Media reports on infant deaths put forward a misleading message to new parents.
News releases tend to paint a picture that cosleeping is the only risk factor involved in Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), but new parents need complete and balanced information to make the right choices for their families. In fact, Professor James McKenna, who conducts research with the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory, has stated that “It’s scientifically fallacious to say that co-sleeping increases the chances of SIDS, especially in light of the fact that hundreds of different co-sleeping patterns exist, which vary in degrees of safety and/or benefits and outcomes associated with them".
Parents who avoid cosleeping at all costs can end up in situations that are actually more dangerous for their babies. The media's focus on the dangers of cosleeping misses key information and misinformed parents can exhibit behaviors that heighten the risk of SIDS, instead of reducing it.
Room sharing (cosleeping in the same room, but not sharing the same bed), decreases the SIDS risk by 50%. Confused parents might leave their baby to sleep in a separate room, believing that the baby is safer there when that is not in fact true.
Misinformed parents might sit up at night in a glider or on a sofa to avoid bedsharing. If the parent falls asleep accidentally, this situation presents an extreme danger as the baby can get trapped between cushions and easily suffocate. Sleeping on an armchair or sofa is far riskier than sleeping in a bed.
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An exhausted parent may give up in the wee hours of the night and pull the baby in bed to finally get some sleep. Since the adult hadn't planned on bedsharing, the bed may not be set up for safe sleep. A baby should only share a bed without pillows or fluffy bedding, and no other children or pets should be present. A cosleeping adult should not be on the brink of exhaustion or be under the influence of alcohol or drugs, whether illicit or medicinal.
With all of this information in mind, it is important to note that experts have stated that some babies should not bedshare at all. This includes infants under four months and premature or low birth weight babies. Additionally, babies who have been exposed to cigarette smoke in utero or after birth shouldn't bedshare since they have a higher SIDS risk. Formula fed babies shouldn't bed-share, nor should a baby bedshare with an adult other than its breastfeeding mother. All infants should always sleep on their back on a flat surface. Remember that babies with the risk factors mentioned above should room share, which decreases SIDS risk, especially considering that they had an added risk, to begin with.
Parents need to decide upon the correct sleeping situation for their families. However, this comes with a big responsibility. They need to seek out correct information and familiarize themselves with the full breadth of current research and use that knowledge to make informed decisions.
As always, consult a medical professional to determine the best sleeping situation for you and your baby.