Across the globe, parents face a myriad of choices when it comes to child rearing. Parents are often undecided on what to choose in regards to choices such as co-sleeping or not, breast milk or formula, and implementing authoritative or permissive discipline. Culture plays a profound influence on child rearing. This paper examines cross-cultural issues related to child rearing, specifically, the topic of sleeping arrangements.
In many western societies, mothers often sleep separately from their children. Gettler & MacKenna (2011) tested mother-infant sleep proximity with breastfeeding in a laboratory setting. They found that bed-sharing is common in Western countries. Also, they found that breastfeeding mums often co-sleep depending on the frequency of feeds per night, Besides, a separate study by McKenna & Volpe (2007) examined issues of mothers and infants sleeping within proximity to each other in the Western context. The authors get detailed narratives of mothers from America, Great Britain, Canada, and Australia. Their findings reveal that the sleeping arrangements were determined by the needs of the infants, needs of the fathers and mothers to get more sleep, and method of feeding.
Most mothers who sleep far from their infants often night-walk to go and breastfeed their infants. McKenna (2007) examines night-walking in breastfeeding mums and infants in Western-industrialized countries. The author determines that various aspects are in play. For example, the number of breastfeeds reduces if the mother is sleeping away from the infant (McKenna, 2007). Also, night-walking are determined by breastfeeding frequencies since some infants are heavy night feeders while others are light night feeders. Morelli, Rogoff, Oppenheim, & Goldsmith (1992) explored these cultural variations in sleeping arrangements between mother and infant. As the authors indicated, middle-class families and child care experts in America assume that the best sleeping arrangement between mothers and infants is separate. As they explained further, this separation is important for the infant's psychological development.
I got a chance to interview a friend who is from Ghana, West Africa. We can call her Sara. She said that in her culture, they believe in bed-sharing because it creates that bond between mother and infant (Sara, personal communication, June 20th, 2019). Being from Western culture, I believe in sleeping separately with the infant. My mother told me that as an infant, I slept in my separate room in my crib. She stated that she only woke up a few times during the night to breastfeed me.
After reading about the topics of sleeping arrangements between mothers and infants as well as the interview, I draw various conclusions. For example, there has been an evolution of co-sleeping practices over the years. Besides, since each culture has their beliefs on sleeping arrangements, it is best to respect the cultural values of different people regarding the topic.
Gettler, L.T., & McKenna, J.J. (2011). Evolutionary Perspectives on Mother-Infant Sleep Proximity and Breastfeeding in a Laboratory Setting. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 144: 454-462. 2011.
McKenna J. J. (2014). Night waking among breastfeeding mothers and infants: Conflict, congruence or both?. Evolution, medicine, and public health, (1), 40-47. doi:10.1093/emph/eou006
McKenna, J.J., & Volpe, L. (2007). Sleeping with Baby: An Internet-Based Sampling of Parental Experiences, Choices, Perceptions and Interpretations in a Western Industrialized Context. Infant and Child Development 16:359-385. 2007
Morelli, G., Rogoff, B., Oppenheim, D., & Goldsmith, D. (1992). Cultural variation in infants' sleeping arrangements: Questions of independence. Developmental Psychology 28(4), 604-613.
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