Sleeping with my baby
By Julian Whitaker M.D.
A few years ago, James McKenna, PhD and Anthropologist at
Pomona College agreed to share parental duties with his wife.
Dr. McKenna would lie down with his son while he was napping
and he noted that his child “seemed sensitive and responsive to
my breathing. I noticed that if I sighed and breathed
rhythmically, he breathed rhythmically as well. And I used to
play little games changing my breathing and he would open
These experiences, plus his knowledge of anthropology and
child development, led Dr. McKenna to formulate a provocative
theory: The infant may not be developed sufficiently for the
long periods of aloneness, especially while sleeping, that are
characteristic of our urban culture. Perhaps the rapidly
developing infant has specific needs that can only be met by
the close proximity of the mother.
Dr. McKenna theorized that an infant sleeping next to its mother would be stimulated by
her warmth and intermittent motion, and likely pick up breathing cues from the mother in
the form of sounds and her rhythmical breathing movements. This stimulation and
breathing cues may be particularly important during the first nine months when
developmental shifts are occurring in the breathing control centers.
*Dr. McKenna also noticed that there appears to be an extremely low incidence of SIDS
in cultures where co-sleeping (the family bed) is practiced compared to cultures where
the child is separated for sleep (the crib, the child's own room). In Sweden and Israel,
co-sleeping cultures, the incidences of SIDS is .06 and .31 per 1000 respectively, which
compares to rates in Ontario, Canada and King County, Washington of 3.0 and 2.3 per
*In Orange County, CA, SIDS claims the lives of 50 infants each year. In the US, close
to ten thousand babies die per year or about two out of every 1,000 live births. Yet
unbelievably, the SIDS death rate in Ontario is 50 times higher than in Sweden!
*However, in Hong Kong, crowded with large extended families, a child is virtually never
alone, the SIDS death rate is .04 per 1000. In one 5-year period, with more than
400,000 births, one might expect 800 to 1000 crib deaths in Hong Kong. Yet in one
year there were only fifteen SIDS deaths and four of these were amongst Europeans
Dr. McKenna has scientifically and methodically studied the parent/infant sleep
relationship both at Pomona Claremont and Notre Dame University. Of all the species
of mammals, only the human species arranges for the infant to sleep separated from
*After reading of Dr. McKenna’s theory, I spoke to Dr. James Ger, who stated that in his
country, China, “I had never heard of SIDS until I came to the US, but in China parents
sleep with their infants”. Dr. Barry Samsamy, a neonatologist who grew up in Persia,
also remarked that in his country babies were kept with the parents for sleeping. He felt
that McKenna's theory had merit and that parents might well consider keeping their
babies close if they were comfortable with it.
(Edited by Marjorie Pyle, RN, ACCE. Reprinted from Baby’s Land News, with permission from the Daily
Pilot.) For more info on Julian Whitaker visit: www.whitakerwellness.com.
Julian M. Whitaker, MD is the founder and director of the Whitaker Wellness Institute Inc., located in
Newport Beach. In 1974, he along with four other physicians and Linus Pauling PhD (receiver of the
Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1954 and the Nobel Peace Prize 1962) founded the California Orthomolecular
Medical society, a nonprofit educational organization for health professionals interested in nutrition and
preventive medicine. Dr. Whitaker has been seen a national television, has authored several books and is
a frequent speaker on preventative medicine.
James J. Mckenna, Anthropologist, researcher and author, is recognized as the world’s leading authority
on mother-infant cosleeping in relation to breastfeeding and SIDS. Dr. McKenna has taught and led
research at Pomona Claremont, the University of Notre Dame, UCI.
He has published over 139 referred scientific articles in diverse medical and anthropological journals on
co-sleeping, breastfeeding, evolutionary medicine and SIDS; published two monographs on SIDS and
infant sleep, and co-edited two books: Evolutionary Medicine and Evolutionary Medicine And Health: New Perspectives. His latest books are, Sleeping With Your Baby: A Parent’s Guide To Co-sleeping, and Safe Infant Sleep.
For more information visit:
Why Bedsharing is Healthy
In her article, Why Bedsharing is Healthy, Einat Talmon, IBCLC, discusses with James McKenna
his research and writings on co sleeping.
Prof. McKenna, a biological anthropologist with an array of awards to his name, is regarded as
an international authority on infant sleep and crib death. In the laboratory he established at
the University of Notre Dame, in Indiana, he spent years studying how the sleep environment
of mothers and infants affects babies’ development and their physical and mental condition. In
this lab, the first of its type in the world, mothers and infants share the same bed, while
researchers monitor various parameters.