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Is Co-Sleeping Dangerous?

admin October 29, 2013

Today we have a guest post from Trisha of Intoxicated on Life.  She’s addressing the recent PSAs stating the co-sleeping is dangerous, and the study that “proves” it.  Read on to separate fact from fiction!

I saw a recent PSA showing the dangers of co-sleeping. A mother lay asleep on a couch, playfully awakened by her husband who is behind a home video camera. She is cradling her infant daughter in her arms. Suddenly alarmed, she screams, “She’s not breathing!” and the man drops the camera to the floor in a panic. The screen goes black, leaving the audience with ominous and predictable warnings: Never sleep with your baby, not even for a moment, because a moment is all it takes.

Co-sleeping advocates will probably never come up with a PSA nearly as effective as this. Nothing quite beats the your-children-might-die fear factor. Still, the question remains: Is this fear based on facts?

Recent Meta-Analysis Shows Co-Sleeping is Dangerous

I was recently accused of disseminating “dangerous” and “unsafe” information in a post on my site titled 9 Benefits of the Breastfeeding and Co-Sleeping Relationship. The commenter referred to a recent study. This meta-analysis in the British Journal of Medicine sounded the alarm against bed-sharing.

Bed sharing for sleep when the parents do not smoke or take alcohol or drugs increases the risk of SIDS…A substantial reduction of SIDS rates could be achieved if parents avoided bed sharing.”

This study analyzed the results from five SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) studies conducted between 1987 and 2003 to come to these alarming conclusions. The researchers in this study are so convinced of the dangerous nature of bed-sharing that they conclude that nearly 88% of SIDS cases that occurred while baby was bed-sharing could have been avoided had the babies had their own bed.

Wow. If you’re a breastfeeding, baby-wearing, co-sleeping mama like me you might be a bit alarmed by this statement. I had always understood the data to support co-sleeping when parents were non-smokers and sober, to actually be advantageous to baby.

I started to wonder: despite the fact that I love cuddling with my babies all night long, would I forgo bed-sharing if I were to have another baby?

A Closer Look at the Facts

One thing I’ve learned in my years of schooling and research is that you can’t take the conclusions of every study at face value. Some studies are well-designed and some are, well…not. So, I dug into this study more to find out what was really going on.

  • Data collected was from different countries, from different cultures, at different time periods, with studies using different definitions.
  • No standard definition of “bed-sharing” was used among the five studies—they all differ to some extent.
  • None of these five studies collected data on recent legal drug consumption. Many women in the weeks following the birth of their babies are prescribed prescription painkillers, particularly those women who had a baby via c-section (which unfortunately happens a whole lot). Taking even prescription pain medication can increase risks when bed-sharing.
  • Maternal alcohol consumption prior to the last sleep was only collected in two of the studies. Then the researchers estimated the number of individuals in the three other studies who had consumed alcohol. This is a big problem. Trying to impute values of alcohol consumption across different cultures that arguably have different alcohol consumption habits is not reasonable.
  • There was no information on the partner’s drug and/or alcohol consumption.
  • “Breastfeeding” in this study was defined as a baby that receives any amount of breast milk. The infant could have been partially or fully breastfed. It could include babies breastfed only once per day. We have no way of knowing.
  • The authors do not have any information on the bed-sharing environment—specifically bedding and room temperature which can be associated with risks.

There was nothing standardized about this analysis. It is wrought with problems and inconsistencies. This was most definitely not a well-designed meta-analysis. In my opinion, using this study you cannot claim co-sleeping is a dangerous practice and increases rates of SIDS.

Is Co-Sleeping Dangerous?

So, Can You Safely Co-Sleep?

I believe the answer to this question is definitively, yes. In addition to anthropological evidence, there have been many studies which have shown that when you safely co-sleep with your baby it decreases the risk of SIDS. Indeed, in Japan co-sleeping is the norm, yet they also have one of the lowest rates of SIDS in the world.

If you choose to co-sleep, be sure to know the guidelines on how to safely co-sleep.

