The following post is a copy of a letter written to major media outlets in central Iowa, regarding the coverage of infant deaths that occurred in May 2015. We believe the summary of information may be beneficial to our followers; therefore, we are sharing it with you here.
In the wake of extremely tragic events we urge you to please take the opportunity to educate the public on safe sleep habits. Informing parents that sharing a bed with their baby is unsafe is not just inaccurate but only serves to promote fear. Certainly, there are instances when bed sharing is not recommended, in smoking homes, when baby was not born full term, when the baby is bottle fed only, but to indicate it is always unsafe is truly a disservice to the public.
Many families share a bed with their baby (co-sleep). In many other countries around the world, it is the social and medically accepted norm. This sleeping behavior is neither new nor dangerous, it’s a normative behavior that is as old as humankind. Culturally, we shifted away from co-sleeping based on the best information available to us at the time, but now we know better, and it’s time to realign.
From what limited information I have been able to gather through media reports on these recent cases it seems clear that unsafe sleep habits played a significant role in these tragedies – not co-sleeping, but unsafe co-sleeping. Making this distinction is crucial. When an infant death occurs in a car accident and it appears to be due to improper or unsafe use of a car seat, tips for safety in the car are provided, not recommendations to never take a child in a car. Similarly, when a drowning occurs the message is not “do not swim,” but rather “here’s how to stay safe when you do swim.” Giving such recommendations, in a world where taking infants in the car or going swimming are quite normal, is extreme and a public disservice. Providing current evidence and suggestions for increasing safety in this circumstance is no different.
Health psychologist and an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, reports that her research has shown that fear of co-sleeping actually increases the likelihood that parents engage in dangerous activities, like falling asleep with baby on a couch or recliner. This is why we urge you to not make statements that claim co-sleeping in unsafe, but rather to provide the public with information about how to do so safely. Informed families are then better able to make their own decisions about what is best for them and their babies.
There are many reputable professionals and organizations that support safe co-sleeping. La Leche League International, a world-renowned organization dedicated to supporting breastfeeding, published their first book on this subject in 2014. The book, Safe Sleep, is a thorough and current review of the evidence for safe co-sleeping. They provide several excellent research summaries, including the Safe Sleep 7: Smart Steps to Safer Bedsharing and Rhyme for Sleep Time on their website. According to La Leche League International’s findings, if these steps are followed a baby is as safe as in a crib. Dr. Bill Sears, a well-known author and practicing pediatrician for more than 30 years states, “Instead of alarming conscientious parents, sleep advisers should be teaching parents how to co-sleep safely.”
James J. McKenna, Ph.D. Professor of Biological Anthropology, Director, Mother-Baby Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame, and author of Sleeping With Your Baby: A Parent’s Guide To Co-sleeping, provides the following guidelines on his website:
- Safe infant sleep begins with a healthy gestation, specifically without the fetus being exposed to maternal smoke.
- Breastfeeding significantly helps to protect infants from death including deaths from SIDS/SUDI and from secondary disease and/or congenital conditions.
- Post-natally safe infant sleep begins especially with the presence of an informed, breastfeeding, committed mother, or an informed and committed father.
- Infants should sleep on their backs, on firm surfaces, on clean surfaces, in the absence of smoke, under light (comfortable) blanketing, and their heads should never be covered.
- The bed should not have any stuffed animals or pillows around the infant and never should an infant be placed to sleep on top of a pillow.
- Sheepskins or other fluffy material and especially bean bag mattresses should never be used. Water beds can be dangerous, too, and always the mattresses should tightly intersect the bed-frame Infants should never sleep on couches or sofas, with or without adults wherein they can slip down (face first) into the crevice or get wedged against the back of a couch.