Different cultures have different beliefs about infant co-sleeping (babies sleeping with their parents) patterns. This paper explores the UAE and American cultural perspectives on the practice and shows that co-sleeping is a normal practice for UAE parents, but not for American parents.
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Evidence from this paper also recommends that the practice is not advisable for parents who have infants that are under one year because it can cause sudden infant deaths. However, co-sleeping (or the lack of it) does not cause any psychological or developmental problems for the children.
Small (2014) says different social and cultural issues affect human behaviour. Their influences emerge from their social and perceptual powers (such powers also spread across political and economic spheres). The sociocultural theory puts this issue into context by saying that human activities occur within a social or cultural framework. Supporters of this theory say that understanding human behaviour in a historical context is the best way to understand societal practices (Valsiner, 1987).
Valsiner (1987) (developer of the sociocultural theory) affirms this fact through the “genetic development law.” Using the above context, this paper explains how social and cultural issues affect societal perspectives on infant sleeping patterns. This framework shows how the same issues affect early childhood development because many researchers affirm intergenerational cultural influences on children’s development (Small, 2014; Valsiner, 1987).
However, since early childhood development is a broad topic, evidence from this paper focuses on how these issues affect sleeping arrangements across different cultures. I choose this study focus because understanding societal sleeping behaviours is important in comprehending people’s mental and physical health. Moreover, people spend about one-third of their lives asleep (Small, 2014). Therefore, it is crucial to know how different cultures perceive infant sleeping patterns.
Description of the Research Issue through Theories and Significant Terms
Different cultural perceptions of infant sleeping patterns highlight why cross-cultural research studies are complex. These complexities make it difficult to understand how children develop behaviours that show their social adaptations. Although many societies know that mother-baby relations are important, these bonds usually show the environmental conditions that govern them.
Relative to this observation, Small (2014) says infant personalities show maternal relationship qualities (societal norms also influence such relationships). The association between maternal relations and childhood development highlights why it is important to include the attachment theory when analysing social and cultural issues in early childhood development. As its name suggests, the theory evaluates the attachment between mothers and infants.
John Bowlby (a British scholar) introduced this theory in the mid 20th century after observing the behaviours of young children in institutional facilities (Reebye, Ross, & Jamieson, 2014). Using this theoretical framework, he identified four behavioural systems that most children develop from their attachment with their parents – exploratory system, affiliation system, fear system, and attachment system.
The exploratory system motivates infants to explore the external world, while the affiliation system motivates them to seek human companionship. Lastly, the fear system makes the infants aware that there is danger in the world, while the attachment system encourages infants to seek the caregiver’s attention. Reebye et al. (2014) says the fear system is the most important (among the four) because it helps infants to develop stable social relationships.
Comparing American and the UAE Infant Sleeping Arrangements
Infant sleeping patterns in the UAE do not differ (much) with other Arab countries. Religious and cultural issues affect many social attitudes about infant sleeping patterns in this country. For example, many parents in the UAE prefer to sleep with their babies because they perceive them as part of their body (babies come from them). Therefore, co-sleeping (mothers sleeping with their children) is a normal practice in the country.
In fact, children sleep with their parents until they stop breastfeeding (occasionally, some parents prefer to sleep with their babies for months after this event). Although some parents in the UAE do not sleep with their children in the same bed, their babies often sleep in the same room as they do. Based on the high prevalence of co-sleeping in the UAE, incidences of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) are low.
During the months of Ramadan, co-sleeping incidents decrease because sleeping patterns often change. For example, many parents sleep during the day and stay awake at night. Therefore, while societies socialise people to sleep during the night, babies rarely sleep with their parents during Ramadan. Consequently, the Ramadan season is an exception to the high prevalence of the co-sleeping culture in the UAE. This culture is also highly prevalent in the wider Asian continent.
For example, Japan, Hong Kong, Central America, and South America practice this sleeping pattern. Indeed, a study conducted by Small (2014), in about 185 non-industrialised societies, showed that about 45% of parents in these societies slept with their children in the same bed. An additional 21% of the same study sample said they sleep with their children in different beds, but within the same room (Small, 2014).
Comprehensively, Small (2014) says that about 67% of human societies allow their children to sleep with other people. In fact, the above-mentioned study showed that none of the 185 societies sampled allowed their babies to sleep in a different room from their parents (at least before the babies were one year old). A different study showed that most infants, in 172 societies around the world, slept with a caregiver during their first year, at least for a few hours in a night (Small, 2014).
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Small (2014) says North America is different from the UAE culture because it perceives sleep as a “private” affair. Anthropologist Gilda Morelli (cited in Small, 2014) recently sampled 18 households in America and found out that most of the parents slept in different rooms from their babies. Based on this fact, she says, it was unsurprising for many of the parents sampled to say they were awake most of the night (to feed their babies in a different room).
Parents who slept with their children admitted to having more sleep. However, most of them said they did so for practical reasons (such as breastfeeding). Similarly, the respondents said they slept with their children only when the infants had sleeping problems. Comprehensively, this narrative shows that while co-sleeping is normal in the UAE culture, the American culture does not support the practice.
Different cultures have different beliefs about infant co-sleeping. This paper shows that the UAE culture supports the practice, while American cultural practices do not. The UAE cultural practice is like other non-industrialised societies because many developing nations practice co-sleeping behaviours. They believe that all parents need to show affection to their children because infants are vulnerable after birth.
However, professional organisations, such as the Children’s Health Network support the American cultural practice of allowing children to sleep in separate beds (from their parents) because it reduces the incidents of SIDS (there are about 100 SID deaths in North America) (CHN, 2013). In fact, they say, it is dangerous for parents to sleep with infants in the same bed, if the children are less than one year old (CHN, 2013).
Furthermore, the Children’s Health Network says it is not advisable for parents to sleep with infants because the co-sleeping may cause withdrawal symptoms when the babies grow up (CHN, 2013). The organisation also deconstructs the myth that all babies need to sleep with their parents to become happy, or secure, in their adult years. It says both groups of children (those who co-sleep with their parents and those who do not co-sleep with their parents) have a normal childhood either way (CHN, 2013).
Based on this analysis, infant sleeping practices in America give the best training for children to sleep on their own. Comparatively, as the attachment theory suggests, the UAE culture may cause “withdrawal problems” for babies when they have to sleep on their own. Therefore, while different myths suggest different infant sleeping patterns, for different communities, this paper shows no psychological harm for children who sleep with their parents, and those that do not.
Indeed, based on the recommendations of the Children’s Health Network, I would not be concerned about the psychological development of my children (or children in my community) when they sleep with their parents, or not. However, I believe children need to feel loved by their parents. Therefore, I would prefer them to sleep with their parents, at least in their first year of existence.
CHN. (2013). Sleeping with the Parents (Bed-Sharing). Web.
Reebye, P., Ross, S. E., & Jamieson, K. (2014). A Literature Review of Child – Parent/Caregiver Attachment Theory and Cross-Cultural Practices Influencing Attachment. Web.
Small, M. (2014). Sleep with Me: A Trans-Cultural Look At the Power and Protection Of Sharing A Bed. Web.
Valsiner, J. (1987). Culture and the Development of Children’s Action: A Cultural- Historical Theory of Development. Chichester, UK: Wiley.