Is it Time to Re-Think the Co-Sleeping Stigma?
I never planned to co-sleep. When I brought my first home from the hospital she easily went to sleep in her bedside sleeper as a newborn then easily transitioned to a crib when she was about four months old. When I brought my second home, I thought I had the formula down, but my son was not on board. He would not sleep at all unless he was nestled against my chest and could hear my heartbeat. I wore him in a baby carrier for naps but out of exhaustion and desperation at night I fell asleep with him beside me despite my best efforts to stay awake. He was labeled a “high needs” baby and we continued co-sleeping because it was the only way either of us could rest.
My next two children were not any easier and co-slept with me as well. I felt that co-sleeping was right for my family – my babies needed me at night and I loved the ease of night-time feedings and extra cuddles. Nevertheless, I treated our co-sleeping like a secret because I knew there were risks and I didn't want to be judged.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has long warned against co-sleeping. However, a new analysis shows that the risks of co-sleeping vary greatly from baby to baby as explained in this story by National Public Radio. Healthy, full-term babies whose parents do not smoke or drink excessively have a 1 in 400 risk of dying from SIDS while co-sleeping compared with an up to 1 in 150 risk of dying from SIDS while co-sleeping for a low-birth-weight baby whose parents smoke and have two or more drinks a day.
While the risks of co-sleeping are real (a healthy baby has only a 1 in 46,000 chance of dying from SIDS if sleeping in a crib in her parent's room) this new analysis shows that the risks are very different for each baby. Some believe that since c0-sleeping happens a lot more than we like to talk about it's time to start being real about the risks and acknowledge for each individual baby.
What's more, opening up the dialogue about the specific risks for each baby may encourage women to talk to their pediatricians about are co-sleeping. This does not happen enough now since many moms are afraid to admit to the practice. Once a specific baby's risk is determined a mom may understand how serious co-sleeping can be if, for example, she smokes or the mom of a low-risk baby may feel a little less guilty. Another benefit to openly discussing risks is that pediatricians can advise co-sleeping moms on ways co-sleeping can be made safer, such as by removing pillows and other fluffy bedding from the bed and never sleeping on sofas.
There is evidence that this approach works. In New Zealand and the UK doctors do not promote bed-sharing, but they do acknowledge that it happens and have open and honest dialogues about co-sleeping. SIDS rates in both countries have declined whereas SIDS rates in the U.S. have plateaued.
The AAP still recommends against co-sleeping for all babies. But, given that so many families engage in the practice anyway, it might be time to start accepting that it may be right for some babies.
What do you think? Do you co-sleep? Would you discuss it with your pediatrician?