Japanese Parenting: Co-sleeping For Your Baby’s Health and Wellbeing
Co-sleeping is a big part of Japanese parenting, just like how it is perceived the world over as one of the most natural thing. Approximately 90 percent of the world’s parents co-sleep with their babies. Asian, particularly Japanese parents take the lead.
What’s striking is that for Americans and other Western cultures, co-sleeping is a big no-no!
Co-sleeping is controversial especially in the United States due to the growing incidence of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) that is unreasonably blamed to infants co-sleeping with their parents.
What is it about co-sleeping and why does it have the bad reputation it has?
Why is it that despite Western advice against it, Asian especially Japanese parents still stick to this tradition?
Co-sleeping: The Benefits
A hundred years ago, fields are bigger but houses are smaller. In most cultures, father, mother and children sleep in a single room with predefined sleeping positions. Since there is only a bedroom, even the occasional guests tend to sleep with the rest of the house’ inhabitants.
The Japanese, being the minimalist that they are, usually sleep not on raised beds, but on spreadable futons.
Owing to the cool climate and the tightly knit family culture, co-sleeping is mostly practiced by every family.
Since the father is usually working for a minimum of twelve hours per day, it is the mother that is at baby’s side. This tradition is taken literally at bedtime since most Japanese school children co-sleep side-by-side with their mothers (or even with father sometimes).
In Japan, this is a norm, even going as far as half of the teens in Japan co-sleeping with one or both of his parents, and with grandmother or grandfather on the other side.
What’s amazing is that Japan, in particular, does enjoy the less incidence of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) than most countries in the Western world.
What is it about bed-sharing and how can it benefit you and your baby just like how it helped the Japanese for centuries?
1/ Ease of breastfeeding
A child can easily reach out and breastfeed on his mother even when mom is half asleep. There is no need for the mother to get up and pick baby since they are both lying conveniently next to each other all night.
Mom can have the least interruption during her sleep and this is a win-win for baby and mother since they can both rest longer during the night.
2/ Babies need all the comfort and pampering
Babies like to cry, especially at night, because they either feel hungry, wet or uneasy. Prolonged night time crying is stressful for the whole family since a child has to cry needlessly just to get mom’s attention from the other room.
Co-sleeping reduces baby’s crying episodes because mom is visible and can comfort baby before his cries become too unbearable. Co-sleeping immediately alerts the parent if the baby is in distress or in danger.
A mother’s sense is in high gear, especially on baby’s first year. Even when deep asleep, she will instinctively feel if the baby is in need of help, and can intervene in a second since the baby is just at arm’s reach.
3/ Prevents possible child abuse episodes
Bed-sharing secures a little child from the threats of child abuse because both parents can watch over the baby at night time. With both mom and dad sleeping nearby, another adult has no access to baby, unless the baby is sleeping in a separate room.
4/ A deeper sense of bonding
Breathing, waking and dream cycle of parents and children who sleep side by side tend to get synched. After years of co-sleeping, this will promote an invisible strong bond that is a foundation for a life-long nurturing relationship.
Babies who sleep with parents tend to be more emotionally secure and with less fixation with comfort items such as a favorite blanket or stuffed animal.
They will grow more independent since the bond between parent and child was already established with hours and hours of comforting and sleeping next to each other.
Co-sleeping: Why Is It Unaccepted In The US?
What is recognized as normal in terms of child rearing in the US might seem shocking for other cultures. It is only in the US that babies, even newborns, are allowed to sleep in a room separate from their parents.
High-strung parents might have an online baby monitor installed so that they may see baby from their own bedrooms 24/7, but nevertheless, they still prefer to sleep separately.
Well, we cannot blame these people because there are reasons with regards to why they believe co-sleeping is dangerous.
In particular, here are some of the reasons:
- US parents are mainly basing their worry over SIDS occurrence, which is at its highest for Western children. There are lots of researches that back this theory about co-sleeping and SIDS. It was only recently that medical researchers are slowly changing their views in favor of co-sleeping. It will still take years before it gets accepted in the mainstream medical profession.
- There are a number of overweight and obese parents in the US than elsewhere in the world. The prevalence of obesity is dangerous not just for the health of the parent, but because an obese mother or father might suffocate a baby accidentally when lying with them on a bed.
- Parents who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs can sleep too deeply and might not feel if the baby is already being compressed or suffocated.
Safety Tips And Tricks For A Successful Co-sleeping
We can learn a lot of things from the Japanese and the rest of the Eastern people by imitating their routine with regards to co-sleeping.
As some American people will say, co-sleeping, when done wrong is like sleeping with a sharp knife, ready to stab baby at a moment's notice.
If you would like to try co-sleeping but is worried about the risks, consider the following safety considerations to give you a little peace of mind.
