Is co-sleeping irresponsible?

Last weekend, while driving home from the airport, my mom saw a huge billboard near a major hospital with a picture of a pretty female doctor that read:

“I’ll be the last one to see your baby. I do autopsies. Never sleep with your baby.”

Is there really strong enough medical evidence now that cosleeping endangers infants? I thought the debate was mostly philosophical and a matter of personal preference. Such a strong statement is tantamount to something like “on demand nursing of infants causes childhood obesity”.

I don’t practice cosleeping because (1) I sleep poorly with a fitful newborn beside me, (2) it unnecessarily trains the baby to rely on my presence for sleep, (3) the baby sleeps less soundly and (4) realistically if the baby is in our bed my husband is often sleeping somewhere else, which upsets the marriage-comes-first order of our family. Besides, the attachment parenting “womb theory” (attempting to continue life in the womb for an infant by cosleeping, on demand nursing, baby-wearing) overlooks the obvious reality that the child is no longer in the womb because he has developed beyond the need for a womb environment.

However, with my last two babies, in the first three weeks after birth, I have coslept because it seems to facilitate just slightly more sleep for everyone in those first hazy weeks. If cosleeping is truly unsafe, I’d like to know more about it. Queen B and other medical experts, could you provide any commentary?

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  • Opal

    That billboard stings (and according to research, is wrong!)! u00a0I had the great pleasure of taking Anthropology 101 with Prof. James McKenna, the co-sleeping, breast-feeding guru at Notre Dame. u00a0Even as a freshman, years from a husband and children, it changed my perspective. u00a0Research shows that co-sleeping helps regulate little baby breathing patterns. u00a0They breathe much more smoothly, and it reduces the rate of SIDS. u00a0Here’s a link with excellent info: u00a0 have just one babe, but with her, we did co-sleep until about 3 months. u00a0For me, it was easier just to roll over and nurse her on my side during those early, wakeful months. u00a0As McKenna has researched, neither baby nor I completely woke up during these nursing sessions, and I was much more rested in the morning. u00a0It was so good for me that I recommend learning to nurse on one’s side to any new mother who requests my nursing advice.Co-sleeping IS dangerous if a parent has been drinking or is completely exhausted. u00a0I did notice, also, that I, as mother, was much more attuned to the infant in the bed than my husband was. u00a0I think hormones and maternal instinct were responsible for my awareness. u00a0I believe that if you prepare your bed properly, with a bumper pillow made for co-sleeping, etc., you will be OK.u00a0My husband and I agree, however, that co-sleeping much beyond a year would be detrimental to married life and disrupts “relations.” u00a0I’m not sure how families co-sleep with five-year-olds. u00a0Wouldn’t work for us! u00a0:)

  • olivia demkowicz

    There is a reason SIDS was originally known as “crib death” and more prevalent in America, than other countries, where the family bed was substituted for the crib. I have co-slept with all 4 of my children until 6 months, which is basically when they start getting too squirmy for me. When done responsibly I feel that is is more safe than a crib. All of the benefits of sleep for both mother and child (if you are someone that can sleep with a baby in the bed) and constant interaction with the child, especially if breast-feeding. Recent studies have shown that introducing a pacifier to a child in the crib reduces risk of SIDS. Co-sleeping, I would argue, at least for me, leads to more frequent interaction/feeding throughout the night between me and my baby, with the same effect as introducing or reinserting, a pacifier. Most of the world co-sleeps, not crib sleeps. And yet SIDS continues to be an issue here more than anywhere else. It just doesn’t add up to me. I think the doctors want to do everything they can to avoid SIDS. Rather than say, “yes, you can co-sleep as long as you follow these rules,” they would rather just say, don’t do it. Because if done incorrectly, it can be very dangerous. Same with crib sleeping for that matter.

  • I agree with Olivia – I think these campaigns are aiming to reach the most people with the most simple (or simplistic?), blanket advice.u00a0 Don’t co-sleep!!! – because it just seems too complicated to be sure that people are doing it safely. Some people go to sleep with their babies with soft pillows, heavy blankets, or under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or under other circumstances that make it unsafe.u00a0 So ,those infants are at risk.u00a0 So, rather than help people learn the proper behaviors, just tell everyone it is unsafe. It reminds me of the push to have all baby girls vaccinated against HPV because it is just easier to say everyone is at risk, and therefore should be protected.u00a0 I recognize the good will to keep babies from unsafe situations (and sexually active girls from getting cervical cancer), I don’t agree with the blanket approach.u00a0 It doesn’t allow for responsible, informed choices.u00a0 Co-sleeping has been a very positive experience for our family.u00a0 I’m thankful for resources that helped us to go about it safely.u00a0 They were much more helpful than a billboard like that.

  • Kj_marshill

    I have never heard of a co-sleeping death, but I know of several babies who have died from crib death. Could the autopsy billboard just as easily say the same about crib death? That was irresponsible advertising.

