Image: Milla Jovovich and her daughter Ever (via Instagram).
Milla Jovovich has revealed she’s an advocate of co-sleeping.
The American actress and model, who is married to director Paul W.S. Anderson, told the website Romy and the Bunnies she believes sleeping with her daughter Ever, 7, has helped keep the family connected despite having to juggle busy shooting schedules.
“I always thought that the Western way of raising kids was so disconnected. Everyone has their cubicle at home, babies go into nurseries, little kids have their own rooms. You are so separated from one another!” the 39-year-old said.
"We have been co-sleeping for years with our daughter and I feel that it’s helped us so much to stay connected as a family... Because we share sleep at night, our daughter naturally feels very connected to us and that in turn makes her want to please us."
Jovovich, who's set to star in the next instalment of the Resident Evil film series, also believes this sleeping arrangement has positively impacted on Ever's behaviour because she feels like a respected part of her parents' world.
"She trusts us and listens to what we say. There is an innate sense of respect between us all that I feel can be lacking with some of the other parents and children I see in our society. I feel that some problems that parents say are 'typical' i.e. arguing, defiance, tantrums, interrupting, disrespect, disobedience, screaming etc. we just haven’t had to deal with in any serious way," she says (Post continues after gallery.)
"Of course I’m very hands-on with following through on consequences when my daughter is misbehaving, but I think that because she feels totally accepted and included in our world, she does’t want to let us down... it has made discipline so much easier for us. Especially when I feel like I’ve made a mistake as a parent, making up for it is so much simpler when you share all that extra cuddle time in the evening and mornings together!"
Co-sleeping between parents and children is generally more common in Eastern cultures and developing countries, but does happen in countries like Australia for a variety of reasons. For some families it might be cultural; for others, it could be related to circumstances like divorce. Every case is going to be different.
Dr Jennifer Smith, psychologist and author of But I'm Not Tired, says some of Jovovich’s views about co-sleeping are spot-on. "First, it’s true that there are strong cultural influences that determine whether or not parents co-sleep with their children. Second, she’s correct that co-sleeping isn’t generally the 'Western way'. Third, it’s true that co-sleeping is a matter of personal choice," she says.
According to Dr Fiona Martin from Sydney Child Psychology Centre, while ongoing co-sleeping can be beneficial for a parent-child relationship, especially if they don't have a lot of time together for one-on-one contact during the day, it can have some negative effects on both parents and children.
"In my work I've certainly seen a number of parents who co-sleep with their children because they have anxiety around the health of their child, and reinforce and create anxieties by doing that," Dr Martin says.
"It might impact on the entire family too. It could cause sleeping difficulties in the parents and the child, which has been associated with obesity, memory and concentration difficulties, lethargy, fatigue, and even depression."
Long-term co-sleeping can also interfere with a couple's alone time, and create tension if there is a lack of agreement about the sleeping arrangement. Another concern Dr Martin has is about how this arrangement affects a child's resilience.
"You want children to be independent, and that's an important component of being resilient. I think long-term, co-sleeping's probably not encouraging a child to be independent. Later in life they're going to have sleepovers at friends' houses, and go on school camps, so if they don't cope with sleeping on their own at home they're not going to be prepared for events like that. They'll find it difficult to separate," she explains.
"Once they start school and have settled into primary school, I think you'd want to transition them into their own bed. So around five or six would be a good age to encourage that independence."
Dr Smith adds Jovovich's claims about her daughter's behaviour being improved through co-sleeping lack expert support. "Ever’s behaviour has more to do with the luck of the draw genetics (that is, her temperament)and daytime parenting, than with co-sleeping. Milla’s newborn, Dashiel, may just prove this point one day," she says. (Post continues after video.)
"There are no known studies to show that an individual sleeping arrangement is harmful. Sleeping arrangements are not about disconnection or attachment or compliance or respect. They’re about what works for the family," Dr Smith adds.
The issue of co-sleeping with young babies, however, is more complex.
Jovovich and Anderson recently welcomed their second daughter, Dashiel. Though the actress doesn't explicitly say whether her newborn also shares the family bed, she does say she's "inspired" by the approach to motherhood taken by women "in the Third World".
"I feel that the connection with children and mothers is so strong in places where there are not so many 'things' to get in the way. No electronic distraction devices, no high tech baby equipment, just a mother carrying her little one everywhere, sharing a family bed and having the help of all the other women around to raise the baby," Jovovich tells Romy and the Bunnies.
Co-sleeping with babies is often a controversial and deeply emotive topic, largely due to the fact there are potential threats to a newborn's health if a bed is being shared.
"With a baby, there is a risk of SIDS and fatal sleeping accidents when co-sleeping," Dr Martin says, adding that there are several circumstances in which sharing a sleeping surface with a baby would be absolutely out of the question.
"[These include] if a partner is a smoker, or if you're a smoker or there's any drug use or anything like that. Also, babies less than four months old or premature or born with any kind of medical condition, it really wouldn't be a good idea to be co-sleeping. The way in which the baby is sleeping in the bed is also important, and following the SIDS guidelines about infant sleeping," she explains.
As with just about anything to do with raising children, sleeping arrangements are a personal choice, and SIDS and Kids states there is currently not enough evidence to issue a formal statement for or against co-sleeping. They do, however, recommend sleeping a baby in a cot adjacent to his or her parents' bed for the first six to 12 months.
Have you ever shared a bed with your children? Did it effect their behaviour or your relationship?