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Editor's note: This essay describes a parent's expirience with and research into bed sharing. To learn more about the American Academy of Pediatrics safe sleep recommendations please visit the AAP.


Like many parents, we began co-sleeping by necessity. Most women find that they bring the baby into the bed to nurse, and keep falling asleep; it's easier and safer to plan for bed-sharing than for it to happen inadvertently. We were a little different, however.

Because of reflux and other health problems, my son had trouble gaining weight. A different pediatrician probably would have called it “failure to thrive." We wanted him to nurse often at night, and sleeping next to me seemed a good way to do that.

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It worked. Sleep reserchers Mosko, Richard, and McKenna proved that arousals are greater between bed-sharing pairs, meaning that these co-sleeping mothers and babies half-wake more often than mothers and babies who sleep apart. My son and I used these arousals to latch him to the breast more often. As time went on, he learned to latch himself; this is common among bed-sharing pairs.

In fact, James McKenna of the Notre Dame Mother-Baby Sleep Laboratory argues that frequent arousals are good for babies, because they promote what's really important in the first year of a baby's life: breastfeeding.

This isn't to bash formula feeding. Far from it. But Dr. McKenna, like Dr. Bill Sears, argues that breastmilk is best for babies. And when you talk about safe co-sleeping, you talk about breastfeeding.

Co-sleeping promotes breastfeeding

Dr. McKenna claims that babies will “breastfeed more often, with less disruption to mother's sleep" when bed-sharing. This, he says, “can also be translated into less disease and morbidity." Basically, the more babies breastfeed, the more likely they are to reap the benefits of breastfeeding, which include, according to a position paper of the journal Pediatrics, improved developmental outcomes, a decrease in the incidence and severity of numerous infectious diseases (including among middle-class populations of developed countries), a decrease in SIDS and lower risk of diabetes.

Of course, breastfeeding is a choice. But it's a choice many mothers are making. In 2013, according to the CDC, 81.1% of American mothers began to breastfeed, and 60.6% were still breastfeeding at six months. In the US, only 12.8% of parents bed-share (though 45% of infants spent some time in an adult bed in the last two weeks).

That could account for the precipitous drop between breastfeeding initiated and breastfeeding continued at six months: no one wants to get up, go to a crib, pick up a baby, nurse her, put her back to sleep, and go back to bed every two hours, the normally cited time between breastfed baby feeds.

Formula, according to “Night Waking: Will I Ever Get a Good Night's Sleep Again?" forms larger curds in the baby's stomach. This means it take longer to digest, and hence formula-fed babies can go longer between feedings (the typical four-hour schedule) than their breastfed counterparts.

Basically, the closer you sleep to your baby, the easier it is to breastfeed. As Dr. McKenna says, “Proximity, of course, makes it more likely and possible that more interaction will take place between the mother and infants during the night, including more breastfeeding." Mother and baby will move towards each other, even in sleep; babies—like my son—will learn to latch themselves. (This is partly why, according to breastfeeding website Kellymom, mother and baby both tend to get more sleep while co-sleeping). All this nursing helps maintain mother's milk supply, especially if she works and is away from baby for significant amounts of time every day.

There's even a name for this: reverse cycling. Basically, when baby is separated from mother all day, he makes up for it by nursing more at night than he eats during the day. This can be frustrating, since baby's up nursing over, and over, and over, but lets baby get the nutrients he needs, and the mama time he craves.

Co-sleeping is biologically normal

As attachment expert Tami Breazeale says in “Co-Sleeping," the practice of mothers and babies sleeping separately is both a recent and a Western one. Dr. McKenna notes in “Co-sleeping Around the World" that “for the overwhelming majority of mothers and babies around the globe today, co-sleeping is an unquestioned practice."

This remains the case in much of Southern Europe, Asia, Africa, and Central and South America. Some cultures bed-share; others co-sleep with a bassinet or hammock in the room. Using CDC data from 1981, McKenna says that 68% of American babies co-sleep at some point, and 26% “always" or “almost always."

Breazeale notes that co-sleeping is almost 100% in “classic studies which included more than 200 cultures… including the Japanese, the Korean, the Phillipino, the Eskimo Indian, the !Kung San of Africa, and the natives of Okinowa." She also says that only 48% of kibuttzum children, who saw their parents for four hours a day and slept with age-mates, had a secure attachment to their mothers.

The human baby, McKenna says, depends on care from the mother. For the infant, co-sleeping represents “a form of expected physiological regulation and support." Indeed, he says:

“Infants require this contact and proximity especially because of nutritional needs (breastfeeding) but also because of the immaturity of their thermo-regulatory, immune, and cardio-respiratory systems, in addition to their dependence on touch, all systems closely tied together to promote efficient functioning of all of the infant's immature organs and the central nervous system in general."

