Tuesday, March 10, 2009

In Defense of Co-Sleeping

Recently, a tragic story broke in the Milwaukee area in which a six-day old girl died while sleeping with her mother. (Link to story here.) Even more tragic is the fact that this same mother lost a child last April, apparently due to the same cause--co-sleeping with her child. Losing a child would be the most painful thing that I think I could possibly fathom, but losing two kids would be enough to land me in a mental hospital for the rest of my living days. I just wouldn't be able to move on. So, before I go any further, I want to make it clear that I am very sympathetic to this mother and that I am NOT judging her, because really, I just can't imagine the pain she is going through right now and my heart is breaking for her.

This story has the anti-family bed peeps foaming at the mouth, I'm sure. Here is just another instance of how those damn liberals and hippies are putting their kids in danger and leading them to death's door by allowing them to share a bed with their parents!! When will they ever learn??!?!

Except here's the thing...this mother admitted to police after her child died that she had gone to a party, gotten drunk, and didn't even remember picking up her children from their sitter or bringing them home. She didn't remember where she had put her poor child to sleep, but said that it was possible that she fell asleep on the couch with the baby. Her other baby that died last year is reported to have fallen asleep under the same type of circumstances.

Anyone who knows me or reads my blog knows that I am a proponent of co-sleeping. I shared a bed with Grace for the first two years of her life and I don't regret a moment of it. And, even though co-sleeping is not a goal of ours with Harrison, I have to say that I won't be upset if it happens. I believe that co-sleeping is a great way for parents to have extra time connecting with their children at the end of the day, and if it is done safely, the family bed can have many benefits for both the child and the parents.

That is the key--it must be done safely. Apart from making sure that your bed doesn't have any guardrails or other obstacles that could potentially trap your child, the number one thing to remember when co-sleeping is that you should never, ever, sleep with your child if you're under the influence of alcohol or drugs. According to, "If you are drunk or drugged, these chemicals lessen your arousability from sleep." In other words, if you are so drunk that you don't even remember coming home from a party, you probably will not wake up automatically if you roll over on your baby and smother him or her. Dr. Sears also says, "Parents should use common sense when sharing sleep. Anything that could cause you to sleep more soundly than usual or that alters your sleep patterns can affect your baby's safety. Nearly all the highly suspected (but seldom proven) cases of fatal "overlying" I could find in the literature could have been avoided if parents had observed common sense sleeping practices."

Again, I don't want it to seem like I am judging this poor mother, but it seems to me that common sense was not exercised in this tragic case. A vast majority of us parents who make the decision to allow our children to sleep in our beds with us do put our children's safety first and we ensure that we are taking all of the proper precautions we should take in order to keep everyone safe. We really do believe that we are making the right decision for our family by co-sleeping and we are not just choosing to do it because we want to spoil our kids. I'd encourage anyone who would rush to judge parents (based on this one tragic story) who share a bed with their kids to do some more research and reconsider the facts...again, according to Dr. Sears, "Research shows that infants who sleep in a crib are twice as likely to suffer a sleep related fatality (including SIDS) than infants who sleep in bed with their parents."


Carrie said...

I have been planning on writing about this myself soon. This is one of these areas where the adage that "you can't be too careful" is dead wrong. Yes, putting an infant to sleep alone in a crib might be the most "careful" thing to do -- but that doesn't mean it is the best thing in all circumstances, nor does it mean that the risks outweight the benefits. It would also be the most careful thing to never put your child in a car, but you never see child safety advoates advising that.

Anonymous said...

Co-sleeping maybe good for the bonding effect but for light sleepers like me, co-sleeping means sleep depravation and therefore cranky and less useful mother (and sick mother). I wake up with a single movement, single sniffle so it is best if the baby sleeps away from the bed or in another room so I can get some restful sleep so I have energy and good health.

Sara said...

I'm not in any way saying that co-sleeping is the ONLY way to go...I am a firm believer in doing what is best for you and your family, and if that means putting your baby to sleep in a crib in another room, then so be it. But, I shudder to think about how many people will cite this one incident as a reason to rally against co-sleeping. It does work for a lot of families...