We have been told that the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) is increased when babies sleep in the same bed as their parents. Indeed, a sentence or two long warning against having infants sleep in their parent’s bed are found in several online lists about SIDS prevention: like this one, this one, this one, this one, and this one.

However, none of these lists seem to me to give an adequate explanation as to WHY the risk of SIDS would be increased simply because my baby is sleeping next to me at night. Whenever I tried to find more information on the matter, the conclusions I came to were quite the opposite: that co-sleeping actually reduces the risk of SIDS. The following articles are just a few examples:

“Why babies should never sleep alone: A review of the co-sleeping controversy in relation to SIDS, bedsharing and breast feeding” By: James J. McKenna and Thomas McDade

“Does Co-sleeping Lead to SIDS? What the AAP Doesn’t Tell You” By Linda Folden Palmer, DC

and “Safely Sleeping with Your Baby” at AskDrSears.com

In order to be well-rounded and take both sides into account, I have tried to find articles as well-researched and informed as these that argue against co-sleeping and give evidence as to why it would increase the risk of SIDS…but that is just not what google has turned up for me. The only reasons I have found as to why the risk of SIDS would be increased when a baby sleeps in their parent’s bed are related to unsafe co-sleeping/co-bedding practices. By taking the safety precautions that we did, especially breastfeeding, I feel that we effectively eliminated those factors which might have otherwise put our baby at an increased risk.

As I shared a couple of weeks ago, the biggest concern we had when bringing our baby to bed with us was his safety. As I mentioned last week, when I looked into statistical information about infant deaths, it became shockingly clear that the biggest risk my baby faced was not suffocating or being rolled onto. Rather, the greatest danger he faced each night was SIDS. By definition, SIDS deaths are unexplanable. Despite immense amounts of research, no one is really quite sure how to explain why these babies die. The research has turned up some trends, however. Sometimes, there is nothing that can be done about the risk factors that put one child at greater risk than others: For example, SIDS deaths are more common in winter months than summertime, among boys than girls, and among some races more than others.

Several of the things that can be done to prevent SIDS were already covered in my post about making sleeping with your baby safe:

  • You shouldn’t smoke.
  • A baby should sleep on a firm mattress.
  • Excess bedding should be reduced (bulky comforters and extra pillows in adult bed or bumper pads and stuffed animals in a crib).
  • Babies should always sleep on their backs.
  • Breast-milk appears to have several SIDS preventing benefits over formula as well.

In addition to these safety precautions, there are a few other things you can do which appear to reduce the risk of SIDS, although any suggestion as to why it works is only theoretical.

  • One of these recommendations is putting a fan in a baby’s room (even in the winter). It may be that this keeps the baby from breathing stagnant air, causes him to arouse more frequently from deep sleep, or keeps him from overheating. We kept a fan going in our bedroom and found that we actually really liked it for the “white noise” it provided as well.
  • Another recommendation for reducing SIDS is encouraging a baby to suck on a pacifier while sleeping. The theory behind this is that it keeps the baby from falling into deep sleep and encourages changes in their breathing pattern (which means they then get more oxygen). I feel that the fact that we breastfed frequently throughout the night would have served a similar purpose (after all, what is a pacifier other than a substitute boob?). I did usually have a pacifier ready as well when it became obvious that Josiah’s sucking was unconscious rather than motivated by hunger.
  • Precautions against over-bundling are also on several SIDS precautions lists. Some theories suggest that some SIDS deaths may be the result of overheating. Not over-bundling came much more naturally when Josiah slept in our bed than when he was in his own crib. Early on, when I put my teeny baby to sleep in his own bed, I never felt like I had swaddled enough blankets around him and that his little nose would get frostbite (it was a very cold December). When he slept with us, I never worried about him getting too cold as I felt the comfort of his body heat the same way I know he felt mine. I did worry about him getting too hot in the summer without AC…something we won’t have to worry about so much with our next little one sleeping in our new basement master/family bedroom.
  • To me, one of the most significant and interesting items on every recent SIDS prevention list is that a baby should sleep in the same room as his or her parents for at least the first 6 months. This was also affirmed at the hospital when Josiah was born: you no longer walk by a nursery lined with dozens of newborn babies. Assuming a healthy delivery, it is encouraged and expected that the baby remain in his or her mother’s room except for a few brief tests or when such respite care is requested by the parents. This is because it has been proven that the safest place for a baby to be is in the presence of his or her parents, even especially when sleeping! I really wish someone had told me this before Josiah was born. Before I took so much care in setting him up with his own separate room. Before we decided to take the smaller bedroom in our new home as our master so that it would be across the hall rather than down the stairs from the nursery…

So, let me be the one to tell you: If you are expecting….please don’t miss this crucial piece of information!!!!…virtually EVERYONE agrees that the best place for your newborn to sleep is in your room (not necessarily your bed…but your room). Nurseries are fun to decorate, cute to have, and getting one all set up seems to be a great use of all that energy to “nest” that comes during pregnancy….but it is not the best place for a baby to sleep. If you already have a nursery ready to go, are in the process of decorating it, or can’t resist the temptation to start…great…you will still appreciate having a designated space to store all that baby gear….just think twice before investing too much time or money into a space you may only rarely use.

And I’ll get off that soapbox now….because–really–I do love your nursery…and the way you decorated it…and continue to oogle over new baby rooms all the time when people post pictures on their blogs…and had a hard time saying goodbye to ours when it came time…and sometimes I still want to go crazy with pink and white ruffles and a whole new nursery theme for this little gal in my womb…even though I know she is gonna sleep in my room: The best, safest, place for her to be!

If you are new to my “How I Got My Baby to Sleep Through the Night” Series, I would suggest that you START HERE.

You can also click here to read our “Sleep Story.”

Click here for steps you can take to make sleeping with your baby safe.

And click here to find out why I think breastfeeding makes sleeping with your baby safe.

In the weeks to come, I’ll be sharing our thoughts and findings about other common co-sleeping objections…so stay tuned for my thoughts on Self-Soothing, Sleep Training, and Sex.

-:-

 

  1. MOM says:

    Thanks for doing such deep research on something that I have always thought sooooo odd. I love the look of a nursery – but could NEVER even think about my babies being in a separate room than me. Even when that meant two cribs at a time! All five of my babies (Alisha – being the first) have slept in our room.
    And at first in a bassinet right next to my side of the bed-so I could just reach out and touch her rising back (that was when babies slept on their tummies). I did this many times each night to check on their breathing! A separate room – NEVER! I’d be exhausted getting up that many times!

    And this morning I woke up to two little boys, one on each side of me – snuggling and hugging – and feeling very loved!

  2. MOM says:

    I’m not sure I am ready to read a blog about my daughter’s sex life. I am mentally preparing myself for this one! Keep it simple!

  3. Alisha says:

    You know mom… I realized after writing that I wished someone had told me that a baby should sleep in their parent’s room, that YOU kind of did…
    When we found out we were pregnant with Josiah, we were in our one bedroom apartment and some of the first words of wisdom you shared about our new adventure were something along the lines of “Don’t think you need to get a house or bigger apartment so that you have somewhere for the baby to sleep. You can just move that crib right into your room…that is where you are going to want them, anyway.” I am pretty sure you also said something along the lines of, “Now, you might need somewhere to put all the baby’s stuff….” Yup, you were right. Of course. But you’ve always been good at letting us figure it out on our own, too 🙂

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