The Risks of Co-Sleeping With Your Child

READER’S QUESTION

A friend of mine is doing what she calls “co-sleeping,” which I guess means that she’s having her 6-month-old baby sleep in the bed with she and her husband instead of in the baby’s own crib. I find this really troubling. Couldn’t she or her husband roll over and hurt or kill the baby? Is this “co-sleeping” idea recommended by pediatricians?

DR. BLUM’S RESPONSE

Co-sleeping, or bed sharing, is a common, but dangerous activity. In co-sleeping an infant sleeps in the same bed as the caretaker, usually one or both parents. This closeness makes parents feel comfortable that they are able to closely watch the child, and it makes breastfeeding easier since the mother does not have to leave the bed to feed the infant. Despite those seeming benefits, co-sleeping is not recommended due to the risk of suffocation while in the parent’s bed.

According to an article in the journal Pediatrics from February 2009, there has been a fourfold increase in suffocation deaths in infants since 1984. The article attributes this tremendous increase to co- sleeping. There have been many vocal proponents of co-sleeping in the last 2 decades and there has been a concomitant increase in infants sleeping in bed with their parents. The risk of death is almost entirely from suffocation: parent’s beds are too soft for infants, parent’s comforters and other covers are too thick for infants, and unfortunately most cases occur when the sleeping parent inadvertently rolls over onto the infant and smothers the child. The risk is much higher if alcohol is involved. For these reasons most pediatricians, including me, recommend that an infant should always sleep alone, either in a crib or bassinet. It may not feel as cozy as sleeping with the child in the bed but in the long run it is much safer.

Dr. Robert M. Blum is a pediatrician at Southfield Pediatrics in Bingham Farms and West Bloomfield. Email him questions at askdrblum@www.metroparent.com.

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