Posts Tagged 'SIDS'

Coming Out of the Cosleeping Closet (and Why That’s Okay)

That’s right: I cosleep with my baby.  It is not something I do because I’m too lazy or inept to make him sleep on his own, or because I have some unhealthy need to make him overly dependent on me, or because I am simply too stupid to know better.  It was not a “bad habit” that we formed.  It is a conscious decision that I made based on research and what felt right for us.

This is a topic that has come up a lot for me recently.  There’s been discussions with fellow co-sleepers about lying about our sleeping practices, comments from family and friends about how I need to just put him in his own bed, and a couple of blog posts condemning cosleeping as unsafe, unhealthy, and even abusive.  Frankly, I’m sick of it.  I’m tired of constantly explaining my parenting choices.  I’m tired of feeling like I need to hide something that is very rewarding and healthy for my child and I. 

There were two blog posts in particular that inspired my response.  One, which I cannot seem to find again, angrily condemned all cosleeping parents and claimed that the practice is a form of child abuse.  (What, you provide loving care to your infant all night long from the warmth and comfort of your own bed!  What horrible parenting!)  The other is somewhat less offensive, simply stating that the practice is too risky to be beneficial.   It mentions that cosleeping encourages more breastfeeding, helps both mothers and babies get more sleep during the night because wakings are more frequent but shorter, and helps build a strong attachment between mother and baby–all of which he claims are unimportant.  Oh, yes, sleep, nourishment, and attachment are all unimportant to a growing baby. 

Interestingly, both of these posts were written by men.  I have no idea if either one of them have children or not.  Everyone has a right to their own opinion, and I respect that.  However, I would like to take this opportunity to present the other side of the story. 

The number one point that is brought up against cosleeping is that is unsafe. As stated in the above blog, according to the CPSC, there were 515 deaths of children under two that were linked in some way to bedsharing between 1990 and 1997.  So… in seven years, about 500 deaths occurred while cosleeping.   That’s about 70 per year.  Most of the deaths that occur while bedsharing are linked to overly soft bedding, sleeping with more than one child (toddlers are not aware of their movements and can roll on top of an infant), drug or alcohol use, sleeping with someone other than the primary caregiver (ie, the mother), sleeping with someone who smokes, or sleeping on the couch–all of which are discouraged because they are known to be unsafe.  The issue wasn’t that they were cosleeping: the issue was that they were not being smart about it. 

Compare that to the 2600 infants that die each year due to SIDS.  (For a more recent comparison, in the three years between 1999 and 2001, there were 180 infant deaths that occurred while bedsharing.  That’s only 1.5% of the total SIDS deaths.) That’s right, folks, more babies die in their cribs or in child care centers than while sharing a bed.  (In fact, a high percentage of SIDS deaths occur in child care centers.  And we won’t even go into the other injuries and deaths that are reported while in child care settings.)  That’s not even including the number of injuries or non-SIDS related deaths that have occurred while an infant is sleeping alone.  As Dr. James McKenna said in his article published in Pediatric Respiratory Reviews:

Most USA and other western infants die from SIDS or from fatal accidents during solitary sleep outside the supervision of a committed adult. Moreover, the overwhelming number of suspected accidental overlays or fatal accidents occur not within breast feeding bedsharing communities but in urban poverty, where multiple independent SIDS risk factors converge and bottle feeding rather than breast feeding predominates. 

If you want to argue that all cosleeping is unsafe because there is a risk of injury or death, then the argument would logically need to be extended to crib sleeping as well.  How many times do we hear of a crib being recalled because of reported injuries or deaths? My portable crib was recently recalled because there had been over 10,000 reports of the sides collapsing and injuring the infants–and killing several of them.  Of course, that argument won’t be made, because there is a profit to be made by selling cribs.  Isn’t it interesting that one of the main campaigns against co-sleeping (and for crib sleeping, of course) is run by the JPMA?  Let’s see… the JPMA is a group crib manufacturers, right? Who do you think benefits from pushing crib sleeping–oh, perhaps the JPMA? 

I think the problem here is not where the infant was sleeping, but lack of education.  Just as we have learned about the importance of putting babies to sleep on their backs, we need to learn about safe cosleeping practices.   Just as you would a crib, check to make sure there’s no gaps that the baby can fall through or get stuck in.  Sleep on a firm mattress, and skip the heavy blankets and extra pillows. Dress the baby appropriately so s/he doesn’t get overheated.  Don’t cosleep if you are a smoker, are using medications, drink alcohol, or use drugs.  (And this is where I refrain from a well deserved “No shit, Sherlock.”)  Point is, if you follow some simple safety guidelines (and have a little bit of common sense), cosleeping can be done safely.  It was put very well in an article written by Young and Flemming:

“There is no published evidence of any increased risk to a baby from sharing a bed with a firm mattress with parents who do not smoke and have not consumed alcohol or other drugs providing the bedding is arranged so that it cannot slip over the baby’s head, and the baby is not sleeping on a pillow, or under an adult duvet.”
Now that I have fully covered the safety issues (some might say, too fully), there’s still the question of why cosleep at all?   There are many benefits to cosleeping for both mother and baby.  For one thing, it encourages breastfeeding, which means more nourishment and also reduced risk of SIDS (since both breastfeeding and night sucking have been linked to reducing the risk of SIDS, hence the AAP’s recommendation to put baby to bed with a pacifier).  In fact, cosleeping infants nurse twice as often and drink three times as much milk as crib sleepers. Parents get at least as much sleep while cosleeping, if not more, because waking periods are more frequent, but shorter.  (As a mom, I know sleep is very important to me.)  Cosleeping babies tend to cry a lot less at night than crib sleepers (actually, J almost never cries at night, and when he does, it’s usually because of an illness or teething).  There’s an increased sense of attachment and a chance to reconnect for working moms.  When babies sleep in the same room as their primary caretakers (which is a form of cosleeping), the risk of SIDS is reduced by 50% (which is why even the AAP recommends that babies sleep in the same room as their parents for the first few months of life).  
The benefits of cosleeping last long after the transition to solitary sleeping.  Multiple studies have shown that children who shared a bed with their parents as infants tend to be less fearful, have fewer tantrums, and exhibit more independence than those who were never allowed to share a bed.  Later on in life, it is linked with higher self-esteem, self-confidence, and intimacy, as well as a lower incidence of mental health issues.  While these findings cannot be said to be directly caused by cosleeping (and are probably due to a combination of factors, such as the type of parenting style that tends towards cosleeping), it’s important to note that cosleeping does NOT cause children to be overly dependent, fearful, sexual deviants, or any of the other claims that I have heard about the emotional impact of cosleeping.  In fact, it seems to be that the opposite is true.


Besides all of this information, the bottom line is this:  I treasure the time I spend sleeping with my baby, and I wouldn’t miss it for the world.  I take all the necessary safety precautions, and I know that I am caring for my baby in a way that works well for the two of us.  There are some people who do not feel that way, and I would never suggest that they should share a bed with their baby.  (Especially if you fit one of the criteria on the bedsharing no-no list, such as being excessively overweight, smoking, drinking, having sleep disorders, or basically anything that could impair your ability to sleep safely with a wee one.)  I do not want to seem like I am saying that cosleeping is the only way, or even a better way, because it’s not for everyone.  I know several wonderful, loving, attached, kick-ass parents who choose not to bedshare, and this is the right choice for them. 

If you’re looking for more information, here are some amazing resources:

Mother-Baby Sleep Laboratory

The Natural Child Project

Attachment Parenting International

Mothering Magazine


Happy sleeping, everyone.


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