Study: Co-sleeping with a toddler is bad for mum's mental health
Why should you help your child sleep on their own?
After the birth of your baby, you make many important choices as new parents. One of these is whether to co sleep or not and if yes, for how long. Many parents feel that co-sleeping is a healthy practice, and indeed, there are many benefits to it. But did you know that research has revealed that co sleeping with a toddler can affect mum’s mental health?
Sharing a sleeping surface with your little one, either for part of the night or the whole night, is called co-sleeping.
There are two types of co-sleeping: room-sharing or bed-sharing.
- Room sharing: When parents and the child sleep in the same room but in different beds. For example, the baby may be put to sleep in a crib in the same room as the parents, or an older child may have a separate bed in the same room as their parents.
- Bed sharing: Many times, kids crawl in to their mum’s bed and sleep in the same bed, or infants are put to sleep in the same bed as their mums for easy nursing. This is bed-sharing.
The American Academy of Paediatrics recommends co-sleeping during a child’s first year, mainly because it can reduce the risk of SIDS. After the age of 12 months, this risk lowers greatly, and that’s why kids may be encouraged to sleep separately.
- Parents believe that it is a more healthy and natural approach for sleeping.
- Nighttime feeding becomes easier in case of breastfeeding babies.
- Even accidental co-sleeping may take place wherein the child may visit the parents’ room in the middle of night and sleep with them.
Different families may have different experiences when co-sleeping. They may feel that it is a positive experience or even find it frustrating. While there has been a lot of research that points out the safety aspect of co-sleeping, little has been done on the effects it can have on the parents. But there’s one study about co sleeping with a toddler that suggests the negative impact on a mother’s mental health.
In 2017, the Journal of Developmental and Behavioural Pediatrics published a study that looked at the effects of co-sleeping on the mental health of a mum. The research reveals that sleeping problems in kids can highly affect the parents, especially the mothers. Insufficient sleep for parents can be a common “side effect” of co-sleeping with a toddler, especially one who is restless even in sleep!
Earlier research in the subject had indicated a connection between children’s poor sleep and negative mental health in the mum. So, a specific study was conducted to understand the same in the case of mums of toddlers.
Low-income toddler mums with kids in the age group of 12 to 32 months participated in this study. They answered a questionnaire related to their toddler’s sleeping habits, their own sleep as well as mental health symptoms. The mental health questions included topics like depression, anxiety and stress.
What did the findings reveal?
The findings said that in the cases where toddlers experienced sleeping problems, the mother’s own sleep was also disturbed.
The disruption was increased in situations where mothers were co sleeping with a toddler who had trouble sleeping. There was an average decrease of 51 minutes of sleep for mums who were co sleeping with a toddler.
Their sleep was mainly disturbed by the child’s movements in the bed, or the child would wake them up. Mothers co sleeping with a toddler also showed symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress. In contrast, mothers who were not co sleeping with a toddler did not show as many negative mental health symptoms.
If you are looking to encourage your little one to start sleeping independently, here are a few useful tips:
- When you feel your child can handle sleeping alone, discuss the new sleeping routine with them during daytime. It is not advisable to go cold turkey on them right before bedtime. Mentally preparing your child well in advance can be of great help. This is also important as it can give you indications about how happy or unhappy your child is about this change.
- Begin with simple things like not lying down in the bed with them. You may just sit or at the most lay next to their bed. You can read bedtime stories with the lights dimmed, to encourage your toddler to fall asleep.
- Fix a time for how long you will wait with your child. For example, you may wait for five or ten minutes and then assure them that you will be back to check on them.
- Checking on your child as often as you feel comfortable is advisable. When checking on your little one, do so quietly. If they notice you, just tell them that you are going to come back after a while.
- Last but not least, give your child the time to adjust to this new sleeping routine. Every child is different and will respond differently. Understand what is working for your child. If needed, get advice from your paediatrician who can explain this change to your child and also tell them how they can deal with your absence on their own.