In a statement that ought to provoke a firestorm of controversy, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has just issued a warning to parents not to allow their infants to sleep with them. The recommendation was based on a study of deaths attributed to babies sleeping in adult beds from the period 1990-1997. This report is available at the CPSC website as the cover story, Don’t Place Babies in Adult Beds. The authors of the study maintain that babies younger than 12 months should be put to sleep in a crib rather than sleep with their parents.
The media is now giving this study considerable attention, largely ignoring previous studies and evidence that safe co-sleeping is of great benefit to babies and their parents. Almost lost in the media frenzy are the important statistics involving babies that are lost to SIDS in their own cribs, in order to glamorize the new results. This was not a comparative study, yet many media outlets are jumping on the bandwagon in announcing that all new parents must buy cribs or they are akin to child abusers. Peggy O’Mara, editor of Mothering Magazine, writes more about the media and government’s sudden attack on co-sleeping in Get Out of My Bedroom!
Dr. Jay Gordon, a pediatrician in Santa Monica and a well-known authority on breastfeeding and attachment parenting, was less than enthusiastic about the new study. “Crib death may be prevented by co-sleeping, and breastfeeding is increased by sharing the family bed. Countless thousands of lives are saved by the family bed and in twenty years as a pediatrician I have never seen a child in any way endangered by sleeping with her parents. These researchers should be ashamed of themselves.”
The key to any sleeping arrangement in any household is safety and understanding and elimination of potential risk factors. While no sleeping arrangement can be a 100% guarantee that there will be no problems, there are many things that parents do not know about creating a safe sleep space for their children. In the CPSC study, most deaths occurred simply because parents did not put into practice safety precautions for their babies. According to the National SIDS Alliance, approximately 2,700 babies die each year from SIDS; the vast majority of those sleeping alone in a crib. In the CPSC study, 515 died between 1990 to 1997 directly as a result of poor safety in co-sleeping. Since much research has linked co-sleeping to decreased SIDS incidence, it is imperative that parents educate themselves about safety rather than blame the sleeping arrangements for causing harm.
If you do use a crib for your child, you need to know some basics. Cribs manufactured before 1982 can be dangerous and should not be used for children, so do not accept hand-me-downs from well-meaning relatives. Be certain the paint is not lead based and does not crack. Look for missing or loose slats or loose screws on the crib. Do not allow pillows or stuffed animals in bed with your baby until the baby is at least 12 months of age; and when the baby can stand, remove all bumpers. Be careful that only lightweight blankets are used; better yet, use a light blanket sleeper for the child so that they can’t get tangled in blankets and suffocate.
Co-sleeping has been a safe, healthy, and wonderful alternative to the crib for many families. Katie Allison Granju, author of Attachment Parenting: Instinctive Care for Your Baby and Young Child, recommends these safety factors when co-sleeping (many can be applied to crib sleep as well):
- When using a standard, off-the-floor bed, be absolutely sure that your baby cannot roll or fall off the sides.
- Young infants should sleep between their mother and the bed rail, not between both parents or beside an older sibling.
- Make sure that your mattress or futon provides a firm sleeping surface. Never, ever allow an infant to sleep on a waterbed, featherbed, beanbag, deep pillowtop mattress or other inappropriately soft surface.
- Never sleep with your baby if you are under the influence of drugs, alcohol or prescription medication that makes you unusually groggy or sleepy.
- Exceptionally obese parents should use a sidecar arrangement (crib attached to the side of the bed) rather than having a young infant in the bed with them.
- Do not overload your bed with excessive pillows, blankets, or stuffed animals.
- Never fall asleep on a couch, sofa, or overstuffed chair with your baby.
- Do not stuff too many bodies into a bed with a small baby.
- Make sure that your baby isn’t overdressed. Remember, the body heat in a family bed makes most bedtime bundling unnecessary.
- Dress your baby in safe sleepwear. Flame retardant with no strings or ties, just as you would if she were sleeping alone.
The study performs a service in pointing out the dangers of sleeping unsafely; but the implication that babies should never sleep with their parents, even with the proper precautions, may be a serious disservice to American families. The bottom line is…sleep safely!