The infant breathing system, both voluntary and autonomic, is not fully matured at birth, and especially functions immaturely during sleep. The human infant's physiology, McKenna says, “is not designed to function optimally outside the context by which usually the breastfeeding mother can compensate for the infants developmental (neurological) vulnerabilities." Basically, babies are biologically hardwired to sleep next to a breastfeeding mother, with whom they can sync breathing, heart rate, and more.

Who gets more sleep?

According to Kellymom, generally the Internet go-to for breastfeeding information, co-sleeping parents get more sleep than parents who don't share the same sleep surface. And who doesn't want more sleep? Families who sleep together end up sharing the same sleep rhythms. Dr. Jay Gordon recounts James McKenna watching mother-father-baby trios at the Notre Dame sleep laboratory fall in and out of sleep at the same time: stirring and moving simultaneously.

Researchers at East Tennessee State University proved, with 33 first-time mother-baby dyads, that while breastfed babies got less total sleep, breastfeeding mothers got more over a 24-hour period. Both mother and baby remained in a lighter stage of sleep, enabling arousal to nurse, and acting as a protective buffer against adverse sleep events. The researchers have proven what mothers have known since the dawn of time: co-sleeping mamas get more sleep.

Is co-sleeping safe?

A 2014 study in the journal Pediatrics, claims that 69% of infants who died of SIDS were bed-sharing at the time. However, the study doesn't account for the type of sleep surface; couches and recliners are perilously dangerous for sleeping infants. Nor did it evaluate each situation for a safe sleep environment. Were there heavy pillows and blankets around the infant? Was entrapment between mattress and wall an issue? The study doesn't distinguish between responsible co-sleepers and parents inebriated with alcohol or drugs. Nor does it account for cigarette smoking in the home (a known SIDS risk factor). So while the study might immediately frighten bed-sharing parents, there are too many holes to make a determination of the data.

A British study did find that bed-sharing was still a SIDS risk when the parents didn't smoke, drink, or use drugs. But again, the same problems exist with the study. Safe sleep environment and sleep location make a crucial difference when determining the safety of co-sleeping.

And co-sleeping is safe. McKenna and Gettler say because breastfeeding is a protective factor against SIDS, “safe bed-sharing may actually exert a protective effect against SIDS." Mothers sleeping next to their babies, they argue, and breastfeeding, is “an evolved suite of behaviors tracing humans' phylogentic roots as both primates and mammals."

We evolved to breastfeed and co-sleep, and evolution wouldn't favor a practice that led to the sudden and inexplicable death of infants. Dr. Sears agrees, and notes that countries with high co-sleeping rates have the lowest rates of SIDS. He also says that “infants who sleep near to parents have more stable temperatures, regular heart rhythms, and fewer long pauses in breathing compared to babies who sleep alone. This means baby sleeps physiologically safer."

The American Academy of Pediatrics actually recommends co-sleeping, defined as the caregiver sleeping in the same room as the infant, albeit on a separate sleeping surface from the parent. This, they've found, reduces the risk of SIDS. They still recommend against bed-sharing, but, as McKenna and Gettler note, “epidemiological studies reveal inconsistent findings as to whether or not, to what degree, or under what circumstances bed-sharing represents a consistent risk factor for SIDS."

What is a safe co-sleeping environment?

James McKenna details, on his website, what makes for a safe bed-sharing setup. First, the mattress must be dropped to the floor, making it only a few inches high. It also must be pulled away from the wall, to prevent movement and entrapment. Parents should dress warmly, to use as few covers as possible, and the covers they use should be light and airy, not heavy comforters. One pillow is allotted per person, and the bed must remain free of toys, stuffed animals, etc. He recommends that other children and pets remain out of the bed, and that siblings certainly never sleep next to the baby.

When our new baby came home from the hospital, we had already dropped our mattress and pulled it away from the wall. We had a queen-sized mattress with a twin-sized sidecar, because we knew how many people were getting in there. Each person was allotted one pillow. My husband slept on the single bed, and in the middle of the night, our older sons, then two and four, crept in to cuddle with him. I slept on the far side of the queen bed with the baby cradled on my arm. We slept with light covers up to our waists.

You'll find as many co-sleeping environments as you find families. However, by and large, planned bed-sharers—as opposed to those who bed-share accidentally, say by falling asleep while nursing—follow the rules. They may sneak in an extra pillow, or let their dog in bed, but they mostly adhere to the common sense guidelines laid out by Dr. McKenna.

