By Sarah Kerrigan
Over the last week, my post on co-sleeping and public policy has generated a huge, passionate response.
Comments ranged from heartfelt, personal stories of family bedsharing to adamant opposition to the practice, from questions about terminology to pleas for more information about safe bedsharing.
Riobound wrote: “I like the idea of ‘educate’ but don’t ‘dictate.’ The State should inform not impose.”
And PilgrimOnTheJames posted that “we shared our bed with each of our seven babies…for the first several months of their post-partum lives…because it allowed my wife to breast-feed them without her having to greatly disturb her much needed rest, and also, because the little tikes smelled so good and were so cute to watch sleeping. We moved them into a separate bed in our room once they were able to consistently sleep through the night. The bonds that were begun then have only grown and strengthened over the past 30+ years of family life. I thank God that we ignored the advice of many well-meaning, but totally scandalized family members and friends.”
Amelia Oliver commented, “Thank goodness the scientific community is finally considering moving away from trying to scare people out of bed-sharing and co-sleeping. The comparison with the policy of advocating abstinence instead of sex-ed is strikingly appropriate since almost everyone does it but we are all afraid to talk about it, let’s start teaching the safe way to do it.”
Molly pointed out “This article…conflates the issues of cosleeping in bed sharing, which are not the same thing. Cosleeping is risk free, end of story. Bed sharing does have risks if not done carefully and correctly.”
So in an effort to shed more light on the topic, I’ll try here to clarify the terms, explain why the research linking SIDS to bedsharing is inherently flawed, and provide some tips to make sleep as safe as possible for all babies.
In the scientific community, “co-sleeping” is a general term for a child sleeping in close proximity to a caregiver, within sensory range. “Room-sharing” is when a child sleeps in the same room as her caregiver. Under this definition are two sub-categories: “separate-surface cosleeping,” in which the child has his own bed, and “same-surface cosleeping,” also known as bedsharing. “Bedsharing” is the term that describes what most Americans think of when they hear “co-sleeping:” a child sleeping in an adult bed with his caregivers. This sort of close proximity is natural to the human species.
2. ’Shaky Evidence’ And A Shift In Thinking
The AAP, a highly influential professional group of pediatricians, opposes bedsharing and has led the charge to promote the idea that sleeping in the same bed as your infant is dangerous. “The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not recommend any speciﬁc bed-sharing situations as safe,” the organization says in its latest statement on the matter, which then goes on to list what it characterizes as particularly unsafe bed sharing practices to be avoided “at all times,” including, “when the infant is younger than 3 months,” or with a smoker. The AAP also says bed sharing should be avoided “with someone who is excessively tired,” which makes us wonder if any of them have ever actually been parents.
But many researchers, medical professionals and worldwide organizations question the AAP’s position on bedsharing, in large part due to ‘shaky evidence’ as the basis of the academy’s position, and also given the benefits of the practice. Dr. Abraham Bergman, a prominent SIDS researcher and pediatrician said in an email that “the evidence linking bed sharing per se to the increased risk for infant death is shaky, and certainly insufficient to condemn a widespread cultural practice that has its own benefits.” The WHO, UNICEF, La Leche League International, the Breast Feeding section of the AAP, and Academy of Breast Feeding Medicine all disagree with a sweeping recommendation to avoid bedsharing.