The family bed

One of the greatest joys of the family bed is waking up! Even the most reluctant morning person cannot fail to be charmed by a smiling, cooing baby greeting the day with delight.

Most older research that was done on infant sleep patterns assumed that the normal infant sleeping environment was a crib in a separate room. One of the first to challenge this idea was Dr. James McKenna, an anthropologist and widely published expert on infant sleep. Dr. McKenna asserts that from an anthropological and evolutionary perspective, the opposite is true: babies are designed to sleep beside their mothers!

We all spend the night moving between wakefulness, light REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, and deep, quiet sleep from which it is difficult to wake up. In Dr. McKenna's studies of the sleep patterns of mothers and babies sleeping together, he found "striking" overlap in sleep patterns. The "unfolding of particular sleep stages and awake periods of the mother and infant become entwined and ...throughout the night, much sensory communication is occurring between them." [source: McKenna, "Sleep and arousal patterns of co-sleeping mother/infant pairs: a preliminary physiological study with implications for the study of sudden infant death syndrome.", Am-J-Phys-Anthropol, 83(3):331-47, 1990.]

These synchronous arousals have immense practical value for a new parent. For an infant, arousal, or waking, is quickly followed cries of "feed me!" A mother who shares her bed with her baby naturally wakes at the same time as, or moments before, her child. It is easy to latch the baby on to the breast without fully waking up. Especially in the early months, mothers (and fathers) who use a family bed will be much better rested than those who are woken from deep sleep by the wails of a hungry baby!

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