In today’s world, a child doesn’t have to become a teenager to claim his own room and privacy. The popular concept of the baby nursery with beautifully painted walls with rainbows and storks are not only commonplace in the West but have also found a market in India. With bigger paycheques, come bigger houses and bigger distances between new moms and newborns. There was once a time when the mother would make a jholi or a swing out of her saree and let the baby sleep in it during the day and in the safety of her arms during the night, but gone are those days.
The scientist Richard Ferber came out with a Bible for sleep training tiny babies in the 1980s. In his book he says that a child is emotionally ready for sleep training anywhere between three and five months of age. The mother is supposed to feed and have a ‘loving bed time routine’ before leaving the baby in his crib. The baby is allowed to ‘cry it out’ till he falls asleep. If the baby cries too much, then the mother is advised to step into his room to pat him and comfort him by her voice alone but not pick him up, was what Ferber advised. The baby’s crying episodes are gradually phased out to be longer and longer till he learns to self soothe and fall asleep on his own. This practice of crying it out and self-soothing got so popular that it was a nationwide practice in the US and sleep training a baby came to be known as Ferberizing.
Effect on breastfeeding
Co-sleeping is widely frowned upon in the West. Even though the value of breastfeeding is regaining its importance and more mothers are opting for it, there is much to be desired. Separate bedrooms are a recipe for early breastfeeding discontinuation (in the first three–four months most commonly). Feeding a separately sleeping baby requires too much effort as the mother has to get up, feed, put the baby back to sleep and tiptoe away. Many a times, the baby will wake up before even the mother has left the room and cry for her. Sleep deprivation is bad enough and listening to your baby howl night after night is even more traumatic. It is easier for the mother to take turns with the husband for the night shift (who is going to bottle feed) pushing breastfeeding into the background.
Effect on child’s emotional development
‘Baby care scientists’ advise against co-sleeping and urge the mothers to maintain a distance with their babies. As observed by child psychologists, babies who are held, carried and have their nurturer close by tend to be more well-rounded, easily adjusting and more trusting of their parents. These babies are said to be ‘securely attached’ to their caregiver but shockingly mothers are encouraged to not follow their instincts and harden up to their children. Eventually weaker bonds are formed between the baby and mother allowing the mothers to leave their kids in their separate rooms without remorse. This leads to children who have no feelings of security right from a tender age. In their tiny impressionable minds no importance has been placed on motherly affection and family bonds. They grow up to be ‘insecurely attached’. These ‘good’ sleep-trained babies are left to look after themselves and be disciplined from the age of just a few months. Such babies are found to have weaker bonds with their mothers and are more prone to depression.
Studies show that such children grew up to be aggressive preteens, rebellious and detached teens, commitment-phobic young adults and contributed eventually to the rising divorce epidemic that took off in the late 20th century. Depression rates have gone through the roof as all the Ferberized infants are now adults. Parents are now confused as to why their kids won’t trust them and talk to them. Eating disorders and self-worthlessness have rocketed because the children don’t know who to turn to with their problems and have succumbed to peer pressure. They learnt rather young that mommy wasn’t someone to seek for security and comfort. Eventually they were incapable of trusting and being trusted. A baby understands the language of touch more than the spoken word. So, assure him he is safe by holding him. If you don’t hold your baby fearing you will ‘spoil’ him today, then be sure he is ruined for tomorrow.
Effect on child’s physical health
Aside from insecure attachment there was also another effect of sleeping separately. Fewer number of Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) deaths. SIDS or cot death is the sudden unexplained death of a baby in the cot. With Ferberization came the practice of exhausting and defeating the baby into sleeping on his tummy. The prone sleep position put abnormal pressure on the brainstem (the part of the brain just above the neck region). The brainstem is responsible for regulating breathing. With the tummy position for sleep, the number of SIDS was at an all-time high. A lot of research into sleeping positions brought about the new campaign of ‘Back to Sleep’ in the early 1990s which is preached to this day. Parents were advised to put their babies to sleep on their backs as it was believed to be protective from SIDS. And as a matter of fact, there has been a drop in the number of SIDS deaths in the US after that.
India is far from achieving an Infant mortality rate to boast about but the number of SIDS deaths in India is very low compared to the US. Co-sleeping addresses all the problems that the debate around the ideal sleep position, and the mystery around SIDS, raises.
The mother-baby bond is a life-long relationship. If the foundation is solid, the mother and the child will enjoy a meaningful, symbiotic trusting relationship from birth till adulthood. The child goes on to feel secure no matter what life throws at him. We are asked to be deviant from nature in the name of scientific progress but science is robbing us of our intuition, our maternal instincts and from loving our children altogether.