Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Can Bed Sharing Cause Infant Death from SIDS?

It seems like a perfectly natural thing to do - bring your baby into bed with you so you both can get some sleep. It's particularly tempting if your baby wakes up frequently during the night. It keeps from having to get up from your own bed to comfort the child or to nurse, if you're breastfeeding. Parents all over the world practice co-sleeping, either part-time (out of perceived necessity) or all the time. But is it a good idea? Could this practice be putting your child at risk?

In 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a position statement against co-sleeping.

"Infants may be brought into the bed for feeding or comforting but should be returned to their own crib or bassinet when the parent is ready to return to sleep. Because of the extremely high risk of SIDS and suffocation on couches and armchairs, infants should not be fed on a couch or armchair when there is a high risk that the parent might fall asleep."

While SIDS (sudden infant death) remains unexplained, the risk of suffocation is considered to be high enough that the Academy advises against the practice.

Of course, thousands, if not millions of children have co-slept with their parents without anything bad happening to them. But one could argue that it's not unlike the seatbelt debate of many years ago. While seat-belts save lives, millions of people have ridden safely in cars without them. It's only when there's an accident that the seatbelt comes into play.

A new study was just published in the British journal BMJ Open, with findings that seem to back up the concerns of co-sleeping. The researchers looked at the cases of 1,472 babies who died of SIDS and 4,679 controls (healthy babies). None of the parents were smokers (often considered a risk for SIDS). All babies were younger than three months old.

The researchers found that a little over 22 percent of the babies who died co-slept with a parent or both parents, while not quite 10 percent of healthy babies did. The researchers also found that as the babies got older, the risk dropped somewhat. According to a press release put out by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine:

The researchers estimate that 81% of cot deaths among babies under 3 months with no other risk factors could be prevented if they did not sleep in the same bed as their parents. The study also showed that the risk associated with bed sharing decreases as a baby gets older, and that the peak period for instances of cot death was between 7 and 10 weeks. months old, were breastfed, and had no other known risk factors for SIDS.

So, what do you think? I wasn't comfortable sleeping with my babies, although there were times when I did fall asleep while nursing them in bed. I didn't even like having them in my room because I'm a very light sleeper and their noises, which are so cute during the day, weren't so cute when they kept waking me up.


Jennifer Fink said...

I slept with all 4 of my babies. As I wrote in an editorial for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel -- http://www.jsonline.com/news/opinion/57377852.html -- I never intended to sleep with them. But I watched their cues, and quickly learned that they seemed biologically primed to be in constant, close contact with my body. My babies (and I) slept better together, esp. at first, so that's what we did.

That doesn't mean I think that everyone should co-sleep. You said you didn't sleep well with your babies in the same room, so your choice made perfect sense for you and your family.

For more information about co-sleeping -- including information about safe co-sleeping and the benefits of co-sleeping -- check out the work of Dr. James McKenna, who runs a Mother-Baby Sleep Lab at Notre Dame: http://www3.nd.edu/~jmckenn1/lab/index.html

Marijke Vroomen-Durning said...

You make a good point Jennifer, about following baby's cues. I can't say I feel strongly either way about it.

I think it was just one of those parenting things that I either did or didn't do,without thinking about it, like my choice to breast feed and to use cloth diapers. I didn't choose those routes for any reason other than that is what I felt was right for me. In fact, those things were never even up for discussion. I just did them.

Off to read your editorial now!