Is co-sleeping right for you?

Most importantly, co-sleeping is safe. But it also affords more sleep for a breastfeeding mother, remains the biological norm in many parts of the world, and actually encourages nursing—a protective effect against SIDS. While Dr. McKenna recommends against bottle-feeding mothers bed-sharing, since they don't seem to share the same biological rhythms as their babies, for nursing mothers, co-sleeping seems the best choice.

As long as the family maintains a safe sleep environment, families should be empowered to make their own decisions. If mama and daddy are both in agreement, co-sleeping is probably the best choice for their family. And that's something we can all sleep on.

[This post was originally published October 14, 2016.]

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Jessica Simpson's life seems perfect. She has three beautiful kids, a wildly successful career, a seemingly solid marriage...she has it all, at least as far as we can see. But recent revelations prove that no one really knows what anyone else is secretly dealing with—and Jessica, by her own admission, has been struggling with alcohol issues.

The singer-turned-business-woman recently sat down with TODAY's Hoda Kotb, and it will air on NBC's TODAY Wednesday morning.

"I had started a spiral and I couldn't catch up with myself…and that was with alcohol," Jessica explained. "I would say it openly to everyone. 'I know. I know, I'll stop soon. I'll cut back'," Jessica continued when asked if she realized things were getting out of control. "For me to cut back, like I'm an all or nothing girl, and so I didn't know it was a problem until it was...I completely didn't recognize myself…I always had a glitter cup. It was always filled to the rim with alcohol."

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She's hardly alone. The rise of #winemom phenomenon is well documented and many parents struggle with substance abuse problems. But Simpson's story proves there is a way to get your life back.

Simpson quit drinking in 2017 after she found herself unable to get her kids ready for a Halloween party. She says she'd started drinking before 7:30 in the morning, before accompanying her husband, Eric Johnson, to a school assembly for their oldest daughter. Later that night she was unable to get her kids dressed in their Halloween costumes. The next morning she was so ashamed. Feeling like she had failed her kids she slept until they left the house, then got up and drank some more.

That episode was her tipping point. She quit drinking (as did her husband, Eric Johnson, who supports her in her sobriety.)



As parents, we know how overwhelming the demands can be...and how easy it is to sink into habits that don't ultimately serve us well. For Jessica, the way to heal was to sever her relationship with alcohol.

"I had to give [drinking] up," Jessica said. "I'm not going to miss another day. I'm not going to miss another Halloween. I'm not going to miss another Christmas. I'm going to be present."

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Mamas expecting babies this month are a special bunch—and not just because it's statistically unique to have a birthday during the shortest month of the year.

Science shows babies born in February already have advantages with everything from physical growth to creativity to even presidential elections. (It's no coincidence that President's Day is this month!)

Here are six reasons why February birthdays are so special:

1. They may be bound for the NBA

According to a 2006 study from Harvard researchers that examined data from 21,000 children around the world (including the southern hemisphere), those born in February were taller and weighed more at the age of 7 than their friends who were born during other times of the year. (Further proof: Michael Jordan celebrates his birthday on February 17.)

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2. Or on their way to a doctorate

The same study also showed winter-born babies performed best in a series of intelligence tests. As the researchers concluded, “The overall pattern of findings is that winter/spring babies are both 'bigger' on the anthropometric variables and 'smarter' on the selected neurocognitive variables."

3. They also have artsy sides

February babies are either born under the Aquarius or Pisces star signs—which are linked to the traits of originality and creativity. But even if you aren't one for astrology, a study complied from the United Kingdom's Office for National Statistics found that people born in February are more likely to be artists.

4. Which may set them up for stardom

Speaking of the zodiac, one study published in the Journal of Social Sciences found a disproportionate number of celebrities claim the Aquarius star sign. That includes everyone from Bob Marley to Jennifer Aniston to Shakira. It's also one of the most popular star signs for American presidents—including Abraham Lincoln (February 12) and Ronald Reagan (February 6).

5. Or, at least, satisfying careers

But don't feel bad for babies born in the latter half of the month: A survey from CareerBuilder.com found Pisces adults were among the “most satisfied" with their jobs. (They also have legs up on the competition if they ever find their way into a presidential election.)

6. They may have the rarest birthday of all

Babies on their way this year are out of luck. But, come 2020, a special group of newborns will have the distinction of being born on Leap Day, February 29. Sure, they won't get to mark their birthday for another four years, but they do get a prime pick of perks when that day does roll back around!

Snuggle up with that newborn while you can, mama. Once your February baby gets going, they'll be hard to stop.

[Originally published February 2, 2018]

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As the world continues to mourn father of four Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, many are remembering Bryant for his role not only as a basketball great but also as a #girldad.

