Exploring Mother-Infant Bedsharing Through a Cross-Cultural Lens: Western Versus Non-Western Mother-Infant Sleep Arrangements

Brooke Richardson

Abstract


Mother-infant sleep arrangements significantly differ in Western and non-Western cultures. In the Western world, mother-infant bedsharing is often associated with physical health and safety concerns as well as long-term social/emotional codependency (Canadian Pediatric Society). In contrast, mother-infant bedsharing is often a taken-for-granted part of the social order in non-Western countries (Okami, Weisner and Olmstead 244). Charles Super and Sara Harkness’ (1994, 2002) ecocultural developmental niche approach to child development is used to highlight how the physical and social settings of a child’s environment, customs/practices of child rearing and the psychology of caretakers overlap and interact to influence the practice of bedsharing in Western and non-Western cultural settings. I ultimately challenge Western medical recommendations in light of non-Western cultural practices as well as empirical evidence produced in Western societies. Finally, I bring the theoretical discussion to a practical level as I reflect on some of my own struggles in my decision to bedshare with my daughter in Toronto, Canada.

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We are grateful to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) for its ongoing support of the Journal of the Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement.