Safe Co-sleeping

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, or share sleep, with their babies in their own bed. For them, it is a choice made ahead of time. For many others, they often discover once they get their little one home from the hospital, he or she won’t sleep anywhere but with Mom and Dad. Learn how you can co-sleep safely with your infant.

Be alert
Regardless if you plan to sleep with your infant or it just happens to work once you get him or her home, there are some rules to make co-sleeping 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 that little expression on bumpers of cars, ‘baby on board,’ says James McKenna, director of the University of Notre Dame’s Mother and Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory, and renowned expert on co-sleeping.

The concept of co-sleeping, which families have been practicing for centuries, came under fire by the Consumer Product Safety Commission 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 said an average of 64 babies under age two died because they were placed to sleep in adult beds.

Three in a Bed
Learn more about co-sleeping here!
The CPSC reviewed death certificates from 1990 to 1997 and found 515 deaths of children younger than two years 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 394 other 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 and other structures. More than 75 percent of the deaths were to infants younger than three months.
However, proponents of shared sleep, including the well-known Dr William Sears, author of numerous books on parenting, and McKenna refute the CPSC’s findings.

While Sears says in a column he published on about the CPSC report that the report actually brings an awareness to parents and acts as a reminder for parents to co-sleep safely, he says it also created an unnecessary fear in millions of parents who safely and responsively sleep with their babies.

Mothers and babies designed to sleep together
Sears says co-sleeping alone is not inherently dangerous and that in fact many more infants die when sleeping alone in a crib than when sleeping in their parents’ bed.

McKenna says while no infant sleep environment is risk free, what is known to be true scientifically is that for nocturnal infant breastfeeding and nurturing throughout the night both mothers and babies were designed biologically and psychologically to sleep next to one another.

Nighttime Parenting
Buy one of Dr Sears’ books.
“In the worldwide ethnographic record, mothers accidentally suffocating their babies during the night is virtually unheard of, except among western industrialized nations, but here there are in the overwhelming number of cases, explanations of the deaths that require reference to dangerous circumstances and not to the act itself,” he says.
A study by McKenna on co-sleeping revealed that babies who sleep alone are at a significantly increased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). He also found that mothers and babies who slept together are extremely attuned to one another even while asleep and infants learn safe sleep habits, such as moving through various sleep-states and breathing patterns when sharing sleep.

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