Dr. McKenna's response to John Rosemond

"No proof of benefits of attachment parenting" is the title of a recently published syndicated column by family psychologist John Rosemond. In the article, he makes the claim that “No unbiased research has ever affirmed any emotional or behavioral advantage to parent-child cosleeping, extended breastfeeding, or baby-wearing.”

In the next line he attributes to me the following comment:

“To cite but one example, James J. McKenna, director of the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame, says that he has yet to find any benefit to parents and children sleeping together. McKenna is widely regarded as the world’s foremost authority on infant sleep issues."

Let me begin by saying I have never made such a statement.  In fact, I could never make such a statement because it is neither supported by, nor consistent with my own and others’ refereed published scientific research.

To further clarify my position, below are some empirically based findings concerning benefits and/or advantages of various forms of safe cosleeping.

The benefits of roomsharing (separate surface cosleeping) include:

  • Increased protection from SIDS.

Safer forms of bedsharing (one type of cosleeping), which I define as when all known modifiable adverse bedsharing risk factors are removed (see website for list) and breastfeeding is involved:

  • Improves management of milk supply for breastfeeding mothers, especially for those who work;
  • Increases frequency of breastfeeding sessions per night increasing protective effects;
  • Increases total sleep time for infants;
  • Diminishes nighttime crying time among infants;
  • Increases total sleep time for mothers (amongst mothers who choose to bedshare but not for reactive bed sharers);
  • Improves evaluation of sleep for breastfeeding mothers;
  • Increases chances that mothers will breastfeed over a greater number of months to better satisfy the recommendation of American Academy of Pediatrics and the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine.

Longer-term effects of routine cosleeping on toddlers (compared with solitary sleeping -- i.e., age-matched sub-groups) and young adults include:

  • Toddlers who routinely bedshared from birth exhibit greater independence when defined in terms of problem-solving capacities (when alone) and making new friends when compared with toddlers who routinely slept alone from birth, although solitary sleepers fell asleep and slept by themselves sooner than did the bedsharers, who'd done so about a year later, comparatively; 
  • Childhood bedsharing might reduce the chances of adult obesity;
  • Elementary school children living on an army base who routinely co-slept following the departure of one parent for duty were under-represented in the psychiatric populations and received higher comportment scores from teachers compared with children who did not cosleep;
  • Young adults report feeling more satisfied with their bodies, giving and receiving affection, and report more secure gender identities, compared with young adults who did not bedshare as infants or children;
  • An 18-year longitudinal study of the effects of bedsharing on stages of human development found superior cognitive abilities at 6 year of age amongst children who bedshared the most.

Anyone interested in learning more about my cosleeping and breastfeeding research and my point of view might want to download some of my articles, and/or for a quick overview, they may wish to read my essay on the Neuroanthropology blog, "Cosleeping and Biological Imperatives: Why Human Babies Do Not and Should Not Sleep Alone," which is available online here.