Manual The Tao of Motherhood (Family & Childcare)

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Co-sleeping is a natural part of parenting in the Eastern culture; however, it may seem strange and possibly even dangerous to Western cultures. In the West, parental age, race, marital status, and house income may influence co-sleeping, while co-sleeping, especially bed-sharing, is usually considered to increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome.

In Korea, however, people usually believe that a baby must not sleep alone in an empty room.

The differences in the prevalence of co-sleeping between Eastern and Western society may be rooted in differences in child-care philosophies, sleeping habits, and home architecture. In this article, the hazards and benefits of bed-sharing will be reviewed, and differences in co-sleeping will be addressed from a cultural viewpoint. Key words : Co-sleeping , Cultural diversity , Sudden infant death , Parenting. Review Article. Published online: Dec 30, Abstract Co-sleeping is a natural part of parenting in the Eastern culture; however, it may seem strange and possibly even dangerous to Western cultures.

Thus, co-sleeping may be more widespread than previously thought. The factors that predispose parents to share a room or bed with their children during the night are different between cultures, and reflect differences in child-care philosophies, sleeping habits, and home architecture. In the West, factors such as parental age, race, marital status, and income are known to influence co-sleeping, with younger mothers, single mothers, African American or Asian mothers, and families with lower income being more likely to sleep in the same room or bed with their children.

In contrast, in the east, co-sleeping was found to be influenced not only by parental and child age, but also by factors such as maternal attitudes towards co-sleeping, and number of children, with younger parents, parents with positive attitudes towards co-sleeping, and parents with a small number of children being more likely to practice co-sleeping.

Co-sleeping was likely the rule in ancient times. Sleeping with a child was a means to increase the probability of his or her survival. Breast-feeding may also have been another factor. Changes in society have been accompanied by changes in the attitude towards co-sleeping. Rather than being a vital method of child protection, it has become a matter of choice for parents. With this change, several issues emerged which sparked intense controversy over the hazards and benefits, the most important being the recognition of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome SIDS.

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Much research has been conducted to elucidate its etiology and risk factors, and it is now understood to be associated with mother-child bed-sharing. The benefits of bed-sharing may include increased arousals in the infant and mother, facilitation of breast-feeding, and improved parent-child relationships, while the hazards may include increased risk for SIDS, marital discord, and inhibition of independence in the child.

However, this categorization is under much debate, as the effects and implications of each factor are not clear, as shall be discussed below. Bed-sharing has repeatedly been implicated as a risk factor for SIDS, 6 , 8 — 10 compelling the American Academy of Pediatrics to officially discourage its practice. Furthermore, reports concerning poor sleep in bed-sharing infants have argued that bed-sharing may have other negative effects.

One of the most replicated findings of sleep studies comparing solitary-sleepers and co-sleepers is the increased frequency of awakenings during the night. In adults, frequent waking during the night is a sign of poor sleep, which may also hold true for young children. Conversely, some researchers have argued that increased awakening may increase arousal, and help the infant wake up during episodes of breathing difficulty.

However, other studies have suggested that these findings may be the results of report bias. There have also been several studies investigating bed-sharing in breast-feeding infants. As any mother who has breastfed their child can attest, bed-sharing greatly facilitates breast-feeding. The difference in sleep level observed was constituted by whether or not the infant was in contact with a pillow, which is a well-known risk factor for SIDS.

Other studies analyzed polysomnography findings from mother-infants pairs who were either bed-sharing or sleeping solitarily. They concluded that although the levels were increased compared to room air, they were not high enough to be lethal. In fact, based on past studies, the levels were within the range that has been shown to naturally stimulate respiration and promote normal breathing. Studies on bed-sharing have also reported increased arousals of the mother. Several researchers investigating sleep parameters in mothers sharing beds with infants showed increased arousals or arousal behavior in the mother, frequently associated with breast-feeding.


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However, long-term effects on the mother, and consequently, on the infant, have not yet been clearly assessed. In addition, one study concluded that increased infant night waking may contribute to depressive symptoms in the mother. Based on these reports, it may be argued that co-sleeping on the whole, and possibly even bed-sharing, cannot be seen simply as a risky practice that must be avoided in all situations. It seems that the risks of bed-sharing may differ according to the surrounding context or situation. As discussed below, cultural differences may also play a role.

Beds have been used since ancient times in Western culture. One of the reasons for this is the carpet. Western homes typically used a fire-place or stove for heating, which is effective at heating the air.

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However, it is unable to heat the floor, and thus, the carpet was developed as a countermeasure. While cold floors can take away body heat very rapidly, this effect can be offset by the carpet, making walking or sitting on the floor much more comfortable. However, the carpet can also be a reservoir for biological contaminants, such as dust mites, dust mite allergens, and molds, which can impair physical health. Sleeping on a bed can help protect the inhabitants against these effects while also improving the sleeping environment, and thus it gained widespread use.

