Saturday, February 23, 2008

To Sleep or Not To Sleep

I have a few things that I stand on my soapbox about and I need to rant and rave about one of them. Co-sleeping has always been a hot topic for me--and recently in our wonderful community a couple has been charged with child-abuse homicide because their 24 day old baby died while sleeping in their bed. I don't know any extenuating circumstances in this particular case, and there certainly could have been something else involved like drugs, alcohol, or smoking, but come on! First of all, my heart goes out to this couple. They actually lost an older child in similar circumstances. I can't imagine the grief they must be dealing with. Their case has brought co-sleeping into the media and into conversations.

People have slept with their babies since the beginning of time, and just now we decide that it's not only dangerous, it can be murderous??? About 200 years ago people started to get the idea that parenting shouldn't be so cumbersome, that we need to get those babies independent as soon as possible. With methods from Ferber and Spock and BabyWise (which all go against the biologic and physiologic needs of infants) our society believes that babies should be able to self-soothe, stay on a rigid schedule, and sleep through the night. This goes against how our babies are designed and what they need to thrive. For nine months we carry them in utero, and then wham-o, they come out and they are supposed to be by themselves for any length of time? We need to build interdependence, so that yes, at some point they can function on their own, but infancy is not the time for independence.

The Consumer Protection Safety group and the American Academy of Pediatrics have both come out with statements against co-sleeping--these are two groups which I generally respect and try to follow guidelines from. On this issue though, they have missed the boat. The research they base their information on includes all form of co-sleeping--parents who sleep on waterbeds or fall asleep on a couch or chair with a baby and don't differentiate when smoking, drugs, or alcohol are factors. They also use numbers in a way that is baffling to me. In the article printed today in the Tribune "Sharing a bed with your baby?" someone from the Utah Department of Health says that it is dangerous to sleep with your baby because 33 out of 100 babies who died from SIDS were sleeping with a parent. That means that 67 out of 100 babies died from SIDS were sleeping ALONE. In what universe is 67 a smaller number than 33??? That says to me, that those babies who were sleeping alone were at a higher risk for dying from SIDS.

Another thought with this--would we ever charge a parent with child-abuse homicide if their child dies in a car accident? After all, we know that many people die in car accidents, so putting a child in a car is dangerous, right? No! We tell that parent, if you are going to ride in a car with your child, make sure you take the precautions to make it as safe as possible. We teach them about car seat safety (and make it mandatory) to protect the child as much as possible. The same goes for sleeping with a child, if you are going to do it, make sure that you do it as safely as possible:

  • Always put the baby on his back to sleep.
  • If you smoke, do not share a bed with your baby.
  • Use a firm mattress.
  • Do not co-sleep on a waterbed, couch, or chair (those all have places where a baby could become trapped).
  • Do not use fluffy bedding.
  • Don't let your baby overheat, really--they do not need 7 layers of clothing!
  • Don't let other children sleep in the bed with you.
  • If you are overly tired, don't sleep with your baby (which is a little humorous for a new mom--what new parent isn't over-tired?? But, if you think you are so tired you won't arouse, that's "overly tired").
  • If you use drugs or alcohol, don't co-sleep.
  • If you are obese, don't co-sleep.
If any of the above conditions make it so that sleeping in the same bed is not the safest option, sleep close to your baby in proximity--with a side bed attached to yours or in a bassinet or crib nearby, or even on a firm mattress on the floor next to your bed. There is also some evidence that if you don't exclusively breastfeed (another soapbox for another day) that sleeping in the same bed isn't the safest option.

There, I've gotten that off my chest. I will end my rant by stating that co-sleeping may not be what you choose to do, which is every parent's choice. I just hope that as with any important life decision, parents will research and interpret the facts correctly. Co-sleeping can be a wonderful thing that can help parents bond with their baby, and according to the numbers cited above, it can even be PROTECTIVE against SIDS (as has been substantiated by other research). They haven't found any one thing that causes SIDS--but co-sleeping in appropriate circumstances certainly should not be listed among the possible causes.


Nicole said...

You know I am in complete agreement with you on this. Such a sad situation, but hardly a reason for the media backlash. You are right, it should be a reason to educate people!! I think cosleeping and extended breastfeeding are the only parenting decisions I have really had to defend!! Ridiculous! *sigh*

Tim Harper said...

