the safest place for a baby to sleep is in his own cot in his parents’ room.
But Dr Bergman says that, “When babies are smothered and suffer cot deaths, it is not because their mother is present. It is because of other things: toxic fumes, cigarettes, alcohol, big pillows and dangerous toys.”
Dr Bergman is the founder of ‘Kangaroo Mother Care’, which stresses the importance of skin-to-skin contact. He studied the sleep patterns of a small number of babies (just sixteen) and found that their hearts were under three times as much stress when they slept in their own cots, and only six of them slept well. The results also showed interruptions to the brain’s sleep cycle, indicating that sleeping separately could damage the brain as brain needs sleep to develop properly.
We are a unique species in that we push our children away from our sleeping quarters at the earliest possible moment; we did not always do so and Dr Bergman’s findings beg the question as to whether or not modern Western society’s culture is pushing us into doing something unnatural.