Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Co-sleeping safety: Take two

As a follow up to any paranoia I may have stirred up (mostly in myself probably) in regards to co-sleeping after Sunday’s post about the infant suffocation deaths in Detroit:
Jennifer Fletcher, a registered nurse and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant for One Baby Place at Doctors Hospital wrote this in an e-mail:

I am glad you are tackling this topic. Of course, we know there is unsafe co-sleeping, and there is 100% SAFE co-sleeping. You may already be familiar with the work of Dr. James McKenna, but if not, please, please get to know this fellow. He runs an infant sleep lab at Notre Dame University, and he is, in my opinion, the absolute final authority on safe co-sleeping. The fact that the tragic deaths you heard about on NPR occurred in the Detroit area raised a red flag for me. Perhaps entirely erroneously, I think of Detroit as a kind of gritty urban area---lots of poverty, lots of unsafe or sub-standard housing, lots of large families where toddlers and pre-schoolers perhaps share beds with infants. Again, this may be an entirely unfair stereotype, but I would want to know a great deal more about the circumstances of these deaths before I would be willing to alter my opinions about the benefits of co-sleeping.

Also Lindsay C., mother of 11-month-old Cannon, offers up her experiences co-sleeping plus some good websites with info on how to co-sleep safely including this one: See her comment on the July 30 post.

For an in-depth review of research related to co-sleeping, SIDS and other fatal sleep-related accidents (with McKenna as co-author), go to The review is boldly entitled: “Why babies should never sleep alone: A review of the co-sleeping controversy in relation to SIDS, bedsharing and breast feeding.” Here by “alone,” McKenna means in another room. He suggests that bottle-fed infants should not sleep in the same bed as their mothers (see his quote in this July 25 article that ran in the Ledger-Enquirer:, that nursing infants are safe sleeping with mothers who take certain precautions, and that all babies are safer at least sleeping in the same room as their parents.

Among the findings cited and arguments made:

“After all, mother-infant co-sleeping represents the most biologically appropriate sleeping arrangement for humans and is both ancient and ubiquitous simply because breastfeeding is not possible, nor as easily managed, without it. The increased sensory contact and proximity between the mother and infant induces potentially beneficial behavioural and physiological changes in the infant.”

“Three major epidemiological studies have shown that when a committed caregiver, usually the mother, sleeps in the same room but not in the same bed with their infant the chance of the infant dying from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is reduced by 50%.”

“… the overwhelming number of suspected accidental overlays or fatal accidents occur not within breast feeding-bedsharing communities but in urban poverty, where multiple independent SIDS risk ‘factors’ converge and bottle feeding rather than breast feeding predominates.”

And while we’re on the subject of SIDS, there’s been interesting news on that front in the past week too. Researchers in Seattle say that hearing tests given to 62 infants in Delaware show a unique pattern of partial hearing loss among those babies who later died of SIDS. If hearing loss can be established as a definite indicator of SIDS it could mean a major breakthrough in preventing the syndrome among infants at risk. Go to,1,2214491.story?track=rss for the full story, which ran July 28 in the Los Angeles Times.


April said...

Well, thank goodness for all of the common sense and wonderful information in this post. I wonder how many women are discouraged from breastfeeding because it means having to get out of bed over and over during the night? As a mom who has tried it all in the infant sleep department, I would simply say that co-sleeping was best way to maximize mamma sleep time during the first six months of my infants' lives. After six months, the issue got more complicated, and I think dependent on the unique personalities and needs of different family members. But, on a gut level, having mainstream medical professionals tell people not to sleep with their newborn tiny infants indicates to me that we have lost touch with some vital and elemental aspects of our humanity.

Meagan Francis said...

Just stumbled across your blog--I'm a former Michigan (recently moved to Chicago) mom who co-slept with my kids. I don't know if I'd agree that there is any such thing as 100% safety when it comes to babies and sleep, but I do agree that co-sleeping can be just as safe as crib sleeping--sometimes safer, depending on the circumstances. I spoke to quite a few anti-cosleeping docs while researching an article I recently wrote on the topic, and from a lot of them it basically it came down to this: from a public health perspective the experts want something they can control. They can create a safe crib, but they can't go personally into each bedroom and make sure that the bed an infant is sleeping in is safe. A lot of the babies who are reported as dying in adult beds were in truly dangerous conditions. Sometimes the parents smoked, drank or were using drugs. Sometimes there aren't even any adults in the room at all to rescue the baby if he or she becomes trapped. I even read one site where they attempted to prove that co-sleeping was dangerous by including babies who died while sleeping alone on a sofa or chair! NOT the same thing as the co-sleeping that I'm familiar with, you know?


As a journalist, I know what it's like to try write a story under time and space constraints. That's why I like to listen to NPR and ignore the sound bytes on TV news -- but in a fairly brief story like the Detroit infant death cases, the reporter only had time for one pediatrician's advice and no specific details on each of the “co-sleeping” deaths. It is very possible that none of the infants was smothered by a nursing mother. Still plenty of nursing mothers out there, including me, probably got the jitters listening to that story and the pediatrician’s pronouncements about why he never let his wife sleep with their own children in bed. Glad to get some balancing views from you, Meagan and April (and from Jennifer, Lindsay and experts like Dr. McKenna) to reassure the co-sleeping nursing moms reading this blog.
I’m still sticking with the Arm’s reach co-sleeper, though, because we’re all resting better. Owen’s nursing just as frequently but not pacifying on the breast forever aftwerwards, which was keeping me awake. I find myself laying my face right in line with his, gazing at him, letting his little hand grasp my finger and patting him at various points through the night. And now Rob and I have some wiggle room in our little queen bed and we don’t have to even give a thought to Rob’s occasional fast-asleep habit of raising his elbow up in the air and then dropping it down beside him. Yikes!