31 July, 2012

Co-sleeping, speech development and bilingualism

Most of the times we tend to pay all our attention to the experiences that occur while we are awake, which is absolutely logical given the fact that we are diurnal animals, but scientist and sleep specialist know well that what happens while we sleep or during the process of going to sleep has a deep impact on our lives and the way our babies develop. When it comes to “tucking in” protocols, one can find some extreme views in many cultures, and tons of non-requested advice, mostly when the first baby comes. Even literature can be full of opposite experts. If we go quickly through the Spanish case, you can find supporters of “teaching” the baby how to sleep in a very strict military way (Dr. Estivill), or focusing everything on the needs of the baby at bedtime, being understanding, and in my opinion maybe too permissive in the way they suggest to educate children (Dr. Carlos Gonz├ílez, www.dormirsinllorar.com). In our case we as a couple listened to some of our close relative´s advice, then read about the subject and then followed strictly what our guts told us, not paying attention to anything else and so far we are comfortable with it, despite the sleep deprivation that we are going through (mainly my dear wife to be honest). Our method is very close to the second example in terms of needs of the baby, and like everything, with some peculiarities.
Our little boy (2 years and 3 months old now) has spent more or less 15 months in our room, sleeping in a crib right next to our bed, like it was an extension of it, because we removed one of the sides of the crib (they call it moses cradle) .He´s been able to creep up to his Mum´s breasts and serve himself during the night. Breastfeeding is also full of myth and uninformed statements. One can never follow what people or family tells you, even if it´s well-intentioned, otherwise you´d go crazy. I think the best way here again is following your own beliefs and what instinct tells you. Nowadays our little man still clings to Mum´s boobies for a while from time to time.
After the first 15 months we moved him to his own room, but we stay with him until he falls asleep every night. He usually asks us to stay with him, and specially Mum because he loves to fall asleep either next to or even on her, but also wants papi to tell him a story (in English of course), so we do it as long as we are both at home. This is no big deal for us, as many would think, in fact it´s one of the best moments of the day, and he´s slowly but progressively less dependent on Mum to fall sleep, as he did it sucking before and talking now.
Up to this point speech development was not in the picture, but since the last big spurt occurred, bedtime is the moment when he recalls all the events of the day and talks about it. He can easily spend 45min or 1 hour talking before turning in. We have perceived a huge evolution on his speech lately and I believe part of this development is related to these conversations. You can usually hear that he´s integrated a new term in his regular vocabulary after one of those night chats in which the term was frequently used.
In our case, my intervention in the process, and therefore the exposure to the minority language is limited, since after 3 or 4 stories, he kind of falls semi-asleep, and I slither out of the room as quiet as a ninja attacking the enemy town. Many times after 5 or 6 minutes he starts talking again with Mum (in Spanish now, the majority language) for maybe another 20 min before he finally gives in, so exposure to Spanish wins like always…Then Mum either falls asleep with him or she wakes up and comes back to our room. I don´t know if this routine will cause him a trauma or he´ll become a serial killer because we are doing something extremely wrong, but we see this is working quite well for the family so far and we feel it´s the most natural way for us. In case of bilingual families, I think these night dialogs (if they occur) are one of the most powerful tools to reinforce the acquisition of the minority language, overall if Mum is the one speaking it.
I know these type of routines are very personal and very deep-rooted in the culture of every country, and that there are babies that fall fast asleep the moment they touch the sheets, but in our case, forcing him to sleep alone would be not only detrimental for him but a big loss in terms of quality time and speech development, plus we wouldn´t stand being in the next room, while he is crying and calling us.


  1. Sleeping with babies is such an interesting topic and how it differs around the world. When my daughter was newborn we at first kept her in a moses basket next to our bed and she was so zonked from the birth that was fine. But after about 4 weeks she started to cry and I tried keeping her in with me one night... it was amazing! For the first time we both got a great night's sleep. She was able to feed in the night without even waking me up! Of course I was worried about cot death, smothering her, and so on, so I did some research. There are lots of conflicting opinions, but the book '3 in a bed' really reassured me that what we were doing was safe so long as we were sensible and didn't drink or smoke. I know co-sleeping is not for everyone, but for our family, everything after that was so much easier :-)

  2. I totally agree with you. I think the key point is to find the system that works for your family and then adapt the details when changes come. We´ve detected different phases that our boy´s been through. Sometimes he is extremely dependent and needs to be clung to Mum´s neck all the time, and after one month he sleeps more independently, barely wakes up during the night, and he even goes back to sleep without Mum´s intervention, which was unthinkable before. I think the only "bad way" is sticking to a very strict patern, no matter what the needs of the baby or the family are, which is something that some "experts" recommend. We beleive that raising babies is all about changes and adaptation.