Although fireplaces are no longer very common, the heating systems that have taken their place, for example, radiators and forced air furnaces, are based on the same principles, and are thus focused on heating the air. The traditional Korean bedroom is built and arranged somewhat differently. In the traditional setting, houses were built to have a hollow space under the floor in which a set of large stone blocks were arranged.

The hollow space was part of the exhaust system, with one side opening into the Buddumak kitchen range or stove or Agungii fire furnace , and the other side into the chimney. Hence, hot air and gases from cooking fires passed through the Ondol and heated the floor before being released. The stones increased heat transfer and efficiency. In terms of sleeping arrangements, this difference made a big change. Bed-sharing and room-sharing was comparatively much easier since the whole floor, instead of just the bed, could be used for sleeping.

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Various infant health and safety issues, such as dirty carpets, risk of falling from the bed, 23 risk of suffocation, 24 or strangulation 25 could therefore be avoided. Furthermore, parents did not need to worry about crib-related accidents, as cribs were not needed.

Despite being geographically and historically close to Korea, the bedrooms of Japan and China show several key differences. Each has a unique heating system and bedroom arrangement. In Japan, a device called Irori 27 was used for heating. It was a fireplace set up in the middle of the room, used to heat the air. As with Western fireplaces, it was unable to heat the floor, so a Tatami , 28 which is a traditional Japanese mat made from rice straw or woodchips, was used to cover it. Beds were not used, and people slept on the floor.

Nowadays, the Irori is still in use in a modernized form, called a Kotatsu 29 , but instead of Tatami mats, beds have gained widespread use. In China, beds have been used for centuries. However, the structure of the traditional bed was very different from that of Western ones. Instead of having separate heating and bedding systems, the two were combined into a bed-stove, or Kang. Hot air and smoke from the stove heated the kang, and the kang heated the air around it. This system is still used in some rural areas, but urbanites are more likely to use modern boilers and radiators to heat their homes, while sleeping on beds.

Compared to the West, room-and bed-sharing is comparatively more prevalent in all three countries, despite the differences in bedroom design mentioned above.

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Parenting Compared to the individualism of the West, Koreans are culturally collectivistic. During parenthood, elimination of risk and providing support are usually given priority. While using it, women were able to carry their young while working. Furthermore, college tuition and marriage costs are usually covered by parents, and many parents continue to provide some sort of economic support until their offspring are in their late 20s.

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Within this atmosphere, co-sleeping is considered natural, and possibly even an obligation. While the number of bed-sharing parents has decreased with the spread of Western culture and increased public awareness of SIDS, most parents are still present when the child falls asleep. In Western-style parenting, encouraging the independence of a child is considered an important aspect. Priorities are given to autonomy, infant separation and emotional independence. Proponents of infant separation and independence consider autonomy-granting as a key variable in their theory, situating it on a spectrum with encouragement of independence and over-protection on each end.

Some researchers place psychological control on the opposite end as independence, yet overprotection and psychological control are very different values. Furthermore, when dimensions are constructed as spectrums e. However, parents may not necessarily belong in either group. This field is further complicated by cultural differences, thus empirical validation of the constructs will be needed before any dimensions can be applied to other cultures.

Is Sleep Really That Important? This leads to radical reduction of the sleep time, with an average sleep duration of just 5 hours and 27 minutes.

Consequently, sleep is naturally given comparatively less weight compared to in Western countries. This is also reflected in indoor lighting. Whereas Western homes use dimmer lighting with indirect illumination, perhaps to allow better relaxation, Korean homes use direct illumination, and are much brighter. Hence, it may be argued that people of Eastern countries, and Koreans in particular, are more tolerant towards sleep disturbances. This may enable them to accept the anticipated decrease in sleep quality more easily. From this perspective, the two main considerations are the quality of parental sleep and marital intimacy.

Some studies have reported that parental satisfaction concerning sleeping arrangements and marital intimacy did not differ between solitary sleepers and early bed-sharers e.

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On the other hand, the parents of the latter study may have been forced into doing so due to the sleeping problems of their child. Thus, the adaptation process would have been more difficult. These findings indicate that parental attitudes can be influenced by the reasons for co-sleeping, which in turn affect parental satisfaction. As mentioned above, Koreans are traditionally collectivistic, traces of which can even be seen in the spoken language.

Thus, the needs and wants of the family as a whole are given more priority over those of an individual compared to the situation in Western families. As sleep quality and marital intimacy, including sex life, are individual values, they are given low priority in comparison to caring for the baby, making parents more likely to sacrifice them in order to care for the baby at night.

In addition, as grown adults are also expected to care for their elders, extended families are not uncommon. In this situation, room shortages may also increase the likelihood of co-sleeping.