To Co-sleep or Not to Co-sleep?

 

One of the greatest concerns for new parents is the safety of their newborn babies and a controversial topic along that line is how best to put infants to sleep. As is often the case, modern medicine does not have a definitive answer for these concerned parents.  For decades, the mantra of American pediatricians has been to sleep all infants in a crib and, while the specifics of how and where to accomplish that has been modified over the years (back-sleeping, no pillows/bedding, in the same room as the parent, etc.),  the fact remains that, at least in the Western world, physicians have discouraged co-sleeping (or bed sharing).

In many nations of the world–particularly much of Asia, Africa, and Central and South America–co-sleeping is the norm.  Interestingly, most parents in the US admit to allowing their children to sleep with them, as seen in a 2010 study of 6000 families in the Los Angeles area in which 70% were bedsharing at some point in time, The difference between co-sleeping in various parts of the world is often less a factor of practice than of social acceptance.

As with most parenting topics involving cultural differences, the reasons for either promoting or discouraging co-sleeping are numerous. Advocates of bed sharing cite an overall decrease in SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) and the promotion of maternal/child bonding while those who discourage it refer to statistics linking the practice to increased risk for accidental death.  Both camps are quick to point out that breastfeeding is the best way to avoid SIDS altogether.  They also share the understanding that parental smoking or sedation due to drugs or alcohol greatly increases the risk of infant death, while bed-sharing between older siblings and young infants should also be avoided.

Dr. James McKenna, a highly respected professor of the College of Arts and Letters at the University of Notre Dame, is an expert in the field of mother-infant co-sleeping.  His website, http://cosleeping.nd.edu, is an interesting and informative look at this controversial topic.  At the same time, the American Academy of Pediatrics continues to promote crib or bassinet sleep for infants, with the recent caveat of advocating room-sharing.

Nevertheless, parental sleep requirements should always be acknowledged and respected. But whether the parents choose to have their infants in cribs in their room or in a separate room or choose to bed share, they should be encouraged to do so in the safest way possible. 

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