There’s been a bit of a discussion in the comments section of my Ferber vs. Co-sleeping post. My views on this have evolved some since I first posted about it, because I’ve been reading more and more about science studies on babies and sleeping and in general the nature vs. nurture argument. I recently wrote a long response to a visitor and I just wanted to comment on this here because the discussion there has gotten interesting. Here is an excerpt from my comment:
I may not be a sleep expert, but I do base my opinions in scientific research. One of the things that bothers me most about all of this is the assumption that babies and children are so malleable. They are, of course, malleable to some degree. But they are also born with inborn needs and desires and personality just based on their biological makeup. And at the age of an infant, most evidence suggests that babies do not have the ability to reason. They are responding to base instincts, that in an adult’s words would sound something like “I feel uncomfortable about XYZ so I’m going to cry to relay this information to someone who will remedy the situation.”
One source that I use to derive many of my parenting opinions is a book that I think is very critical to parenting but is not considered a parenting book: The Blank Slate, by Steven Pinker. Pinker is a biologist, and the book is all about the current state of scientific evidence over the nature vs. nurture controversy. You really need to read the whole book to understand the end, but the chapters at the end are wonderfully insightful, including the chapter on children. Pretty much my opinion these days (and it has evolved since my original post of this topic) is that whether or not you use the Ferber sleep method, it is not going to affect your kid’s development or personality. This may be different from what I implied in my post, because I’m not as concerned about letting the baby cry affecting the emotional development of the kid. I certainly think that co-sleeping will help a baby to feel secure and confident, and thus to explore the world knowing that there is a safe haven with his parents. There is research evidence of this that has shown such things as boys having more self-confidence and girls being less discomforted by physical closeness later in life. (Visit this page to read about this and then if you want, go and find the real studies they cite.) But I don’t think a kid who is “Ferberized” will necessarily exhibit low self-esteem. In my opinion, if there’s something you can do that will help with security and confidence, you should want to. But I do acknowledge there are plenty of good reasons not to – the one that strikes me most is if parents are so exhausted that they will snap at the kids and it will further hamper the feelings of security.
Your choice of sleep method will certainly, however, affect your day to day home life – how much sleep you and the baby get, how comfortable you are or how stressed your heart is from hearing baby cry, and your baby’s physical stress levels. Research definitely has shown that co-sleeping leads to more regular breathing in the baby (visit the site mentioned previously or this page by Dr. Sears or this article on Dr. McKenna’s research)
This is an excerpt from the article on Dr. McKenna’s work, which I didn’t include in the comment:
Human babies may have evolved to sleep best-and perhaps most safely – when they snooze next to a parent rather than alone in a crib. Evidence for this contention comes from a pilot study directed by James J. McKenna of Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., and Sarah Mosko of the University of California, Irvine, Medical Center,
“When sleeping alone, babies sleep too soon, too long, and too hard,” McKenna asserts. “Contact with a parent’s body helps to regulate an infant’s physiology throughout the night.”