QUESTION FROM THE READER: My friend practices “co-sleeping,” meaning she has her 6-month-old baby sleep in the bed with her and her husband rather than in the baby’s crib. As I learn about the risks of sharing a bed with your child, this bothers me greatly. Could she or her husband not roll over and injure or kill the baby? Is “co-sleeping” something that pediatricians recommend?
Co-sleeping, also known as bed-sharing, is a common but dangerous practice. An infant sleeps in the same bed as the caregiver, who is usually one or both parents. This closeness gives parents peace of mind because they can closely monitor their child, and it makes breastfeeding easier because the mother does not have to leave the bed to feed the infant. Despite these apparent advantages, co-sleeping is not advised due to the risk of suffocation in the parent’s bed.
According to a February 2009 article in the journal Pediatrics, infant suffocation deaths have increased fourfold since 1984. According to the article, this massive increase is due to co-sleeping. Over the past two decades, co-sleeping advocates have grown, and infants have started sleeping with their parents.
The risk of death is almost entirely due to suffocation: parent’s beds are too soft for infants, parent’s comforters and other covers are too thick for infants, and unfortunately, the majority of cases occur when the sleeping parent rolls over onto the infant and smothers the child. When alcohol is involved, the risk is significantly increased. For these reasons, most pediatricians, including myself, recommend that an infant sleep alone in a crib or bassinet. It may not feel as cozy as sleeping with the child in bed, but it is far safer in the long run.
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