Tuesday, April 21, 2009

More Thoughts on Co-Sleeping

So, since my last post on co-sleeping, there have been two more infant deaths in Milwaukee that have been attributed to co-sleeping. That makes a total of three infant deaths that the local media is attributing to co-sleeping within the last six weeks. No matter what the reason for these deaths, they are a tragedy and my heart breaks for the families that have lost their babies.

These deaths have captured a lot of attention in the area, so much so that the mayor of Milwaukee, Tom Barrett, is now speaking out against co-sleeping, telling parents that if they love their children, they should put them in a crib. Not kidding--he really said that, on camera, and then his office proceeded to call more than 1300 day care facilities in the Milwaukee area to remind them of the dangers of co-sleeping and to remind them that children are safest in their cribs.

I would argue that we should all step back before things get too out of hand and take a look at the facts. In the first death, the one that I blogged about in March, the mother who fell asleep and smothered her child on a couch was intoxicated--so much so that she didn't remember many of the events of the night in which she smothered her child. In the second death, the grandmother who fell asleep and smothered her grandchild on a couch had eight beers before falling asleep. In this third and most recent death, the mother put her infant to bed with her AND HER THREE-YEAR-OLD CHILD and when she woke in the morning, the infant was dead. This mother also put her baby to sleep on a pillow. It doesn't appear as though alcohol was a factor in this particular case.

Again, my heart breaks for each of these families, and I just can't imagine the pain they are experiencing. I'm not trying to sound judgmental here. However, I would argue that in the first two cases, the adults were not co-sleeping...they passed out with the child on the couch with them and they didn't have the capacity to wake up when they were smothering these children. In the third case, it sounds like the situation was closer to what is traditionally defined as co-sleeping, but those of us who have done our research know that you never, ever put an infant in bed with another young child (because that other child may not react if they should roll over on the baby), and you don't ever put your baby to sleep on a pillow.

There are rules that need to be followed if a family decides to co-sleep with their infant. According to

  • Never smoke or allow others to smoke around your infant, whether or not you're co-sleeping. Some studies have found that babies who share a bed with parents who smoke are at higher risk for SIDS.
  • Never co-sleep with your infant if you're under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. These intoxicants could interfere with your awareness of your baby's presence and her cries.
  • If you're extremely overweight, sleep-sharing might not be safe for your baby. Installing a crib or a co-sleeper next to your bed is a less risky way to go.
  • Don't let older children sleep next to a baby younger than one year. They could accidentally harm the baby by rolling over or kicking in their sleep.
  • Put your baby to sleep only on a smooth, flat mattress. It's not safe for babies to sleep (with or without you) on a waterbed, an egg-crate mattress, a couch, an armchair, or any other surface that's not firm and could interfere with your baby's breathing — firm and flat is the rule.
  • To make sure your baby can breathe freely, keep pillows, blankets, comforters, and other bedding away from her face.
Again, I am not trying to sound judgmental, but in each of these tragic deaths, one or more of these rules was broken.

I am not ashamed to admit that I have shared a bed with both of my children (although I haven't co-slept with Gracie for quite some time, as she is now used to sleeping in a bed on her own). However, when I choose to do so, I make sure I follow the rules. I am not drunk or so tired that I am at the point of passing out. I make sure the bedding is secure and that the mattress is firm. I remove my pillow from my sleeping area--in fact, I don't even sleep on the pillow if my child is with me. I don't allow my children to sleep in the same bed together (and I won't allow this until Harrison is at least one year old). I ensure there is no possible way that my child could roll out of the bed or somehow entrap themselves in the bed. I keep blankets away from my child's face. And, I sleep facing my child so that I can respond to him or her if they should make any noise or cry out. Even though this means a less restful night's sleep for me, it makes for a more restful night for my child.

Mayor Barrett, I do love my children and I disagree with your advice to put them in a crib to sleep every night. Instead of going on the news and making parents who share a bed with their child feel ashamed for doing so, maybe we should be educating the public on these rules of co-sleeping so that parents and caretakers who choose to co-sleep know how to do it safely.


Carrie said...

Yeah, my dad told me Barrett (who by the way is a friend of Epu's Dad, coincidentally) was out there saying this stuff -- it's a shame.

Sara said...

usually he seems like a pretty liberal and open-minded guy, but he knocked himself off of my favorites list by making these statements.