What concerns me is the inflammatory reaction to these tragedies. I have seen several news reports today with outcries telling parents to never co-sleep with their babies. These articles and stories repeat often that these babies died as a result of co-sleeping but give no details. In looking further into a few of the stories, there are some insights into what may have happened.
Kvue news stated “"Some of these cases actually have been overlays, which means the caregiver, the adult or even a child, a brother, sister, cousin or whatever, has actually rolled over on the baby, causing the suffocation," said Leanne Courtney, RN, forensic nurse and senior investigator for the Travis County Medical Examiner's Office. “ (http://www.kvue.com/news/Deaths-of-infants-sharing-bed-246171591.html )
The Austin American Statesman went on to say “All five of the deaths this year have resulted from infants sharing a sleeping surface with a parent or caregiver, whether it be a bed, chair, sofa or floor, said Leanne Courtney, a forensic nurse at the examiner’s office.” (http://www.statesman.com/news/news/local/five-infant-deaths-in-travis-county-this-year-attr/ndTYg/ )
While neither of these things takes away from the tragic loss for these families, I do think they are worth noting. Co-sleeping is done safely around the world. In parts of the world where co-sleeping is the norm, SIDS-related deaths are often lower. The overall rate of SIDS in the United States is higher in cases of crib sleepers than co-sleepers (though this is likely attributed to the fact that more American infants sleep in cribs). It is inflammatory and harmful to jump, without the full case information, to the conclusion that this shows infants are unsafe due to co-sleeping. We do not know if parents were under the influence of a drug or alcohol. We do not know if the infant was sleeping with a sibling or pet. We do not know if the family’s bed was covered with pillows and fluffy blankets. We do not know if the infant was sleeping on a chair or couch. All of these things are known risk factors in co-sleeping that should be avoided. It would make much more sense to focus instead on how to support families who choose to do so in learning how to make co-sleeping safely.
There are accepted guidelines to safe co-sleeping…
· Firm mattress with no gaps along sides, not air, feather, or form fitting
· Tight fitting bedding
· No blankets or pillows near baby
· Baby not swaddled
· Parents not 100+ lbs overweight, no smokers, no drug use or drinking, no co-sleeping with siblings as newborns, no pets in the bed
· No co-sleeping in chairs or couches-this is a huge risk in co-sleeping
Furthermore, there are a few things that families can learn to incorporate in their bedtime care of a new baby to lower the risk of SIDS…
· Moving air/ moderate temp
· Sleep w/i 3-5 ft of an adult
· No smoking around baby
· Have baby sleep on their back
No matter where your baby sleeps, SIDS cannot be 100% prevented. It is important, however, to learn what you can do to lower your risk whether your baby sleeps alone in a crib or next to a parent in a bed that has been stripped down to a safe surface for them.
I hope that over the next few days we see a more balanced approach towards helping parents learn how to put their babies to bed safely instead of just fear mongering. Unfortunately, I doubt that we will.
In the meantime, I will continue to do my part in supporting parents in deciding what parenting choices are best for their families and how to do so safely. I recommend all parents take an infant safety course, featuring infant CPR.