Safe Co-Sleeping with Your Baby

SIDS UPDATE ADVISORY:
CO-SLEEPING RULED UNSAFE

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has revised its guidelines and recommendations for the prevention of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

The AAP's new policy does not recommend that infants sleep in the same bed as a parent. Read more

Whether you plan to sleep with your infant or it just happens to work out that way once you get him or her home, there are some important steps to make sure co-sleeping is safe for your baby.

By Jennifer Newton Reents

The clothes are folded, the diaper stacker is stocked and the bassinet is put together, waiting to hold your peacefully sleeping baby. But some parents-to-be never buy a bassinet or a crib, planning to co-sleep with their babies in their own bed. For them, it is a choice made ahead of time. Others, however, discover that once they get their little one home from the hospital, he or she won't sleep anywhere but with Mom and Dad.

Whether you plan to sleep with your infant or it just happens to work out that way once you get him or her home, there are some important steps to make sure co-sleeping is safe for your baby.

"The most important safety factor to keep in mind while bedsharing is to be alert to what could endanger the baby, and when you enter a bed, and when asleep, keep in your mind the thought 'baby in bed,' just like 'baby on board,'" says James McKenna, Ph.D., a renowned expert on co-sleeping and director of the Mother and Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame.

The concept of co-sleeping, which families have been practicing for centuries, came under fire by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) in 1999. The CPSC published a report claiming that placing babies to sleep in adult beds put them at risk for suffocation and strangulation and noted that over an eight-year period an average of 64 babies under age 2 died each year because they were placed to sleep in adult beds.

The CPSC reviewed death certificates from 1990 to 1997 and found 515 deaths of children younger than 2 occurred after they were placed to sleep on adult beds. Of those deaths, 121 were reported to be due to a parent, caregiver or sibling rolling on top of or against the baby while sleeping, the report states. The other 394 deaths were attributed to suffocation or strangulation caused by entrapment of the child's head in various structures of the bed, according to the report, such as between the mattress and the wall, bed frame, headboard or other structures. More than 75 percent of the deaths were to infants younger than 3 months old.

However, proponents of shared sleep, including McKenna and well-known attachment parenting advocate William Sears, M.D., author of numerous books on parenting, refute the CPSC's findings.

While Sears writes on his Web site that the CPSC report brings an awareness to parents and acts as a reminder for parents to co-sleep safely, he contends that it also created an unnecessary fear in millions of parents who safely and responsively sleep with their babies.

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