  • Mary Alice

    First, those are some beautiful and extremely well dressed children!nnI like a crib nearby for the first few months when there are several night feedings.nnFor me this issue is not even a philosophical one, it is a mental health one.u00a0 I can’t co-sleep, even if it were proven to be better for the child, just the way some women can’t nurse for various reasons.u00a0 In the course of my nursing relationship I feel so much like a cow, so over touched and over attached that if I had to share my bed as well I would get depressed and reject my child.u00a0 Instead, I carve out some personal space and alone time and then I’m better prepared to snuggle and love the baby during other times.

  • JMB

    When my mom was having her babies in the 60s and 70s, the current thought was that co-sleeping was dangerous and it should be avoided at all cost.u00a0 30 years later, when I had my oldest, it was back in vogue again.u00a0 I too was like JM, I could never share a bed with an infant beyond 2-3 weeks after birth.u00a0 It didn’t work for us at all.u00a0 So, to answer your question, I don’t know.u00a0

  • Red

    I think that it can be done safely, but as other readers mentioned, precautions need to be taken.u00a0 And I do know of a woman who lost her baby to SIDS when she was bed-sharing, so I think it is unfair to call all SIDS deaths “crib deaths,” because they do not all occur in cribs.nnI do think that co-sleeping can be irresponsible, because it can negatively impact the mental health of the mom, the dad, and therefore the entire family.u00a0 Co-sleeping can create a baby first mentality, which usurps the natural order of relationships in the family.u00a0 And on that level I think it can be irresponsible…but it is usually not physical unsafe, as the billboard suggests.u00a0

  • Bat

    I have never owned a crib so we have co-slept with all our children. We didn’t necessarily choose to co-sleep, it just is what worked best for all of us to get enough sleep. When our babies get bit older, we start the night with them in a toddler bed and they will eventually find their way into our bed. My husband is also happy to co-sleep and has been better at being more alert and active parent at night with each baby. I have found that I have less anxiety when my baby is with me and my babies are happier too.nI find the billboard offensive, really. Its telling parents that, “You dont know what’s right for your children but we do!” It’s another example of how big brother wants to control how you parent and encourage a one size fits all approach that doesn’t work.n

  • I agree with the basic principle of the natural order of relationships in a family. u00a0God and then of course Husband-Wife relationships must be strong and nurtured in order to foster unity of the entire family. u00a0However, unless the husband is a complete jerk, (or the wife..) sometimes baby/children needs do come first in the practical application of these principles. u00a0Cheerfully sacrificing for the kids needs are a huge part of a loving marriage and family. u00a0Children are not an obstacle to love and a couple’s love can be strengthened and purified by those trials.u00a0u00a0Date night gets ruined because a ten year old breaks his arm and is in the emergency room all night. u00a0 Or for example, mom needs more sleep at night in order to be cheerful so the baby sleeps next to her. Obviously, as some people mentioned, crib sleeping allows more sleep for other moms. u00a0The important thing is that people are different and co-sleeping doesn’t necessarily mean baby first at the expense of the couple relationship for every marriage. u00a0Some Dads enjoy bonding at night with the baby. u00a0I’m actually the one who normally kicks the kid out of our bed and into a crib. u00a0nnIn terms of safety, all of my doctors have seem to think it perfectly safe provided the regular prudent precautions are taken. u00a0Just like I make sure my babies’ cribs have a firm mattress, no heavy blankets or stuffed animals and that I am not drunk when I put the kid in there, I also keep our bed safe in those early weeks he or she is with us. u00a0u00a0u00a0u00a0

  • Kj_marshill

    Like Bat said, what is most offensive is the idea that the govt can tell you it know the only safe and best way to do things. Babies die in beds; babies die in cribs. They happen in both places and the govt can’t fix all our problems.

  • Kj_marshill

    OK, sorry to post one more time on this. I think what makes me upset is that the billboard was guilting/shaming parents into crib sleeping only. We are all doing the best we can and making the best decisions we can as parents, and yet those who choose to co-sleep (or in some places homeschool or not vaccinate) are treated as child abusers. The biggest common factor in SIDS has been researched to be formula feeding (see Dr McKenna), so why aren’t the billboards guilting parents into breastfeeding?

  • BAT

    Yes, I don’t really see what the conflict is between putting your marriage first and attachment parenting. For us it has been a natural shift in making the sacrifices that come with having children. If anything it has made our marriage stronger to has a toddler foot in someone’s face.

  • Cksrunge

    I have seen these billboards in my city as well. Interestingly, when I had my second child the lactation consultant that visited me in the hospital highly recommended co-sleeping because, as someone else commented, it helps to regulate the baby’s breathing patterns. Surprised at her recommendation, my husband and I asked about the risks and she said that statistics show most infant deaths that occurred while co-sleeping resulted from someone other than the birth mother or father (i.e. boyfriend, stepfather, or other care taker) accidentally causing the baby to smother – suggesting that those protective biological instincts are at play even when parents are sleeping. nnSo, my thought is that these billboards are not necessarily targeting “traditional” family situations.