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Mar
01

Facts About Co-Sleeping and SIDS

Author // Linda Folden Palmer, DC, and Jeanne Ohm, DC

In our Western societies, more and more parents are choosing to return to the natural practice of co-sleeping.

Simply defined, this practice is consciously choosing to sleep with your infant to provide him or her with the essential physical, emotional, nutritional, neurological, and nurturing benefits of continued contact from womb and throughout infancy. The numerous benefits are well documented, although not well known by most parents and certainly practiced by far too few parents.


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There are those who remain ignorantly adverse to the practice of co-sleeping and their efforts to discredit it— even announce it as dangerous cause parents to form, fear based judgments, and erroneous conclusions about it. Probably the greatest misrepresentation about co-sleeping has been the charge that it causes SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome)

A recent study in Pediatrics, the official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has raised controversy about sleeping with infants. Parents who co-sleep are being criticized and other parents who are looking into the benefits of co-sleeping may be led to erroneous conclusions and, therefore, choose not to initiate the safe and beneficial practice of sleeping with their newborn.

Sensational headlines such as: “Bed Sharing Increases the Risk of SIDS” and warnings from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, such as, “Don’t sleep with your baby or put the baby down to sleep in an adult bed. The only safe place for babies is in a crib that meets current safety standards and has a firm, tight-fitting mattress. Place babies to sleep on their backs and remove all soft bedding and pillow-like items from the crib,” tend to initiate waves of fear and doubt about co-sleeping rather than present the facts so parents can make informed, safe choices for their babies. It is important when reading the sensational headlines, we as parents look deeper into the research to determine the reality of the situation.

The study referred to as the “Chicago Infant Mortality Study” and the recent AAP recommendation (Fall 2005) based on this study has raised significant discussion about this issue. The authors of the Chicago study concluded, “It seems prudent to discourage bed-sharing among all infants <3 months old. Young infants brought to bed to be breastfed should be returned to a crib when finished.” The AAP recommendation is consistent with this conclusion, yet does not offer any statements of differentiation between irresponsible bed-sharing and conscious co-sleeping. Nor did it choose to emphasize the study’s findings that breastfeeding infants have one fifth the rate of SIDS.

When someone researches the facts on both sides of this issue, and compares the facts to the slanted media reporting, it is hard not to wonder if the AAP, baby product industry, and media want you to hear only the sensationalized incomplete findings.

The Chicago study reported a nearly doubled SIDS rate for co-sleeping, but this study did not remove the powerful effect of smoking parents from their statistic. When other studies removed this behavior, they found the remaining infants enjoyed a greatly lower rate of SIDS for co-sleeping versus isolated crib sleeping.

What the study actually revealed was that many of the mothers were not co-sleeping because of conscious choice, but rather because of lack of bed space in their homes. Most of the mothers did not breastfeed and a photo of one victim’s mother’s bed showed a sloppy, unkempt room with soda cans lined up along side of the bed—another clear indicator that there was not a high level of conscious health awareness in that household. These households should not be confused with those homes of families making informed decisions for their families’ wellness.

There are two kinds of bed-sharing: the first being one of negligence and or irresponsibility (falling asleep with baby after drinking or with a smoking mother) and the second being co-sleeping: that conscious decision made by highly attentive parents, When sofa sleeping and wedging dangers are also removed, the family bed shines as safest.


The SIDS/Suffocation Risk Factors for Co-Sleeping:

  • Bed sharing not being the accustomed sleep arrangement
  • Sofa sleeping
  • Smoking parent
  • Unsafe space between mattress and headboard or wall
  • Prone sleeping
  • Parent compromised by drugs or alcohol
  • Overly heavy or fluffy bedding
  • Sleeping with sibling (for tiny infants) or non-interested adult
  • Sleeping without protective parent in room

Clearly co-sleeping and adult beds can be made to be safer. This would be a much more appropriate service for the Consumer Product Safety Commission to provide, rather than their thoughtless suggestion against co-sleeping. Also, clearly, responsible parents consciously creating a safe co-sleeping environment are safely providing the best of all worlds for their baby.

When crib deaths were much higher than they are now, the decision was to make the crib safer, not to throw out the crib. Most of the improvement in the crib death rate occurred from the “Back to Sleep” campaign. Babies can sleep supine in adult beds as well, although there’s no evidence that side sleeping with mother, as may occur after nursing, is a risk.

Co-sleepers and side-beds that attach firmly to the mattress are good options to preventing falling out, suffocation, and entrapment, whether baby is in the co-sleeper or in the adult bed. Adjustments should be considered for the space between headboard and mattress, especially for “creepers.” Some parents simply put mattresses on the floor, eliminating entrapment concerns.

Why does the United States rank only 43rd in infant survival* in the industrialized world (some non-reporting nations are thought to rank better than us as well)? Our difference from the best-ranking nations is a high predominance of formula feeding, isolated sleep, and medical intervention. The highest co-sleeping/breastfeeding nations rank with little more than half our overall infant death rate (and negligible SIDS rates). Remember…we rank #1 in medical intervention.

* based on data published in The World Factbook



Pathways Issue 9 CoverThis article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #09.

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