MD Mama

Before You Co-Sleep With Your Baby, Know the Risks

2351417513_239cc4c514_b (1).jpgIn the interest of full disclosure, I'm going to say right up front that I did some co-sleeping with some of my children when they were babies.

I say this because some of the people who co-sleep think that those of us who raise concerns about it don't know its benefits. But I do. I know how it helps with breastfeeding, and how it can help everyone get more sleep. I know how comforting and lovely it can be to feel your baby's breath so close.

I also know that it can be very risky. Even deadly.

That was the message of a study released in the journal Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Researchers looked at data about more than 8,000 sleep-related deaths in infants in 24 states between 2004 and 2012.

They found that of those who died, more than two-thirds were sharing a bed.

Now, there wasn't a "control group"--we don't know how many babies bed-share with their parents or siblings and do just fine. Given that a study from the National Institutes of Health found that about 14 percent of parents reported bed-sharing with their infants in 2010, it would seem that lots of babies do fine.

But the problem is that you can't necessarily predict who will and who won't. You just can't make bed-sharing completely safe.

There's more to safe sleep than just bed-sharing, of course. Here are other things that make a difference:

1. Sleep position. To prevent SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), babies should be put to sleep on their backs. Not the side, because it's easy to roll from the side to the belly. In the study, 38 percent of the babies who died were found on their bellies.
And to the parents who say that their baby knows how to lift up his or her head: it's not just a matter of being able to do it. It appears that in SIDS, sometimes it doesn't occur to babies that they should lift their heads and breathe.
2. Sleep surface. Firm is good. Soft is bad (more likely to smother if face down).
3. Objects around the baby. In the study, a third of the babies who died had objects around them. The most common "objects"? Pillows and blankets.
Babies and pillows are always a bad combo, and really, the sleep space should be as bare as possible--no crib bumpers, no stuffed animals, nothing but Baby lightly dressed (better to be cool than warm).
4. Location. While it's best for Baby to have his own crib (or bassinett or cosleeper or whatever), for the first few months of life, it's good for the crib to be in the parent's room.
5. Cigarette smoke. It increases the risk of SIDS, so there shouldn't be any around Baby. Yet another reason to quit (or, even better, never start).
6. Pacifiers may help. Not that you have to force your baby to use one if she doesn't want to, and if you are having trouble getting breastfeeding to work, you should check with your doctor or lactation specialist before using one. And you should never use one that has a cord or is otherwise attached to your baby (because they can strangle or otherwise be harmful). But pacifiers have been shown to decrease the risk of SIDS.

Sometimes, as parents, we take risks. We have our reasons; they are as varied as we are (mine were complicated, and may or may not have been good). But to make the best decisions, we need to understand the risks we are taking, and weigh them against our reasons. We can't just wish them away, or assume that bad things will happen to someone else. I so wish life worked that way, but it doesn't; it can't.

So as you make your own personal decision about sleep and your baby, know the risks. Read the study, read the tips on safe sleep from the American Academy of Pediatrics, and talk to your doctor.

Photo: 'Shhh.' by Kelly Sue DeConnick, released on Flickr under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License, found via Wylio

Continue Reading Below