Many of our readers and writers have safely slept with their infants, babies, and toddlers for many years. Co-sleeping is one aspect of attachment parenting, and in western cultures, it comes with controversy. Natural Papa explains:
Co-sleeping is one of the principles of attachment parenting, and also one of the most contentious. For those who practice it, it’s normal and healthy. For those who don’t, it’s dangerous and irresponsible.
“You really let your baby sleep in the same bed with you? Isn’t that dangerous?”
The Eight Principles of Attachment Parenting include “Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally”, which includes co-sleeping:
It’s important to note that infant solitary sleep is a relatively new practice that has evolved in the western world only within the last 100 years. Recently, there have been efforts by various medical and professional organizations to discourage parents from sleeping with their children for fear that it contributes to an increase in Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). However, new research demonstrates that co-sleeping, when practiced by informed parents, can be safe and beneficial. In fact, many cultures where parents routinely sleep with their children report some of the lowest SIDS rates. In some of these cultures SIDS is non-existent…
What is Co-Sleeping?
Many terms related to infant sleep are used interchangeably, which can create confusion. API uses the following definitions:
- Co-sleeping refers to sleeping in “close proximity,” which means the child is on a separate sleep surface in the same room as the parents. This includes the use of a cosleeping bassinet or “sidecar,” which is a crib-like bed with only three walls, with the fourth side remaining open and pushed up against the parents’ bed. For the older child, this can include sleeping in a separate bed in the same room as the parents, or two or more older siblings sleeping together in a separate room.
- Bed-sharing, also called the “family bed,” describes a sleep arrangement where the family members sleep on the same sleep surface. This practice is recommended for only for breastfeeding families using API’s Safe Sleep Guidelines.
Despite all of the positive benefits of co-sleeping, the media loves to misrepresent it when something goes wrong. Co-sleeping is blamed for infant deaths that are really caused by inappropriate bedding or second hand smoke. Such deaths associated with soft bedding also occurs in cribs.
In 2007, the Big Cities Health Survey ranked Milwaukee seventh worst out of 53 cities for infant deaths. Between 2001 and 2008, 183 infants died in Milwaukee due to sudden infant death syndrome or unsafe sleep practices, according to the Milwaukee Health Department. Sixty-eight percent of these babies were bed-sharing when they died.
Additionally, in over half of these cases other major risk factors, such as smoke exposure or sleeping on soft surfaces, were present at the death scene.
Despite high-profile media cases involving alcohol and drug use, substance abuse was only found to be a factor in 19% of these deaths…
The possibility of an infant dying certainly outweighs the proposed benefits of coordination of sleep rhythms, ease of breastfeeding or maternal-child bonding during sleep.
I believe this article improperly alarms parents into thinking co-sleeping is not safe. Although the article was written by doctors, there are other doctors who believe proper co-sleeping actually prevents SIDs.
DR. SEARS SIDS HYPOTHESIS:
I believe that in most cases SIDS is a sleep disorder, primarily a disorder of arousal and breathing control during sleep. All the elements of natural mothering, especially breastfeeding and sharing sleep, benefit the infant’s breathing control and increase the mutual awareness between mother and infant so that their arousability is increased and the risk of SIDS decreased.
It’s tragic when any baby dies, especially if the death was preventable. Including statistics on SIDS and co-sleeping in the same article meant to scare parents is irresponsible and not based on sound research. As Dr. Sears explains:
There has been a lot of media claiming that sleeping with your baby in an adult bed is unsafe and can result in accidental smothering of an infant. One popular research study came out in 1999 from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission that showed 515 cases of accidental infant deaths occurred in an adult bed over an 8-year period between 1990 and 1997. That’s about 65 deaths per year. These deaths were not classified as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), where the cause of death is undetermined. There were actual causes that were verified upon review of the scene and autopsy. Such causes included accidental smothering by an adult, getting trapped between the mattress and headboard or other furniture, and suffocation on a soft waterbed mattress.
The conclusion that the researchers drew from this study was that sleeping with an infant in an adult bed is dangerous and should never be done. This sounds like a reasonable conclusion, until you consider the epidemic of SIDS as a whole. During the 8-year period of this study, about 34,000 total cases of SIDS occurred in the U.S. (around 4250 per year). If 65 cases of non-SIDS accidental death occurred each year in a bed, and about 4250 cases of actual SIDS occurred overall each year, then the number of accidental deaths in an adult bed is only 1.5% of the total cases of SIDS.
Perhaps Milwaukee needs to re-evaluate its statistics and accurately represent how many deaths occurred from safe co-sleeping and not include them as SIDS. I imagine the number would be zero. In addition, cribs are recalled every few months for causing infant deaths, so are they really to be trusted more than the safe family bed?