So how must we do co-sleeping to be able to keep baby safe all night?
1. Co-sleeping is not for premature babies
You might need to be extra careful if your child is born premature, has low birth weight, or with a medical condition that makes them more fragile. In this case, co-sleeping will only be advisable once baby assumes normal weight and function.
You may opt to have a crib with the same level as your bed. Have baby sleep in the crib but within your field of vision, so that you can get alerted if baby needs to be fed or held.
2. It’s on the mattress
Choose a firm surface mattress to prevent suffocation. Stay away from water or feather beds and mattress with too soft and engulfing cushion. Remove the comforter and the extra bedsheets if they are not a necessity to keep them from strangling baby.
Think also of the mattress size, as with a flimsy active baby, you will need all the sleeping space that you can get.
3. Take out all that pillows
Remove everything that might get on baby’s face and cause restriction of movement. All those pillows, stuffed toys and bolsters have to go, or at least put them on dad’s far side, out of the baby's reach.
Duvets and pillows may only be used by your baby once he turned at least 12 months of age. You might think their head needs support but no, they don’t need a pillow until they turned 1 year old.
Be wary if you are using electric blankets, if you can sleep without it, put it away immediately. As a rule, keep bedding away from baby and remove everything that cannot fit snugly on the covers.
4. Bed position
Be safe by checking for a possibility of baby falling out of bed.
Is the floor surface soft or cushioned with carpet? Or is it littered with electrical cords and lots of choking hazards?
Position baby so that he cannot fall, especially when he becomes overly active during crawling stage. Soften the possible blow by putting soft rugs or carpeting on the floor.
Ideally, position the bed opposite the wall, and then have mom and dad sleep on both open sides so that baby is safe all over. If father is a heavy sleeper or if he gets drunk on some occasions, let baby sleep adjacent to his mother and the wall instead of in between mom and dad.
You may also need to lower the bed, so that the fall is not too risky, because it will definitely happen at some point.
Some parents might even opt to put their mattress on the floor, to cut off the risk of falls. This can also give dad a lot of sleeping space, because a king-sized bed can still feel too small for an active little sleeper.
5. Consider the room’s temperature and noise
The baby’s sleeping area must be free from damp, too much cold and heat. Check the temperature; it must be comfortable enough that you and your baby can snuggle closely without sweat.
The room must be peaceful, with minimal background noise brought about by nearby television, barking dogs or passing cars. Take note to dress baby comfortably, as they can get fussy if dressed too warm.
If the temperature is too cold, you may let baby sleep on an especially made sleeping bag for babies.
6. Check baby’s sleeping position
The safest position for newborns and small babies when sleeping is on their backs. Side or stomach lying might be preferred by older babies but for newborns, sleeping on the back is the best.
Do not ever attempt to sleep with baby on a sofa! This might sound good during daytime but it is too risky. Baby can accidentally fall off or be wedged in between the sofa cushions, which may be dangerous.
If you have an older child in tow, never let him sleep side by side with baby. Your older tot might not understand the risks; he may get too active while sleeping, and can also sleep too soundly to be unable to feel if he is already on top of baby.
7. A co-sleeper crib can help
Try to shop around for a co-sleeper crib. There are some newer crib models available in the market than can convert into a co-sleeper.
One of the side rails can be detached and the crib mattress lowered to the bed’s height. The open side may be put side by side with the parent’s bed so that baby is not necessarily sleeping in the bed, but he will also not feel the separation since mom is still within arm’s length.
8. Mom’s ideal position
The baby is recommended to sleep on his back, whereas mom is advised to sleep on her side, making a C-shape, facing the child. If you are still breastfeeding, have your breasts easily accessible to baby by wearing loose fitting shirts.
Prop up a pillow underneath your head so that you are comfortable enough to sleep in this position for hours. Long hair must be tied securely so that it won't irritate your baby.
For busy parents, it is usually only at night time that they can find quality time to bond with baby. Co-sleeping will give the baby a night-long feeling of security and love since parents can cuddle and easily comfort baby throughout the night.
The worries around sudden infant deaths due to suffocation or strangulation are with enough bases but upon close scrutiny, correct co-sleeping may even reduce the cases of infant accidents.
This is because parents at child’s side can immediately sense if something is wrong, they can also instantly hear baby’s cry of distress and act without haste.
And don't forget:
Sleeping together promotes bonding and improves child’s emotional development. Our Japanese counterparts are doing it right for centuries, so it is about time that we adopt also this co-sleeping practice.
A child who constantly feels safe throughout the night will grow into an independent adult, capable of giving love and affection.
There is no such thing as spoiling the child with too much pampering because a child needs all that love in his early years like how he needs food to live. All it takes is the right care and nurturing, and of course, the proper practice of co-sleeping.