Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Evil of Sleeping With Your Baby

For thousands of years our ancestors did certain things virtually the same way the world over. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not about to give up my indoor plumbing and go live in a yurt. 

I'm well aware that sometimes the way people did things was not better or preferable. Some things we've improved on (I'm a big fan of advancing medical knowledge and electricity myself) but some things we'd already figured out with just a little maternal instinct.  Crazy talk, I know.

I mean, who needs instinct or common sense when our local authorities can just tell us the right thing to do, like Hennepin County has done here locally?

Now here's where I start to take issue.  When parents find babies who've died in their cribs, do they start issuing statements about how you should never sleep a baby in a crib again?  NO!  They figure out what the cause is and try to educate the public.  Put baby on it's back to sleep.  Avoid using crib bumpers.  Don't allow the slats of the crib to be too wide.  The list goes on regarding how to make a crib safer.  But when it comes to co-sleeping?  No dice.  With co-sleeping they say:
Parents may want to snuggle with their infant in their bed, and mothers sometimes take a baby to bed for breast-feeding. That's OK as long as the baby is returned to the crib before anyone falls asleep, she said.
Hey!  Big time professionals?  Did any of you consider that while many of the points you make about the dangers of co-sleeping are valid, that it can be just as safe as crib sleeping if not safer if some basic safety rules are followed, just like anything else?  No, you just tell people not to do it, and lose the many benefits parents may have found from sleeping with their babies out of unnecessary fear.

Here are the co-sleeping rules:
Take precautions to prevent baby from rolling out of bed, even though it is unlikely when baby is sleeping next to mother
Use a large bed, preferably a queen-size or king-size.
Don't sleep with your baby if:
1. You are under the influence of any drug (such as alcohol or tranquilizing medications) that diminishes your sensitivity to your baby's presence. If you are drunk or drugged, these chemicals lessen your arousability from sleep.
2. You are extremely obese. Obesity itself may cause sleep apnea in the mother, in addition to the smothering danger.
3. You are exhausted from sleep deprivation. This lessens your awareness of your baby and your arousability from sleep.
4. You are breastfeeding a baby on a cushiony surface, such as a waterbed or couch. An exhausted mother could fall asleep breastfeeding and roll over on the baby.
5. You are the child's baby-sitter. A baby-sitter's awareness and arousability is unlikely to be as acute as a mother's.
6. Don't allow older siblings to sleep with a baby under nine months. Sleeping children do not have the same awareness of tiny babies as do parents, and too small or too crowded a bed space is an unsafe sleeping arrangement for a tiny baby.
7. Don't fall asleep with baby on a couch. Baby may get wedged between the back of the couch and the larger person's body, or baby's head may become buried in cushion crevices or soft cushions.
8. Do not sleep with baby on a free-floating, wavy waterbed or similar "sinky" surface in which baby could suffocate.
9. Don't overheat or overbundle baby. Be particularly aware of overbundling if baby is sleeping with a parent. Other warm bodies are an added heat source.
10. Don't wear lingerie with string ties longer than eight inches. Ditto for dangling jewelry. Baby may get caught in these entrapments.
11. Avoid pungent hair sprays, deodorants, and perfumes. Not only will these camouflage the natural maternal smells that baby is used to and attracted to, but foreign odors may irritate and clog baby's tiny nasal passages. Reserve these enticements for sleeping alone with your spouse.
Taken from Dr. Sears list here
This list might seem a little long, but it's mostly just common sense!  Seriously, don't sleep with your baby if you've been drinking or are on certain meds.  Don't wear clothes that could catch around baby's neck.  That kind of thing.  Just like sleeping a baby anywhere, there are things you should do to keep them safe.

And why is co-sleeping so good for many babies and moms too? (I'm all in favor of using whatever works best for your family, and if that's crib sleeping, good on you.  No holier-than-thou here, trust me!)
Sleep more peacefully
Research shows that co-sleeping infants virtually never startle during sleep and rarely cry during the night, compared to solo sleepers who startle repeatedly throughout the night and spend 4 times the number of minutes crying 1. Startling and crying releases adrenaline, which increases heart rate and blood pressure, interferes with restful sleep and leads to long term sleep anxiety.

Stable physiology
Studies show that infants who sleep near to parents have more stable temperatures 2, regular heart rhythms, and fewer long pauses in breathing compared to babies who sleep alone 3. This means baby sleeps physiologically safer.

