Sunday, August 14, 2011

A feminist questions the hegemony behind no co-sleeping

I guess you could call me a feminist. It's hard to embrace that term when it has such a negative connotation. You know, the bra burners of the 60s and such. That's all anyone thinks about. Never mind that feminism began with women winning the vote, wearing pants, women attending college, and reproductive rights. Even those who shrink at the word "feminist" believe that it's okay for women to wear a pair of blue jeans, cast a vote, obtain a college degree, and take a birth control pill if she wants to. But whatever. We can keep thinking the word is dirty if that is desired. But for the record, I wear pants. And I went to college. I vote. And, well, I've taken birth control in my life.

So, let's take it I'm a feminist and go from there.

I don't like men telling me how to be a woman. Period. As a mom who loves to read about parenting, I've noticed how many parenting books out there --almost exclusively aimed at the mother--are written by men. And not surprisingly, most of them are aimed at sleeping. Oh seems as if that's all anyone can talk about when it comes to babies and young children. "Is he sleeping through the night?" "Are you sleep training him?" "How did he sleep last night?" "Does he take good naps?" To be honest, it kind of drives me batty. In fact, it's gotten to the point where I've started telling people that yes, he does sleep through the night. Because guess what, he does sleep during the night. Maybe not without waking for a little bit of comfort but he surely does sleep through the night.

And then I started wondering, why is this such a big deal to people? Here's where I pull out my feminist card...male authors. With few exceptions (i.e. the Sears family doctors) most male authors place enormous weight on sleep (Ezzo, Weissbluth, Ferber)--how long, how they get to sleep, and most importantly, where they sleep.

Is it that big of a surprise that male authors would be the ones to suggest moving the baby to his own bed, in his own room? While there's a baby there he's got to be a little more creative to get some action between the covers. So the simply solution is obviously to move the baby to his own bed, in his own room, and to help mothers feel better about it, they use the word "safety."

Whether you're a co-sleeper or not, it ain't hard to see where all of the fuel for solitary sleeping is coming from. After analyzing the statistics, as much as many pediatricians will give a thumbs down to co-sleeping, your baby actually has a higher chance of survival in the night if he's in your bed rather than in a crib. (Statistics gathered in 1997 suggest that while 515 infants died of "overlaying" in an adult bed, 2705 died of SIDS--the large majority of which were sleeping solitary). And yet, sleeping with your infant or young child is scolded, something that many families do but don't tell because if your kid sleeps with you, you're a "bad parent."

But here's the thing, families across the world have been sleeping with their infants for thousands of years. Why? Most white Americans say it's a cultural decision. People from "other cultures" do it, but we're above that. We should note that white American (mostly males) were also the ones to say that infant formula (which used to be nothing more than flour mixed with water and perhaps a little bit of cow's milk) was superior to breast milk. Throughout the 18th-early 20th centuries, women were told to feed their babies on schedules. When their milk supply slowly dropped, they had the advantage of turning to the "superior" infant formulas. Again, men were telling women how to feed their children when for thousands of years they had been doing just fine. However, with the turn to infant formula, the adult male, not the baby, was the owner of the woman's body.

Since we've been able to acknowledge that the "experts" of the past were incorrect about breastfeeding, why is it that we haven't acknowledged that they are also incorrect regarding the location of baby in the nighttime? If you talk to most (by choice) co-sleeping mothers they'll tell you they love the feel of their baby next to them. They love waking in the morning to her family being together. She'll tell you it feels natural and wonderful. She'll more than likely tell you that she's well-rested. Hmmm...sleep for all, feels natural, allows for the continuation of the breastfeeding relationship...sounds like a positive thing to me.

If nothing else, I'm curious as to how this will pan out in 50-100 years. Will our grandchildren look back on our time the way we look back at the advice of doctors of the 1940s and 50s? A time when they told women their breasts were too small to breastfeed? A time when they told women to feed on a strict 4 hour schedule for the good of the baby and themselves? Will our children's children have the information that proves that what families have been doing for hundreds of thousands of years is safest? I'm curious to watch.


  1. Amy, I have a question for you. I've been reading a lot about attachment parenting, both from your blog and from other sources (not that I have any intention of becoming a parent within the next decade or so). I'm wondering what the father's role is in attachment parenting; I haven't read a word about it. I firmly believe that a father can and should be just as involved in an infant's life as a mother. Do fathers also practice attachment parenting, complete with feeding, soothing, and baby wearing? Obviously fathers are involved in co-sleeping. It seems to me that a child who is securely attached to not one, but two people will feel even more secure. What do you think?

  2. Jenna, I've often thought the same thing. Moms seem to get all of the credit--breastfeeding and bonding and all that jazz. But I think AP has given us a lot MORE tools for Brennan to bond with our son. For the most part, he doesn't do milk feedings because by golly, pumping is more work than not. But, he still babywears and takes Hyrum out for walks in the baby carrier. He soothes Hyrum when he's fussy. He sleeps next to him. And now that we're doing baby-led weaning, he is an active part of introducing solids. There have been nights when I'm out of the home and Brennan puts Hyrum to sleep by rocking him or bouncing on the ball or simply lying next to him in bed. Because he's not home as much as I am, his interactions are more condensed (obviously) but I find that he still has a very active role in nurturing and caring for our little guy. If you're interested in more ways that father's can be involved, this lady has a lot to say about feminism and fathers