I get a lot of questions about co-sleeping. Is it really dangerous? Is there a way to do it safely? What are the risks? Etc.
First off let me say that I know this can be a very heated topic, especially with all the public health media campaigns out there condemning co-sleeping (I’m talking specifically about the ones with the baby sleeping with a huge knife). These campaigns can and do leave a lot of parents who choose to co-sleep feeling judged. There is a lot of misinformation out there (I even had one discussion with a mom who was telling me that bed-sharing is universally safer for babies) and highly charged opinions about this topic so I thought I’d set the record straight and shed some light on this complex issue.
The first thing that I would like to state, is that when it comes to a public health campaign on co-sleeping or any health issue really, you have to keep in mind that these ads are targeted at a whole population of people, so to react with outrage is probably a bit extreme.
The fact is, that while lots of parents choose to co-sleep and have zero problems whatsoever, it has still been linked to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Now if you educate yourself about it, there are lots of things you can do to greatly reduce this risk. Many cultures co-sleep as a way of life, but there are many factors that may go into that and they may not be co-sleeping the way we do in this country.
Co-sleeping is a highly complex issue and there are so many factors that go into determining whether or not it is safe to bed-share with an infant, so in general making a blanket statement that co-sleeping is always more dangerous, is simply not accurate, however one must keep in mind that many such messages are meant to protect against situations where bed-sharing is dangerous. If you’re a parent who co-sleeps and you’ve done your research and you feel that you are doing the best thing for your baby and your family, then more power to you. Don’t let the negative view of bed-sharing bother you and don’t let anyone make you feel judged for the choices you’ve made for your family, but also keep in mind that due to its complexity bed-sharing can never be universally recommended. The truth is, there could be a lot more effort and resources put into educating people about the safe ways to bed-share or co-sleep rather than just making blanketing statements against it, but when it comes to educating people about prevention, the approach chosen will usually be the one with the least amount of risk involved.
Room-sharing is something that I will and do universally recommend. Room-sharing means having infants sleep in the same room as their caregivers but not in the same bed. There are SO many benefits to room-sharing and interestingly enough a lot of them are the same benefits that are seen when bed-sharing is done is a safe way.
Now, back to the questions:
Is co-sleeping really dangerous? Well, on a population level and taking into account the wide range of variation and circumstances within that population, the answer is yes, co-sleeping or rather bed-sharing as distinguished from room-sharing, has been found to be linked to an increased risk for SIDS.
Is there a way to bed-share safely? Absolutely! However no one answer or method will be right for every family or household (which is why it’s easier just to recommend that people not do it). If you have specific questions for me about ways that you can make bed-sharing safer please leave a comment or send me an email and I’ll be happy to answer them for you on an individual basis.
Here are two articles that are great resources for anybody wanting to educate themselves further about co-sleeping. I tried to find articles that wouldn’t be too biased in one way or the other. I strongly urge everyone to educate themselves about this issue as much as they can, because increased knowledge will help you make informed decisions and when it comes to the lives of our children, who doesn’t want to be as informed as possible?
McGarvey, C., McDonnell, M., Hamilton, K., O’Regan, M., & Matthews, T. (2005). An 8 year study of risk factors for SIDS: bed-sharing versus non-bed-sharing. Archives of Disease in Childhood , 318-323.
McKenna, J. J., & McDade, T. (2005). Why babies should never sleep alone: A review of the co-sleeping controversy in relation to SIDS, bedsharing and breast feeding. Paediatric Respiratory Reviews , 6 (2), 134-52.
*Disclaimer: This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive post on the topic, but rather a basic overview.*