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Your baby is a cute and cuddly bundle of joy—it’s understandable that you want to keep him or her as close to you as possible. However, co-sleeping or bed-sharing with baby and parents has come under fire because it is linked with an increased risk for sudden infant death syndrome or SIDS.

A 2013 study published in the British Medical Journal found bed-sharing increased a child’s risk of dying from SIDS by as much as five times. This is true even when parents do not engage in negative behaviors commonly associated with SIDS, including smoking, drinking, or using illegal drugs. In 2016, the Academy of Pediatrics firmly closed the door on co-sleeping in its updated recommendations for SIDS prevention, saying that co-sleeping definitely raised the risk of SIDS.

Support for co-sleeping

Despite the relatively unified expert opinion against it, co-sleeping is not without its supporters. Co-sleeping advocates believe that babies obtain reassurance and comfort from being in close proximity with their parent or parents. Also, parents could theoretically get more sleep from co-sleeping because they are closer to the baby and can more conveniently breastfeed him or her at night.

Many people who advocate for co-sleeping point out it is a practice that has been used across generations and cultures for a long time. While this may be true, significantly more research has come to light and should be considered.

Advocates for bed separation

A number of organizations have issued statements on safety concerns for parents engaging in co-sleeping. Examples include:

  • The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission advocates babies have their own bed.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics has a “Back to Sleep” campaign that recommends room-sharing as an alternative to bed-sharing. Ideally, babies room-share for the first year of life, but do not sleep in the same bed as caregivers.
  • The March of Dimes says the safest place for a baby to sleep is in his or her bassinet or crib.
  • The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development says a baby should be placed on his or her back to sleep to avoid risk for SIDS.

These recommendations come from statistics showing that half of all SIDS-related deaths are related to co-sleeping, according to the March of Dimes. Babies can become smothered by a pillow, blanket, a parent or they can fall off the bed, become trapped in between the bed and wall, in the bed frame, or in the footboard.

New parents are traditionally very tired, making them harder to awaken should a baby be experiencing a harmful event. While parents may have the best intentions through co-sleeping, they may not be able to protect their baby while they’re sleep deprived.

Recommendations

In a perfect world, babies should be placed on their backs to sleep. This is associated with a better position for keeping baby’s airway clear. The crib should be free from crib bumpers, blankets, toys, or anything that a baby could potentially choke on, be suffocated by, or become wedged under. Babies should never be placed on a soft mattress or waterbed to sleep.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says that having your baby sleep in the same room between 6 and 12 months of age—but not in the same bed—actually reduces the risk for SIDS. You can keep a bassinet or crib in your room. If you choose to use a baby sleep surface that actually attaches to the bed, ensure it is properly fitted and that there is no possibility you could roll over the attachment.

Takeaways

  • Co-sleeping increases a baby’s risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) by as much as five times.
  • Co-sleeping is associated with increased risks for strangulation and suffocation.
  • Room-sharing is recommended over bed-sharing.

References

  1. British Medical Journal. Bed Sharing When Parents Do Not Smoke. Is There A Risk of SIDS?
  2. Fox News. Co-sleeping and Bed-Sharing: Is It a Good Idea?
  3. KidsHealth. Co-sleeping and Your Baby.
  4. March of Dimes. Co-sleeping.
  5. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Frequently Asked Questions About SIDS and Safe Sleep.
  6. University of Notre Dame. Safe Co-sleeping Guidelines.

Comments

  1. Also if you think about it as a parent of an infant(s) especially first timers, you won’t really get a good night sleep bc you’ll either be up with baby or up constantly checking on baby to c if he/she is still breathing.

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  2. I’m for co-sleeping as long as you feel well enough to be able to wake up at a sudden sound or movement which I do bc I’m so used to it. The negative impact for me is we have bed babies. Our 1st did awesome at staying in his own crib but our other 2 sleep better and longer in bed with us. So good luck with whichever you choose!

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    1. Thanks for sharing your story. Hopefully this will help new moms make the decision that is right for their unique situations.

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  3. To be clear-the cause of SIDS is unknown. Co-sleeping does not increase the risk of SIDS but it does increase the chances of suffocation. SIDS is a cause of death when there is no other explanation for the cause of death. When we KNOW that the child died of suffocation due to co sleeping than that is not SIDS. I have studied this topic for months. I honestly wish we knew why SIDS happen because I worry about it all the time.

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    1. Great point. SIDS is such a scary topic because there are so many unknowns.

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    2. There has been recent speculation that pesticides/herbicides and other chemicals we come into contact with on a daily basis causes toxicity in their fragile systems that they are incapable of handling. I would also guess that CIO training or other such methods early on could be a factor leading to failure to thrive. In any case the flame retardant chemical used in most children’s sleepwear has been linked to liver cancer in one recent study. I’d say eat organic, buy organic cotton and learn to make your own clothes. You can get a 10 lb box of scraps of organic cloth for $18 from organiccottonplus.com which is enough to make several outfits for baby.

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    1. I love that this article cites Dr. McKenna, because as you state Kristina, the majority of parents will co-sleep in some capacity at some point, so it is best to know how to do it safely. I too was of the camp “I will never!!” until I did occasionally, for my sanity, but using Dr. McKenna’s strict guidelines.

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  4. I never did this and don’t understand how parents can. If I tried this I know I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep because I would be afraid of rolling on top of the baby. I always had mine in a bassinet right next to the bed so it was just as easy to get them out of that as it would be if they were sleeping in the bed.

    Reply
    1. You would have been an excellent candidate for bed sharing. It is the absolute fear of rolling over on a child that keeps us from doing it. We may not get that deep sleep that every mother dreams of but when you have an inconsolable child that simply will not sleep anywhere but in your arms which is safer- fall asleep with baby on couch or chair from exhaustion and possibly being unrousable, or getting enough sleep in a large bed and being able to be disturbed by the slightest sigh from baby? Also babies tend to kick the covers off so when bed sharing it is imperative to keep the room slightly warm with a light fan and totally ditch the covers and pillows (except your back support for feeding). Many of us who choose bed sharing do so with meticulous consideration for baby’s well being). Some great articles and studies have been published at naturalchild.org on this

      Reply

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