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Note: I use the terms “co-sleeping” and “bed-sharing” interchangeably except where otherwise indicated.


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.

It worked. 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. It’s been associated with a slight increase in intelligence (a claim now controversial), and numerous maternal health benefits, including a decrease in breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and hip fractures in postmenopausal women.

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, is a certain protection against 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, we can ignore the public service campaigns. 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.

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Unstructured play is play without predetermined rules of the game. There are no organized teams, uniforms, coaches or trainers. It is spontaneous, often made-up on the spot, and changeable as the day goes on. It is the kind of play you see when puppies chase each other around a yard in endless circles or a group of kids play for hours in a fort they created out of old packing boxes.

Unstructured play is fun—no question about it—but research also tells us that it is critically important for the development of children's bodies and brains.

One of the best ways to encourage unstructured play in young children is by providing open-ended toys, or toys that can be used multiple ways. People Toy Company knows all about that. Since 1977, they've created toys and products designed to naturally encourage developmental milestones—but to kids, it all just feels like play.

Here are five reasons why unstructured play is crucial for your children—

1. It changes brain structure in important ways

In a recent interview on NPR's Morning Edition, Sergio Pellis, Ph.D., an expert on the neuroscience of play noted that play actually changes the structure of the developing brain in important ways, strengthening the connections of the neurons (nerve cells) in the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain considered to be the executive control center responsible for solving problems, making plans and regulating emotions.

Because unstructured play involves trying out different strategies without particular goals or serious consequences, children and other animals get to practice different activities during play and see what happens. When Dr. Pellis compared rats who played as pups with rats that did not, he found that although the play-deprived rats could perform the same actions, the play-experienced rats were able to react to their circumstances in a more flexible, fluid and swift fashion.

Their brains seemed more "plastic" and better able to rewire as they encountered new experiences.

Hod Lipson, a computer scientist at Cornell sums it up by saying the gift of play is that it teaches us how to deal with the unexpected—a critically important skill in today's uncertain world.

2. Play activates the entire neocortex

We now know that gene expression (whether a gene is active or not) is affected by many different things in our lives, including our environment and the activities we participate in. Jaak Panksepp, Ph.D., a Professor at the University of Washington studied play in rats earning him the nickname of the "rat tickler."

He found that even a half hour of play affected the activity of many different genes and activated the outer part of the rats' brains known as the neocortex, the area of the brain used in higher functions such as thinking, language and spatial reasoning. We don't know for sure that this happens in humans, but some researchers believe that it probably does.

3. It teaches children to have positive interaction with others

It used to be thought that animal play was simply practice so that they could become more effective hunters. However, Dr. Panksepp's study of play in rats led him to the conclusion that play served an entirely different function: teaching young animals how to interact with others in positive ways. He believed that play helps build pro-social brains.

4. Children who play are often better students

The social skills acquired through play may help children become better students. Research has found that the best predictor of academic performance in the eighth grade was a child's social skills in the third grade. Dr. Pellis notes that "countries where they actually have more recess tend to have higher academic performance than countries where recess is less."

5. Unstructured play gets kids moving

We all worry that our kids are getting too little physical activity as they spend large chunks of their time glued to their electronic devices with only their thumbs getting any exercise. Unstructured play, whether running around in the yard, climbing trees or playing on commercial play structures in schools or public parks, means moving the whole body around.

Physical activity helps children maintain a healthy weight and combats the development of Type 2 diabetes—a condition all too common in American children—by increasing the body's sensitivity to the hormone insulin.

It is tempting in today's busy world for parents and kids to fill every minute of their day with structured activities—ranging from Spanish classes before school to soccer and basketball practice after and a full range of special classes and camps on the weekends and summer vacation. We don't remember to carve out time for unstructured play, time for kids to get together with absolutely nothing planned and no particular goals in mind except having fun.

The growing body of research on the benefits of unstructured play suggests that perhaps we should rethink our priorities.

Not sure where to get started? Here are four People Toy Company products that encourage hours of unstructured play.

1. People Blocks Zoo Animals

These colorful, magnetic building blocks are perfect for encouraging unstructured play in children one year and beyond. The small pieces fit easily in the hands of smaller children, and older children will love creating their own shapes and designs with the magnetic pieces.

People Blocks Zoo Animals 17 Piece Set, People Toy Company, $34.99

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This article was sponsored by People Toy Company. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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So many parents wish there was a way we could add more hours to the day. Unfortunately, we're stuck with just 24 of them, but we can try to make the most of the time we've got. One way more and more working mamas are maximizing the time we do have is by cutting out the commute and working from home.

It can add an hour or two back to your day, and (depending on your hours and circumstances) it can even make childcare arrangements easier. And with more big companies offering legit remote opportunities, it's easier than ever for parents to find these opportunities. As Motherly recently reported, Amazon is on a bit of a remote hiring spree ahead of the holiday season, and it's not the only one.

Williams-Sonoma is currently seeking Seasonal Customer Service Associates to work from home. It is looking for remote workers in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Phoenix, Reno, Tulsa, and near Raleigh, Columbus, Braselton, and Oklahoma City.

These work-from-home positions are part of Williams-Sonoma's plan to hire about 3,500 associates for its Customer Care Centers. The company says a "significant portion of positions" for the Customer Care Centers will be work-from-home. They're looking for remote workers who live no more than an hour and a half away from one of the Customer Care Centers as "on occasion our Work From Home associates must come to the Care Center for meetings and training with advanced notice," the company notes in the job postings.