Decreases risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
Worldwide research shows that the SIDS rate is lowest (and even unheard of) in countries where co-sleeping is the norm, rather than the exception 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. Babies who sleep either in or next to their parents’ bed have a fourfold decrease in the chance of SIDS 10. Co-sleeping babies actually spend more time sleeping on their back or side 1 which decreases the risk of SIDS. Further research shows that the carbon dioxide exhaled by a parent actually works to stimulate baby’s breathing 11.

Long term emotional health
Co-sleeping babies grow up with a higher self-esteem, less anxiety, become independent sooner, are better behaved in school 12, and are more comfortable with affection 13. They also have less psychiatric problems 14.

Safer than crib sleeping
The Consumer Product Safety Commission published data that described infant fatalities in adult beds. These same data, however, showed more than 3 times as many crib related infant fatalities compared to adult bed accidents 15. Another recent large study concluded that bed sharing did NOT increase the risk of SIDS, unless the mom was a smoker or abused alcohol 16.
Full article with sources, here
Did you see that last one? SAFER than crib sleeping. But by all means, Hennepin county, instead of educating parents, please, fear-monger instead. Because that's so much better for babies, isn't it? Especially since many mothers are still going to cosleep, if for no other reason than convenience. And now you've missed an opportunity to educate them on how to keep their babies both safe and happy. Way to go.


  1. I figured you would have a field-day with that article.

    I know what our co-sleeping limitations going into this new baby thing, and am trying to find one of those pieces that will sit next/attach to your bed to keep your baby close, but not keep daddy up all night, freaking out. (Do I know my hubby or what? heh) Wish me luck!

  2. I agree! We bed shared occasionally in the mornings when my daughter was younger. Always after my husband went to work though, because he could sleep through a tornado and certainly wouldn't wake up sleeping with a baby. All you have to do is have common sense, you're right!

    I've also heard that it's best to have a firmer mattress for bed sharing. Thanks for the great post!!!!

  3. We have a king size bed, and with our 2 boys it's a big family bed. Both boys have slept with us all their lives, and now they are 5 and 2...and both so confident and good sleepers. I will add something to the benefits...my oldest had sleep apnea and I never would have discovered that if he wasn't sleeping next to me. His wake ups were disturbing me. He got his tonsils and adenoids out and now sleeps peacefully again.

  4. I also read a study saying that co-sleeping was safest if mom breastfeeds in bed. Apparently this encourages a positioning of mom and baby that is safer, with the baby's head away from pillows and mom curled around baby protectively. I know that was how I instinctively slept with my babies, and I always breastfed in bed.

    Also, if you sleep topless with the baby in a position that he can nurse without really waking either of you up, then both mom and baby can pretty much start sleeping through the night from day 1. Then you aren't exhausted, so less worry about sleeping so soundly that you roll over onto the baby. At least, that's how it worked for me -- I *never* had to get up with a baby during the night unless something was wrong.

    Michelle (mom of 7)

  5. Sonya, the arms reach co-sleeper is nice, and available at your local babies r us.

    Stacy, thanks for stopping by! See, you found a way to get the closeness of co-sleeping, but do it safely. My husband has learned to sleep on the other side of the bed. On occasion he's come too close to the baby, but I'm so aware, I wake up immediately and have him adjust.

    Angie, I'm amazed at the stories I've heard about parents who've gone with their instincts over the "conventional" wisdom, and have been lifesavers to their children. Like the mom who kept babywearing and wouldn't let her baby cry it out, only to find out that baby had a heart condition. She was having small (but painful) heart attacks, and the fact that she wouldn't leave her alone, saved her life. I think this is another great example of how more traditional mothering is what's best for our babies.

    Michelle, you're probably right. That's how I've always slept with my babies, too. And if you think about it, it seems likely that's how mothers have always done it since we've all historically breastfed.

    Honestly, this is making me want to write a post on what I've been reading about feminism and motherhood. I think there was a lot of disillusionment with motherhood, but I wonder if some of it was that we were cut off from our innate maternal power. Hmm....

  6. I just wanted to add an "Amen Sistah!"

    I've been catching up on your blog, and do so love your writing!

    As an aside, when we had our last baby, we got the Amby Baby Hammock and loved it! Sure wish I'd known about it when we had our first. None of our kids ever spent a night (or naps for that matter) in a crib, but the hammock would have been nice to have for naps when I wanted to do something without the sling!


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