We're big believers in the idea that no new mom needs more stress in her life. So, a recent study from Northwestern University that says, among other things, that moms who co-sleep have higher levels of stress hormones than mothers who don't gave us pause. But is it reason enough to give up on the family bed? One attachment parenting expert says not so fast.
First, the study. To understand the effects of co-sleeping and breastfeeding on a mother's health and well-being, researchers took saliva samples from 195 women six months after giving birth and analyzed the samples for the stress hormone cortisol. Samples were collected when participants woke up, 30 minutes after waking, and at bedtime.
As the Huffington Post reports, researchers were looking for the "optimal daily rhythm" in the mothers' stress hormone levels. An optimal rhythm is one in which cortisol levels are high in the morning, to prepare a person for the day's events and stressors, and low in the evening to help us wind down. Other studies have found that this pattern is associated with less stress and better overall health.
The moms who were the least stressed out, according their hormone levels? Those who breastfed, but had their babies sleep in a crib. Moms who fared the worst? Moms who didn't breastfeed but did co-sleep. Non-breastfeeding moms also had high levels of stress hormone.
"Breastfeeding is a known stress reducer," study researcher Clarissa Simon, of the Institute for Policy Research and School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University, tells the Huffington Post. "As for sharing a bed with an infant, it may lead to sleeping problems for the mother, which would be reflected in her stress hormone levels," she adds.
However, attachment parenting expert and parenting coach Laurie Couture questions the statistics. "When moms and their children enjoy a secure attachment, there will be less life stress overall," she tells BabyZone. "Mothers have been co-sleeping and breastfeeding for millennia, as nature intended."
What's the real-mom truth? It seems to lie somewhere in the middle of these two views. "I breastfeed and have tried both with my 2-month-old—co-sleeping and putting her down in her crib. I might get a little more sleep when we co-sleep because I tend to fall asleep at the same time she does, but I also like putting her in her crib and having a few hours at night to myself." says Julia Rosenberg, of Rye, New York, who believes sleeping arrangements might not mean all that much.
"Personally, I think being a new mom is stressful. Period. No matter where your baby sleeps!"