October is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) Awareness Month. The purpose of the month is to educate and promote safe sleeping habits for infants to prevent sleep-related deaths. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 3,500 sleep-related deaths occur each year in the United States. In 2016, the CDC reported that 1500 deaths reported were classified as SIDS, 1200 deaths had unknown causes, and 900 deaths were related to accidental suffocation and strangulation. As SIDS education has decreased the SIDS related deaths, strangulation and suffocation deaths of infants have increased by 184% between 1995-2015. During this same period, co-sleeping with infants became more popular for infants and parents. Co-sleeping is an alarming and dangerous trend in the parenting world that leads to preventable deaths.
One of the largest organizations that promote co-sleeping is La Leche League. On their website, La Leche League says, “Bedsharing, when breastfeeding is a traditional way of caring for a baby at night – breastfeeding at night, can be a whole lot easier when you take your baby into bed with you and feed laying down.”
Because La Leche League feels so passionately about bedsharing for breastfeeding, they designed a guideline for all parents to follow with bed sharing.
In the breastfeeding world, LLL is well-respected. Doctors refer mothers to LLL for help with lactation issues related to breastfeeding. Because many mothers respect LLL, they also follow the safe sleep guidelines for breastfeeding.
While their guidelines certainly help to eliminate some aspects in accidental suffocation. Their guidelines do not address numerous factors that can lead to suffocation of the infant.
Adults often sleep with blankets and pillows in their beds. Mothers move and shift in their sleep. Infants under six months old often can’t roll over on their own. The result is that if a mother rolls over she can easily smother the infant with her body, blankets, or a pillow while she is asleep.
In recent years several infant death related to co-sleeping have made the news. A Pennsylvania woman pleaded guilty to third-degree murder in the co-sleeping suffocation death of her 2-month old son. A Florida mother was charged in the co-sleeping death of her newborn son in 2016.
Perhaps the most startling aspect in both cases is both women had previously killed other infants due to co-sleeping before their arrests. Co-sleeping can be a hard habit to break.
As the number of accidental suffocation deaths of infants increased, the American Academy of Pediatrics released new guidelines for safe sleep in 2016.
AAP recommendations on creating a safe sleep environment include:
- Place the baby on his or her back on a firm sleep surface such as a crib or bassinet with a tight-fitting sheet.
- Avoid the use of soft bedding, including crib bumpers, blankets, pillows, and soft toys. The crib should be bare.
- Share a bedroom with parents, but not the same sleeping surface, preferably until the baby turns one but at least for the first six months. Room-sharing decreases the risk of SIDS by as much as 50 percent.
- Avoid baby’s exposure to smoke, alcohol and illicit drugs.
Breastfeeding is also recommended as adding protection against SIDS. After feeding, the AAP encourages parents to move the baby to his or her separate sleeping space, preferably a crib or bassinet in the parents’ bedroom.”
“If you are feeding your baby and think that there’s even the slightest possibility that you may fall asleep, feed your baby on your bed, rather than a sofa or cushioned chair,” said Lori Feldman-Winter, MD, FAAP, member of the Task Force on SIDS and co-author of the report.
“If you do fall asleep, as soon as you wake up be sure to move the baby to his or her own bed,” she said.
“There should be no pillows, sheets, blankets or other items that could obstruct the infant’s breathing or cause overheating.”
Breastfeeding mothers may feel confused receiving the conflicting information from two sources they believe are reliable in infant care. Despite the suggestions provided by LLL, co-sleeping of any kind increases the infant’s risk of dying from accidental suffocation or strangulation.
All parents make mistakes and learn painful lessons. However, the choice of not co-sleeping can be a life or death decision for your baby. In honor of SIDS awareness month, we recommend all mothers follow the guidelines outlined by the AAP.
All babies deserve the opportunity to make it to their first birthday.
After you finish breastfeeding, place the infant in a crib or bassinet.
If you are co-sleeping, consider the risks and reconsider your choice to protect your babies future.
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