The Truth About Cosleeping and SIDS

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It never occurred to me that is wasn’t ok to bring my babies into my bed. I shared my bed with each of my babies for months. We slept and nursed all night long back in the “80’s”. Those sweet memories are one of my most precious gifts of motherhood.

Most new mothers don’t intend to cosleep, but the truth is 60-75% do.

Moms are often reluctant to admit sleepsharing and may fear bringing their babies into their beds at all. Some have moved from the bed to a recliner or sofa at night rather than risk falling asleep with the baby in their bed. What they don’t realize is recliners and sofas are dangerous locations to sleepshare.   Infants have fallen, and worse, have become trapped between the parent and the furniture with tragic results. Sleep sharing (also called cosleeping and bed sharing) has become taboo in the US due to The American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation against it. This recommendation against sleep sharing is intended to reduce the risk of SIDs. Has it?

What we do know is the “back to sleep” campaign has reduced SIDs deaths by 50%.

Although SIDs deaths have decreased by one half, the US has the 2nd highest rate of SIDs in the world. Japan, where 40% of babies sleep with their mothers, has the 2nd lowest. Cosleeping (in the parents’ room) is recommended for all infants for the first three months of life as a safety measure. Research shows that sleep sharing, when done safely, does not increase the risk of SIDs. The AAP does recognize that separating mothers and babies at night can interfere with breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is protective for SIDs.  The terms cosleeping and bedsharing are often used interchangeably in data collection, and the type of sleep surface is not always specified. Inconsistencies in terminology and definitions have made it very difficult to determine the accuracy of the data used to formulate the AAP recommendations.

Safe Sleep Guidelines

Professor James J. McKenna’s Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at Notre Dame University has conducted decades of research. La Leche League has published the Safe Sleep Seven guidelines based on Dr. McKenna’s findings.

The Safe Sleep Seven Bedsharing Song (to the tune of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”)

No smoke, sober mom Baby at your breast
Healthy baby on his back Keep him lightly dressed.
Not too soft a bed Watch the cords and gaps
Keep the covers off his head For your nights and naps.

Dr. McKenna points out that bottle feeding babies should sleep on a separate surface beside the mother, not on the same surface, because of the difference in sleep behaviors in bottle fed infants. You can find Dr. McKenna’s comprehensive recommendations here.

Respected pediatrician and author, Dr. Sears, offers a balanced perspective on sleep sharing. His opinions are a combination of pediatric advice, personal parenting experience, and sleep research he did on his own wife and babies.  Dr. Sears discovered that mothers and babies synchronize during sleep, resulting in more stable heart and respiratory patterns for babies. It’s as if the mother’s breathing stimulates the baby to breathe. Babies spend less time in deep sleep, and tend to sleep on their backs or their sides. These are both factors that may reduce the risk of SIDs.   Mutual touch and interaction occurs during sleep sharing, as if mothers and babies are assuring themselves of each other’s well being.

Sleep sharing is the biological norm for human babies and their mothers, providing protection, warmth and nourishment through ages past. That has not changed, but the conditions under which we now sleep have.  That’s why the safe sleep guidelines are so important. Informed parents should be allowed to make their own decisions about what’s best for them and their babies, without any judging or shaming.

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