  1. As with crib sleeping, place baby on back to sleep.
  2. Be sure that there is no loose bedding or covers near baby.
  3. Do not wear clothing to bed that has loose strings.
  4. Do not sleep with baby if you are inebriated or have taken any tranquilizing drugs (prescription or recreation).
  5. Sleep in a large bed with plenty of space for everyone, but take precaution that baby can not roll out of bed. (I used the Arms Reach Bedside Co-sleeper with my children. They rarely slept in it, but it was great for catching babies once they began to roll!)

This is just a short list of guidelines, please see this list for more comprehensive guidelines.

Just as there can be hazards associated with your baby sleeping in a crib, so too there can be dangers in co-sleeping. As a mother, it’s your duty to make sure you are giving your baby as safe of a sleeping environment as you are able.

Dr. McKenna and McDade foremost SIDS researchers plead with policy-makers:

Co-sleeping…with an actively breastfeeding mother saves lives, is a powerful reason why the simplistic, scientifically inaccurate and misleading statement ‘never sleep with your baby‘ needs to be rescinded, wherever and whenever it is published. – Pediatric Respiratory Review



Trisha
is a Christian homeschooling mom to four boys. She is married to Luke, her best friend. She blogs with Luke at Intoxicated on Life about their families’ pursuit of a healthy home life: physically, spiritually, and emotionally. They aim to present solid research fused with timeless wisdom and personal experiences. Trisha also writes at BreastfeedingPlace.com, a site that aims to encourage and support breastfeeding moms. You can find Luke and Trisha at their blog, as well as on facebook, twitter, Pinterest,
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15 Comments

  1. Great article! I also read when my son was a baby to put the baby between the mom and a bed rail to mom and the cosleeper type bed rather than between mom and dad. I think that came from Dr. Sear’s book. Appearantly dads are more likely to role over on babies than mommies (sorry dads we know you love the little tykes too). I also learned to get comfy without a pillow under my head and dressed warmly rather than used a blanket to make the environment free of suffocation hazards. You just make the best possible environment for safety. My son coslept and a baby and is now a happy and healthy 7 year old!

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  2. I homebirthed, breastfed (until the child was stealing food off my plate), and slept with each of my 9 babies. Never had one incident. Dh slept with us. It was a VERY nice lifestyle and I miss babies in our bed. My baby is 7yo now. We also used plenty of homemade heavy quilts to keep us warm, but the babies were in our arms cuddled safe. I did NOT drink alcohol, or take drugs.

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  3. All 3 of my kids co-slept…and it’s been the best thing for everyone. Heck my 2 year old still comes in, after going to bed in her own room, at 10:30PM and sleeps with us. It’s the best thing. Thanks for the article.

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  4. Thank you for your post! Such great information. We are often asked how the nursery is decorated or if we have the crib set up…we aren’t exactly met with open arms when we decide to be so specific as to say we are cosleeping. I also find that SIDS is a term used synonymously with suffocation or asphyxiation. Equally as devastating but not the same thing. SIDS is unexplained but has been coined as a catch all it seems. Great post I will be using again I’m sure!

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  5. I co-slept with my two children. I had read and put all the advice into practice. I believe co-sleeping has saved my sanity and quite possible my firstborn’s life, in the sense that he was an exceptionally high-needs baby day and night, something I was not at all prepared for, and had I not had some semblance of sleep thanks to our co-sleeping arrangement, I know I might have done him harm out of sheer despair. These were terribly difficult months, and were it not for the physical rest I got during the nights, things could have become very dangerous.

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  6. This is a topic that heats me like no other. Ok well that’s not true… it’s one of the topics at the top of my LIST of topics that heat me up! These “facts” are SO screwed up! First of all SIDS was originally called COT DEATH – and SIDS is an UNKNOWN death – people who write these articles against co-sleeping are referring to suffocation – not SIDS. It’s proven that co-sleeping actually decreases the chances of SIDS for numerous reasons. I wrote a ‘debate’ article on this topic here: http://wedonthaveitall.com/2012/02/co-sleeping-debate-with-the-danielles.html showing lots of facts about the benefits of co-sleeping. One thing that has NEVER been studied regarding SIDS is the vaccination schedule. SIDS usually happens between 2-3 months which is exactly when baby receives another round of shots. This is worth looking into.