The positions are very similar to what Amazon is looking for: Basically customer service reps who can take inbound calls to help shoppers with orders, returns and issues with finding products or deliveries of products. Williams-Sonoma is looking for people who can work 30 - 50 hours per week, and the pay is listed at $12 per hour.

Another perk is a 40% discount on most merchandise, which great because the Williams-Sonoma umbrella includes brands like Pottery Barn and West Elm as well.

Sounds like this could be a great gig for a mama with customer service skills and a high-speed internet connection.

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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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Plenty of modern motherhood paraphernalia was made to be seen—think breastfeeding pillows that seamlessly blend into living room decor or diaper bags that look like stylish purses. The breast pump though, usually isn't on that list.

It's traditionally been used in the privacy of our homes and hotel rooms in the best case scenarios, and in storage closets and restrooms in the worst circumstances. For a product that is very often used by mothers because they need to be in public spaces (like work and school), the breast pump lives a very private life.

Thankfully, some high profile moms are changing that by posting their pump pics on Instagram. These influential mamas aren't gonna hide while they pump, and may change the way the world (and product designers) see this necessary accessory.

1. Gail Simmons 

Top Chef's Gail Simmons looked amazing on the red carpet at the 2018 Emmys, but a few days after the award show the cookbook author, television host and new mama gave the world a sneak peek into her backstage experience. It wasn't all glam for Gail, who brought her pump and hands-free bra along on the big night.

We're thankful to these women for showing that breast pumps belong in public and in our Instagram feeds.

[Update, September 21, 2018: This post was originally published on May 31, 2018, but has been updated to include a recent Instagram post by Gail Simmons.]

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I was feeling off the other day. Something wasn't right, and I couldn't seem to put my finger on it or kick it for that matter. As the day progressed, it didn't get much better. It was a typical day for us, with the usual 2-year-old meltdowns and chaos that happens when you have two babies close in age.

Nothing was out of the norm, but I just wasn't feeling completely like myself. And right after getting my daughters to bed, when I was alone with my thoughts, the feelings intensified. Through the silence, I heard a soft and familiar voice criticizing my mothering, telling me "You don't do anything right." "You are failing your kids."

My anxiety was attacking me, knowing I am weakest on my own. But I knew what I needed to do. So I took out my phone and dialed, listening to the ringing on the other end.

Waiting for the person who always comforts me.

Who always makes everything better.

Who has the magic words when it comes to calming my soul.

"Hi." She answered the phone.

"Hi Mom," I said, as my voice cracked. I can mask my pain for everyone—but her.

"Everything is going to be okay," she reassured me from over the phone as I broke down to her. I hung up feeling so much better. Because—truly—there is nothing in this entire world like a mother's reassurance. I know that not everyone has this kind of relationship with her mother. That, I am indeed one of the lucky ones—but we can all hope to become this for our own children.

And you, mama, contract that magic right when you give birth.

This magic doesn't make you perfect and all-knowing. No, you don't have all the answers. No one has that. You just need to be you—your sweet baby's mama. That title comes with that last push or lift out of the womb. It could also come if your baby is handed over through adoption or surrogacy.

It doesn't matter the means, the magic comes the second your baby is placed into your arms. It comes with a force so strong it leaves a mark on your heart. It transforms you into a mother. You are enough just by being that person who opens her arms and accepts this baby as yours forever.

Your soft-skinned newborn is placed on your chest, shrieking, tears dripping down her cheeks and onto her pout. The little muscles in her chin trembling with such force, her face is on the verge of turning bright red. Then you cuddle her close and feed her. "Everything is going to be okay." She finds peace in the warmth of your body, her skin on your skin.

There is nothing like a mother's reassurance.

When your baby becomes a toddler, and he falls and gets his first scrape, screaming, because it's a new kind of painful sensation—an open wound. "Everything is going to be okay," you say to slow his tears and scoop him up into your arms. You clean that scratch out and apply Neosporin.

You put a Band-Aid on, sealed with a kiss, and wipe away his tears. You will always be there to pick him up when he falls—literally, now...and figuratively, in the future when he is grown.

There is nothing like a mother's reassurance.

When she goes to her first day of preschool, and you have to separate from each other. She cries as you hold your tears back, as you assure her, "Everything is going to be okay. Mommy always comes back." And of course, you do, and you hold onto those words yourself—repeating them to stay strong.

Because when you are together, everything is right again. You let her go because it's the right thing to do.

There is nothing like a mother's reassurance.

When he gets his heart broken for the first time, he will feel like the only person that truly knew him has abandoned him. He'll feel as if he will never find that again. He may not have the proper coping mechanisms yet to deal with that level of pain.

He comes to you in tears over losing the love of his life. You comfort him and assure him "Everything is going to be okay." Because you know this as fact because he is the love of your life. And, one day, if he has a child—he will feel the same way.

There is nothing like a mother's reassurance.

When life kicks her in the rear-end. When she is struggling to find her place in this wild world, feeling so alone. When she needs support. She doesn't ask you directly, but your mom intuition whispers to you, pulling on that mark on your heart, and so—you make the call.

"Everything is going to be okay," you say into the phone. The sky won't fall and Chicken Little will not witness the world ending because she can't figure it all out right this second. Finding her place in this world will take time, but it will happen. Right now, and for always, you are her safe place, her landing pad.

One day our babies may have babies of their own. When they are sad they will say, "Everything is going to be okay."

They will know that sometimes all our children need is reassurance from us—their safe place. Their soul-soother. Their heart.

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