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NY Times Blames Co-Sleeping for SIDS with NO Mention of Flame Retardants in Crib Mattresses

Photo:  Attribution Some rights reserved by Karen SheetsCo-sleeping is safe and beneficial.

Co-sleeping is safe and beneficial.

I am a co-sleeping advocate!  It was the right decision for my family.  When practiced safely, it is the most natural sleep solution and nurturing thing you can do for your children.

Unfortunately, the media loves to attack co-sleeping as a risk factor for SIDS without mentioning the possibility that toxic chemicals in crib mattresses are to blame.

Today, the New York Times reported:

Deaths from SIDS, a condition that is diagnosed when an infant’s sudden death cannot be explained by other factors, dropped sharply after 1994, after the introduction of the “Back to Sleep” public health campaign that warned parents about the dangers of putting babies to sleep on their stomachs. In the 10 years after the campaign began, the rate of SIDS deaths in the United States fell by 50 percent…

Dr. Krous and colleagues analyzed all sudden deaths among infants in San Diego County from 1991 through 2008. At the start of that period, in 1991, the rate of SIDS deaths was about 1.34 deaths for every 1,000 births in San Diego County. By 2008, it had fallen to 0.64 for every 1,000 births, according to the new study, published in the journal Pediatrics.

But notably, nearly one in three of the babies who died had been placed in the prone position — face down, on their stomachs — to sleep. Bed sharing and being placed alone in an adult bed were also risk factors. Of the babies who died, 38 percent were sharing a bed at the time of death and 45 percent had been placed in an adult bed to sleep. Adult mattresses and bedding are often softer than a crib surface and can compress inward, suffocating a baby, experts warn.

Yet, there is no mention of the actual situations mentioned above.  Were the adult beds free of pillows and comforters?  Were the parents inebriated?

My son was born with a congenital heart defect, and his breathing was shallow at birth. Co-sleeping enabled me to monitor his health all night along, as well as allow his body to continue to be in sync with my breathing and heart rhythms he was used to in utero.  Co-sleeping kept him alive when he was not thriving as a newborn.

There are other suspected causes of SIDS not mentioned by the NY Times.  In fact, some doctors think the very crib mattresses children sleep on are to blame.  Healthy Child Healthy World explains:

It may seem inconceivable that over a million babies have died of this “syndrome”, and after almost half a century and many millions of dollars spent, no one in this age of science and technology can tell us why. But what parents are virtually oblivious to (through no fault of their own) is that a highly convincing explanation for this tragedy has been found, along with a simple means of eliminating it. This explanation is backed by a significant amount of evidence, but has been and continues to be completely ignored by SIDS organizations, the medical community, and the government – for a variety of reasons, including politics, financial liability, and vested interests. Publication of these findings continues to be denied and suppressed. The result is that babies continue to be at risk from deaths that may easily be prevented.

Toxic Gases in Mattresses

Dr. Jim Sprott, OBE, a New Zealand scientist and chemist, says he is certain that crib death is caused by toxic gases, which can be generated from a baby’s mattress. He says chemical compounds containing phosphorus, arsenic and antimony have been added to mattresses as fire retardants and for other purposes since the early 1950’s. A fungus that commonly grows in bedding can interact with these chemicals to create poisonous gases (Richardson 1994). These heavier-than-air gases are concentrated in a thin layer on the baby’s mattress or are diffused away and dissipated into the surrounding atmosphere. If a baby breathes or absorbs a lethal dose of the gases, the central nervous system shuts down, stopping breathing and then heart function. These gases can fatally poison a baby, without waking the sleeping baby and without any struggle by the baby. A normal autopsy would not reveal any sign that the baby was poisoned (Sprott 1996)…

The main orthodox crib death prevention recommendation is to put babies to sleep on their backs. We know that babies do still die when sleeping on their backs, although face-up sleeping does reduce the risk. The gases are denser than air and tend to settle in a thin layer directly on top of the mattress, so babies sleeping face-down are more likely to inhale a lethal dose of the gases. The gases are also absorbed through babies’ skin, and this is one of the major reasons why face-up sleeping provides only partial protection against crib death (Sprott 1996).

Proper co-sleeping does not cause SIDS. Renowned SIDS doctors and researchers know it.

It’s time the media start promoting safe sleep practices for babies without misleading parents.  Not a signal death from SIDS has occurred in New Zealand for 11 years when crib mattresses were wrapped in “specially formulated polyethylene” covers.

 If the NY Times really wants to prevent more tragic infant deaths, perhaps an expose on chemicals in crib mattresses would be more effective, in addition to educating parents on safe co-sleeping practices, rather than posting statistics without explanation.


  1. While traditional SIDS advice has reduced SIDS deaths by 50% (many argue the accuracy of this number due to “code shifting” by medical professionals) it is still the leading cause of death for babies 2 to 12 months. One thing the “Toxic Gas Explanation” for SIDS does prove is that something in crib and adult mattresses IS the cause. It proves this through the New Zealand mattress wrapping campaign were not a single SIDS death was reported with hundreds of thousands mattresses covered. How much more proof do we need?
    Mattress covers are available here in the US for cheap on Amazon. Serendipity crib mattress cover.

  2. And hang gliding is safe and beneficial if practiced safely. Be careful what you preach to the masses. I talked to an RN last week who is going through extreme emotional trauma after waking up with her dead 3-month old daughter. Whether or not she caused it doesn’t matter, because she will never know, and the guilt will never disappear.

  3. Regardless, the number one item on a mother’s list or registry for her baby should be an organic crib mattress. It is usually an afterthought. Unfortunately it takes a whole lot of research for mothers to be sure they are keeping their babies safe. There is an over-consumption of meaningless toxic products with too little thought about the most important items. Finally there are affordable organic crib mattresses on the market. I am getting ready to pass mine on to a pregnant friend. This is the kind of advice and information we need to pass on to new mothers. I know I was clueless the first time around!

  4. I have never been very sensitive to chemicals. Bought a cheap foam matress this year for my townhouse. Biggest mistake of my life, never experienced anythign that brutal in my life. I threw the foam matress out after seven days because the toxic smell would not air out, turns out the chemicals in that matress never aired out, they stayed in my room the entire year. Most toxic substance I have ever seen in my life, no question they would cause an infant repiratory problems or give an unborn defects. You can only notice the chemicals if you are in good health and paying close attention, but once you do you realize that they fing do not come out ever it is unbeleivable. Best way to tell if you are being exposed to them in your bed, you will develop a slight physical contortion, sort of like a really mild scoliosis. That is the best way to identify.


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