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  7. […] If you’ve co-slept with your children, these appear to be alarming statistics! I spent some time digging into the background of this study to learn more. Interested in learning out more? Be sure to read my post over at Modern Alternative Mama. […]

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  8. […] but the whole thing has been lumped into one. Modern Alternative Mama separates the two and gives tips for safe co-sleeping and Kindred Community really breaks apart the research on both sides in this article on […]

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  9. I bedshare and firmly believe there have been several times before my daughter learned to sit up when she could have easily choked on her own spit up had I not been right beside her to lift her upright. 🙁 it’s scary to think about and I’ll never be able to let an infant sleep alone with a clear conscious. Though I believe bed sharing is not for everyone as not all mothers are light sleepers.

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  10. I began co-sleeping with my firstborn when he stopped breathing in the hospital as we were signing our release papers. He had excessive amounts of mucous in his throat and couldn’t clear it (he was my one and only baby that I was induced and had an epidural with — I believe the narcotic effect of the epidural reduced his ability to expel the mucous). I was scared to death. There was no way in the world I would put him to sleep by himself — for night or for naps either! He had recurrent choking episodes for 5 months. He lay propped up on my arm all night, and I would feel him stiffen when he couldn’t breathe. I would suction him out and then we would go back to sleep. I’m convinced that co-sleeping saved his life. My experience with him changed my entire perspective on co-sleeping. We have co-slept with all 6 of our children, and I feel it is the most natural thing in the world to do.

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  11. […] I have mixed emotions about the concept of co-sleeping. I believe that it is important for a baby to have their own bed; however, I do not find sleeping with the child a bad thing. Personally, I would not like to have my child in my bed with me at night while I am asleep. My own fears would convince me that I would somehow harm the baby in my sleep. Plus, I move around a lot when I sleep and I do not like to be touched when I am sleeping either. I feel that I would be too scared and/or annoyed if I had a fragile baby sleeping in the bed with me. On the other hand, I would like my baby, especially if he or she is a newborn, to be closer to me at night because it would make me feel safer. Feeding would also be easier. I would prefer a small bassinet on the side of my bed for the baby to sleep in. I researched this topic further to see if there were any dangerous side effects from co-sleeping and turns out most of the ones given are not really threatening. One of them was that the risk of SIDS became greater. However, the study was further researched. It was found out that it was not well put together and there were many mistakes in the analysis. Some examples were that the definitions of the terms “bed-sharing” and “breastfeeding” were not the same throughout. Also, the studies were taken from different countries, different time periods, and different cultures. As a result, there has not been legitimate proof that co-sleeping increases the rate of SIDS. Co-sleeping is not a dangerous idea if the parents are cautious. I believe that it is up to the parents to make an educated decision on whether or not to co-sleep with their children. Here is the link to the blogger who researched the SIDS case: https://modernalternativemama.com/2013/10/29/is-co-sleeping-dangerous/ […]

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  12. SIDS, quite simply put, is a cause of death they give when they cannot find one when a child is under the age of 1. The real problem is when you talk about positional asphyxia and smothering- these things DO happen and are completely preventable by putting a baby alone, on their back, in a crib. It’s fact. The weight of an adult arm placed over a child’s abdomen alone can be heavy enough to leave them unable to lift their chest to breathe. In my opinion, it’s a “why take the risk” situation.

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  13. […] find out all the details about the bundle sale, read this post or simply click on the banner below to […]

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  14. […] about the Natural Fertility eBook bundle sale! To find out all the details about the sale, read this post or simply click on the banner below to purchase the […]

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  15. […] When co-sleeping, blankets and pillows should be moved away from baby’s face to prevent suffocation. Mom’s hair should be tied back for the same reason. If dad or mom is a violent sleeper or a sleep walker, co-sleeping may not be safe. Mom or dad should not be taking medications that make them drowsy or have had alcohol before bedtime. If safe guidelines are followed, your baby is very safe in your bed and in your arms. (Read more about safe co-sleeping HERE) […]

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Hi, I’m Kate.  I love medical freedom, sharing natural remedies, developing real food recipes, and gentle parenting. My goal is to teach you how to live your life free from Big Pharma, Big Food, and Big Government by learning about herbs, cooking, and sustainable practices.

I’m the author of Natural Remedies for Kids and the owner and lead herbalist at EarthleyI hope you’ll join me on the journey to a free and healthy life!

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