History of co-sleeping/CIO - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 9 Old 10-21-2008, 10:36 AM - Thread Starter
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I interested in the history of CIO/co-sleeping. When did humans make the switch from sleeping with their young, to letting them cry alone in another room? Does anyone have any info/links that look at the history of human sleep arrangements and how they ave evolved over time to the point where CIO is acceptable and widely practiced? Thanks.


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#2 of 9 Old 10-21-2008, 11:59 AM
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I don't have any resources or any thing. But my understanding is that CIO is largely a western thing. And that it has to do with the value that we've placed on independence. We want kids to be as independent as possible as early as possible and we are willing to do anything we can think of to acheive that goal. Logically thinking, I would guess that this shift towards valuing independence as much as we do started taking place the more we moved toward being an industrial and then technological society. I would think that interdependence would be something highly valued in an agricultural society. However, this doesn't explain why there are still many cultures (particularly eastern) that still hold with the practice of co-sleeping.

I don't know, these are purely my own speculations... and that really doesn't mean very much in the grand scheme of things.

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#3 of 9 Old 10-21-2008, 12:28 PM
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i believe that it is late 19th and early 20th centure behavior. i think.
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#4 of 9 Old 10-21-2008, 12:55 PM
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Dr. James McKenna has some good articles. Here's his web page:


I've got a copy of his very dense scholarly article "Mother–Infant Cosleeping, Breastfeeding and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome: What Biological Anthropology
Has Discovered About Normal Infant Sleep and Pediatric Sleep Medicine" if you want to PM me your email I can sent to you.

Here's an excerpt:

Historical contributors to the notion that infants
should sleep alone. As we have seen, in the majority of
contemporary world cultures mothers and fathers do not
appear to expend time nor energy reading about different
philosophies underlying their choice for social rather
than solitary sleeping arrangements for their infants or
debating how to get the baby to fall or stay asleep. In
fact, the idea of placing the infant to sleep alone, and
expecting it to fall asleep away from the comfort and
safety of its mother’s body, is alien for the majority of
parents. Yet, in the postindustrial west, ‘‘modern, healthy,
normal’’ infant sleep means solitary sleep. So, how did our
view become so estranged from that of the rest of the world?
Why is solitary infant sleep so heavily endowed with a
sense of medical and moral value and protection for western
The answers are not simple. The definitive beginnings
of the story of solitary infant sleep are hard to pin down,
as so many cultural, religious, economic, and political
factors are involved. It may, at least in part, stem from a
time in western history when impoverished urban mothers
with no access to other forms of family limitation,
were compelled to sacrifice some of their children in
order that the rest might live. For example, historianshave documented during the last 500 years that poor
women living in cities such as Paris, Brussels, Munich
and London, confessed to Catholic priests of having
deliberately overlain their infants in order to control
family size (Flandrin, 1979; Kellum, 1974; Stone, 1977).
Led by horrified priests who threatened excommunication,
fines or imprisonment, infants were ‘‘banned’’ from
parental beds (Stone, 1977). The legacy of this period in
western history appears to have converged with other
changing social mores and customs, such as values
favoring privacy, self-reliance, and individualism, to
sculpt the philosophical foundation upon which contemporary
cultural beliefs about sleeping arrangements are
built. This particular foundation makes it far easier to
assume there are dangers inherent in mother–infant
sleep contact than to assume there are benefits.
In turn, the proliferation of the idea of ‘‘romantic love’’
throughout Europe also contributed to the separation of
the infant from its mother during sleep hours, as it was
thought the infant might intrude on the conjugal bond
(Stone, 1977; see Fildes, 1986). Likewise, Freud (1908)
promoted the idea that infants should not be exposed to
the sexual acts of their parents for fear of far reaching
psychological impairment—although recent research has
found no evidence that primal scene exposure in early
childhood has harmful consequences for later life (Okami
et al., 1998). Furthermore, with the rise of the father as
the authoritarian, fathers were encouraged to limit affectionate
physical contact with their children in favor of
providing discipline (Stone, 1977). These events were all
contributory factors in the development of a cultural climate
which promoted separate sleeping quarters for
western children and subsequently the formulation of
‘‘knowledge’’ about healthy infant sleep (see Table 1).
Throughout the last century the notion of infants
sleeping apart from their parents has become embedded
in ‘‘expert’’ parenting advice and assumed to be the preferred
scientific context for studying infant sleep and
generally thought to be simpler and more compatible
with western social values, which favor individualism
and autonomy (e.g,. see Thoman, 2006). In the United
States we can point to L. Emmett Holt (1894) a pediatrician
whose ‘‘catechism’’ promoted strict feeding and sleep
schedules for children, while King (1921) performed the
same role in Great Britain (Hulbert, 2003; Hardyment,
1983). John B. Watson, who introduced behaviorism to
psychology, lent his considerable professional standing to
support infant separation and independence on both
sides of the Atlantic (Watson, 1928). It is widely reported
that Watson believed no child could have too little affection;
‘‘Never hug and kiss them. Never let them sit in
your lap. If you must, kiss them once on the forehead
when they say goodnight. Shake hands with them in the
morning. Give them a pat on the head if they have made
and extremely good job of a difficult task’’ (Watson, 1928,
quoted by Hardyment, 1983, p. 175). As silly as this may
sound, Watson’s views contributed significant support to
what was already a powerful cultural belief that for
infant physical, psychological, and intellectual health parental
cuddling, affection, and even touch should be

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#5 of 9 Old 10-21-2008, 01:12 PM
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Interesting question - I have always wondered this myself. I know at some point my mother and her sisters and parents all slept in one room, and yet my mom always told me that children need to cry themselves to sleep alone, so I wonder when the big "push" to CIO happened. My mom was born in the mid 1930s.

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#6 of 9 Old 10-21-2008, 01:38 PM
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I have also read the McKenna article..

Here is another good link


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#7 of 9 Old 10-21-2008, 01:51 PM
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my friend who is an american historian is doing research and claims that it made it big in the pop culture rags around the same time middle-class women were entering the (paid) workforce. as a working mama myself i find cosleeping even more critical than when i was home with babe, but it is an interesting connection.
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#8 of 9 Old 10-21-2008, 03:43 PM
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The book 'three in a bed' by Deborah Jackson is brilliant and explains the whole history of moving from co sleeping to separate rooms and cribs, very well. Not CIO specifically but by extension.
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#9 of 9 Old 10-21-2008, 04:04 PM
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Originally Posted by PiePie View Post
my friend who is an american historian is doing research and claims that it made it big in the pop culture rags around the same time middle-class women were entering the (paid) workforce. as a working mama myself i find cosleeping even more critical than when i was home with babe, but it is an interesting connection.
I couldn't agree with you more. I too am a working mom and feel that co-sleeping is vital to our families functioning. It horifies my family though! Especially my NICU nurse MIL.
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