The latest on co-sleeping and SIDS

New research suggests a link between co-sleeping and SIDS. Here's how you can minimize the risk.
Photo: iStockphoto

Photo: iStockphoto

You could easily rank co-sleeping near the top of any list of controversial parenting issues. Now, a new study promises to fuel the debate even further, stating that co-sleeping—especially for younger babies—is associated with a higher risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). The study, recently published in Pediatrics, claims that the 69 percent of infants who died from SIDS were bed-sharing at the time of their death.

Read more: The debate: Should you co-sleep?>

Researchers from the National Center for the Review and Prevention of Child Deaths in the US reviewed 8,207 unexplained deaths across 24 states, grouping the data in two categories: deaths in those younger than four months old and deaths in infants older than four months old. They found that 74 percent of the younger infants were bed-sharing at the time of their death. The older babies were more likely to be found on their stomachs or surrounded by objects, such as stuffed animals, at the time of death. When no determined cause can be found for a baby’s death, doctors categorize it as SIDS.

Whether it’s the increase of attachment parenting, or a case of just labelling a behavior that families have been practising for centuries, co-sleeping is on the rise. But it remains a controversial topic with many government agencies, including the Canadian Paediatric Society, recommending that parents don’t co-sleep with their kids. They suggest babies sleep in a crib in the parents’ room for the first six months.

There are no statistics for how many Canadian families share a bed, but a study out of the US show that bed-sharing has doubled from five percent to 12 percent in the last few years.

There are many factors in SIDS-related deaths, and researchers did not look at variables such as smoking, the use of drugs and alcohol, or where the baby was sleeping when analyzing the data. They say they may look at that in future studies, but without that data I’m not sure that the study would change my mind about the safety of co-sleeping. Also, bed-sharing is not labelled as a cause for SIDS, but is instead associated with it, since the causes of SIDS is still not known. Researchers can only search for common links between the deaths.

There was a study in Britain that also showed the link between co-sleeping and SIDS (and did account for occasions where there was alcohol use and second-hand smoke). It found that co-sleeping increased the risk of losing a baby by five times—even if the mother did not smoke and has not consumed any alcohol. I admit that study did give me pause.

Bed-sharing isn’t right for anyone, but it was an easy decision for our family. We minimized the risk factors by ensuring that we had a large, firm mattress with no crevices or cracks, and light covers. The benefits for nighttime feeding and bonding far outweighed the cons for us. Also, we found that the baby ended up in our bed no matter what our plan was for the evening.

As a glasses-wearing zombie I would have been a hazard to myself and the baby (and not to mention the cats) if I had to wander around the house to feed my kids. But it’s more than that—co-sleeping felt right to us. The feeling of the baby’s warm body snuggled next to mine is one of my best memories of early parenting and I think was good for the baby, too.

Advocates for bed-sharing, such as James McKenna, the foremost authority on co-sleeping, say that parents need to be better informed on how to make bed-sharing safe for infants. When they are armed with all the appropriate information they can make the decision that is best for their family. Because, he writes, sometimes “sleep happens” and no formal decision ever gets made on the best sleeping arrangements.

If you do co-sleep, here are some tips to do so safely:
• Bed surface should be firm. Babies should not be put down on waterbeds, beanbags, pillows or sheepskins.
• No cracks or crevices between the headboard, footboard or sides of the bed where the baby could get wedged in.
• No smoking near the baby. Second-hand smoke increases the risk of SIDS. The mother should never smoke and co-sleep, even away from the baby.
• No extra bodies in the bed—including other children or pets.
• Babies should not be placed on couches, recliners or anywhere they can roll and get trapped in a crevice.
• Bedding should be tight-fitted to the mattress.
• If either parent is overly tired, or has consumed alcohol, or taken drugs of an kind (including sedatives), they should not bed-share with the baby.
• Babies should always be placed on their back to sleep.
• Both parents have to be in agreement that the bed is the best place for the baby.

Given this new study, would you choose to co-sleep with your babies?

Emma Waverman is a writer, blogger and mom to three kids. She has many opinions, some of them are fit to print. Read more of her articles here and follow her on Twitter @emmawaverman

 

If you are looking to start co-sleeping right check out this video on safe co-sleeping tips:

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