That is how SportsCenter anchor Elle Duncan remembers him. On ESPN this week she recalled meeting Bryant back in 2018 when she was 8 months pregnant.

She says Bryant asked her "How are you? How close are you? What are you having?" and when she told him she was expecting a girl he gave her a high five and said, "Girls are the best."

Instagram post by SportsCenter • Jan 28, 2020 at 4:59am UTC

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The two talked about raising girls, with Duncan asking Bryant for parenting advice. She also asked him if he and his wife Vanessa were going to have any more kids.

"He said that his wife Vanessa really wanted to try again for a boy, but was sort of jokingly concerned that it would be another girl. I was like, 'Four girls, are you joking? What would you think, how would you feel?'" Duncan recalls

She continues: "Without hesitation, he said, 'I would have five more girls if I could. I'm a girl dad."

As Duncan noted on Instagram, she couldn't have known that Bryant, then a father of three, would welcome another baby girl, little Capri Kobe, in 2019. All she knew was that she was impressed by this man who loved his girls so much.

"I'm glad to have had that brief time with him. I'm so sorry that 4th girl won't know her dad," Duncan writes.

During his 2018 conversation with Duncan, Bryant remarked on the athletic abilities of his middle daughter, Gianna, telling Duncan she was better than he'd been at her age.

Tragically, Bryant and Gianna died en route to a basketball game where she would have played and he would have coached.

"When I reflect on this tragedy," Duncan said on ESPN, "I suppose that the only small source of comfort for me is knowing that he died doing what he loved the most: being a dad. Being a girl dad."

Our hearts are with the Bryant family this week, and all the families of the victims of the helicopter crash.

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People often say that having a second child doesn't much add to the workload of parenting. There's no steep learning curve: You already know how to make a bottle, install a car seat and when to call the pediatrician. And you're already doing laundry, making lunches and supervising bath time—so throwing a second kid in the tub isn't a big deal.

Except that it is. Having a second child doesn't just mean attaching a second seat to your stroller. Adding a whole new person to your family is more complicated than that, and it's okay to say that it is hard.

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A study out of Australia disputes the popular idea that after making the transition from people to parents, making the jump from one child to two is easy. The researchers found that having a second child puts a lot of pressure on parents' time and their mental health, and mothers bear the brunt of the burden.

When looking at heterosexual couples, the researchers found that before a first child is born both partners feel equal amounts of "time pressure," but once the child is born, that pressure grows, more so for mothers than fathers.

Basically, parents feel psychological stress when they feel they don't have enough time to do all they need to. One baby makes both parents feel more stress, but mom's increase is more than dad's. When a second baby comes, that time pressure doubles for both parents, and since mom already had more than dad, there's now a gulf between them.

The researchers behind this study—Leah Ruppanner, Francisco Perales and Janeen Baxter—say that after a first child is born, a mother's mental health improves, but after a second child, it declines.

Writing for The Conversation, the trio explains:

"Second children intensify mothers' feelings of time pressure. We showed that if mothers did not have such intense time pressures following second children, their mental health would actually improve with motherhood. Fathers get a mental health boost with their first child, but also see their mental health decline with the second child. But, unlike mothers, fathers' mental health plateaus over time. Clearly, fathers aren't facing the same chronic time pressure as mothers over the long-term."

The researchers say that even when mothers reduce their work time, the time pressure is still there and that "mothers cannot shoulder the time demands of children alone."

Adding a second child to the family isn't just a matter of throwing a few more socks in the laundry: It means a schedule that is already stretched is now filling up with twice as many appointments, twice as many school functions. Mothers only have 24 hours in the day, and as much as we wish we could add a couple extra hours per child, we can't.

Time simply can't change to help us, but society can. As the researchers noted, when time pressure is removed, motherhood actually improves mental health.

We love our lives, we love our kids, we love parenting, but there is only so much of our day to go around.

Ruppanner, Perales and Baxter suggest that if society were to help mothers out more, our mental health (and therefore our children's wellbeing as well) would improve even after two or three kids. "Collectivising childcare – for example, through school buses, lunch programs and flexible work policies that allow fathers' involvement – may help improve maternal mental health," the researchers explain, adding that "it is in the national interest to reduce stressors so that mothers, children and families can thrive."

Whether you're talking about Australia or America, that last bit is so true, but this research proves that the myth about second-time parenthood isn't. Even if you already have the skills and the hand-me-downs, having a second child isn't as easy as it is sometimes made out to be.

We can love our children and our lives and still admit when things aren't easy.

[This post was first published December 18, 2018.]


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