Not very educated on co-sleeping, but there's been a few times when we've let Faith nap with us, and apart from being a fun experience, it was good bonding time.

LAURA & ELIZA said...

WOW! Will you write my paper on abortion? You are a fabulous writer! I'm so impressed with your convictions on this subject.

HarperHappenings said...

Amen! As you know, Scott and I co-slept with both of our children (And I say Scott and I because it was a mutual decision, which it should be). Children grow up way to fast without society telling them they need to grow up and be independent. Perhaps children need more of that connection with their parents that can be encouraged through co-sleeping. Co-sleeping made breastfeeding my babies so much more enjoyable! Breastfeeding is natural, but in my opinion, something that needs to be learned for both mom and baby. With the demands of a new baby, learning to breastfeed can be stressful, so by co-sleeping, you can have the opportunity to lay and rest with your baby while feeding, which can and should be a positive experience. Co-sleeping should be a thought-through experience, not just something to resort to because you are too exhausted. Read about it, ponder it and then make the best decision for you and your family is my advice. Thanks for letting me stand on my soap box on your blog for a minute!! :)

Janene said...

Blogs make great soap-boxes! :o) Now you know you'll need to follow up with the lactation one.

It is sad to learn of so many being quick to judge parents on this. I really appreciate your heart-felt thoughts on a hot issue.

Tim Harper said...

I was going to mention this before, but didn't have anything in print to back it up and it was still in "rumor" mode in my head.

Anyways, there is some legislative debate going on that could effectively limit a woman's choice regarding home birth.

There's a good podcast on the topic as well which I'll share if there interested.

sara said...

I do have to say though that Babywise was a godsend for my second son. He pretty much screamed for the first 4 1/2 months of his life. Nothing I did would help him. I tried everything!! The only time he wasn't screaming was when he was nursing (which in turn made nursing not a good experience--not so much fun being the human pacifier.) He slept with us during the night (just as our first had) and at 4 months when I was at my breaking point someone referred me to babywise. After two days of putting him on a feeding/awake/playtime schedule he was sleeping through the night and HAPPY during the day. Night and day difference!!! Other moms can say all they want (not being in my shoes) but I honestly feel like I had a better "bonding" experience with him post babywise than before when we were cosleeping(nobody sleeping just him screaming all night long).

I honestly don't have any strong feelings one way or the other, but I was so glad that with each of my children I had different parenting techniques available, so that I could be the best parent to each of them individually. Because they definitely are unique individuals. What works for one DID NOT work for the other one.

LisaRD said...

Sara, I really appreciated your input. As with all parenting choices, one mold does not fit all. You bring up the point that each child is different, and each mother-child relationship is unique. As parents we do what works--what meets the needs of our children and what meets our needs so that we can survive to see another day. I should follow my own advice (see the next post on "Mothers Who Know") and refrain from judging--I appreciate the way that you eloquently expressed another point of view. Thanks!

Victoria said...

Amen... Wholeheartedly agree.

Eva didn't sleep much so we "co- hung out in the bed while nursing and throwing up." I'm glad I didn't cave to pressures from some mom friends who encouraged letting her cry it out. She turned out to have intestinal blockage... that kind of stress could have caused it to explode.

I always like to relay it back to a biological standpoint when people ask about my choice to co-sleep... we're mammals.... mammals nurse their young,are quickly responsive to their needs, and co-sleep. Why are we fighting our biological design?

What would happen to a baby monkey if mommy monkey let him hang out on his own tree all night and only trudged in there when he screamed loud enough?

Traci said...

I remember w/Lucy I had a hard time deciding what to do. Looking back on things, I may have tried something differently--she was also a screamer. There's definitey a lot of pressure out there to get an independent child, and the book I had was no help. I do remember being deathly afraid that I'd not wake up if she slept next to me and something bad had happened (over-tired, most definitely). I remember asking a couple of people 3 or 4 months after Lucy was born when their kids started sleeping longer at night. I was SOOOO tired, and all of the "books" told me she should have been doing it months ago. She still wasn't sleeping more than 1 or 2 hours at a time (sometimes only 20 mins), and then screaming for an hour, and then sleeping for an hour and then screaming again. Oh, I still am not sure I can say I miss those days... Anyway, back on subject, thanks for your thoughts on co-sleeping. It's so sad to hear about the loss and grief that couple has to endure, in addition to being charged with homicide. They'll be in our prayers.