Co-Sleeping – Sorting the Truths from the Myths and the Downright Lies.
This morning I was fortunate enough to be put through to speak on air on Channel 5′s “The Wright Stuff” concerning Nils Bergman’s recent Co-Sleeping research. As is usual for the mainstream media the research had been twisted into something far from the truth and distorted to provide titilation and entertainment.
The panel on The Wright Stuff included (as well as Matthew Wright) Sarah Beeny and Anne Diamond (whose son, Sebastian, tragically died from SIDs in 1991 when asleep in his cot in his own room, aged 4mths), you can imagine then the stance taken by the TV show – which was 1) ridiculing bedsharing, 2) focussing on flawed research that says co-sleeping is dangerous and 3) ignoring the research that says otherwise. I called in to point out the flaws in the research and had hoped to be given enough airtime to point out no.3 and call them on their naivety concerning point number 1, but sadly was cut off before I had the chance to do so. I hope my, all too brief, minute of airtime helped in some small way to correct the grossly incorrect information they were otherwise providing (and am grateful to Sarah Beeny for continuing my point after they pulled the phone line), however I have decided to blog about what I wasn’t given a chance to say in the hopes that this post will be shared far and wide!
My personal viewpoint is that all parents should be supported in their choices, and that those choices should be informed. If a parent wishes to bedshare health professionals and wider society have a duty to help them to do this safely. Indeed research suggests that around 60% of all new parents share a bed with their baby, most do this (much like Sarah Beeny admitted this morning) in secret, feeling guilty for doing so and confessing in whispers that they do it. It would be naive to adopt a standpoint like FSIDs and issue a blanket statement saying “The safest place for your baby to sleep is in a cot in your bedroom for the first six months” because 1) that is simply not true in all cases and 2) it ignores the fact that 60% of parents WILL sleep with their baby – surely it makes more sense to help those parents to understand how to minimise risk as much as possible? those 60% of parents are STILL SLEEPING WITH THEIR BABIES DESPITE FSIDS advice – why then do they not realise their blanket statement is failing and support the choices of those parents to sleep safely?
I must confess here I have a vested interest in this subject as I firmly believe co-sleeping saved my daughter’s life. One night, when my daughter was around 2 months old I awoke to find her still – and blue – in the crook of my arm. She had stopped breathing. Instinctively I shook her and blew in her face and to my great relief she breathed, I have no idea how long she had stopped breathing for (her father suffers from sleep apnoea so it appears she has inherited his genes there) or what would have happened if I had not stimulated her to breathe - it doesn’t bear thinking about. All I know is that if she had been anywhere but in my arms then I doubt I would have been jolted awake with a feeling that something was not OK. Did cosleeping save her life? I don’t know, but I thank God we coslept that night.
1) Co-Sleeping is Dangerous
Yes, it can be – so can taking paracetamol be, deadly in fact. Sleeping with a baby on a sofa, sharing a bed with a baby if you formula feed, sharing a bed with your baby if you smoke, sharing a bed with your baby if you have drunk alcohol, sharing a bed with your baby if you have taken prescription medication – yes all of these things are dangerous and MUST be avoided….but, sharing a bed with your baby following some simple rules (which can be seen HERE) is NOT dangerous – in fact there have been NO STUDIES that show the dangers of cosleeping when following the rules set out in the above link). NONE.
2) Two Thirds of all SIDs Cases Occur When the Baby Was Sleeping With a Parent.
The old chestnut wheeled out on the Wright Stuff today. The only thing is this research is Soooooooooo deeply flawed. So full of confounding variables (Confounding Variable = “A confounding variable is a variable which has an unintentional effect on the dependent variable. When carrying out experiments we attempt to control extraneous variables” however there is always the possibility that one of these variables is not controlled and if this affects the dependent variable in a systematic way, we call this a confounding variable.” taken from PsychExchange) that the research is not worth the paper it is printed on, let alone the £££££s invested into the study in the first place..You absolutely cannot say “cosleeping is dangerous” if in your study you have NOT accounted for confounding variables or other risk factors, e.g: 1) was the mother breastfeeding, 2) was the mother (or father) a smoker? 3) had the parent drunk alcohol? 4) had they taken recreational drugs? (many studies say cosleeping is unsafe despite the fact a large amount of their sample contains drug abusers!), 5) had they taken prescription medication? 6) were they sleeping on a firm mattress in a bed or elsewhere – like a sofa? 7) what cover did they use over themselves and the baby? 8) how was the baby sleeping? (in the recommended position or on a pillow?), 9) did the baby have any pre-existing medical conditions? (it’s amazing how many do!), 10) anything else that may have had an effect? (e.g: many died just after a vaccination in lots of studies). It is naive at best and deceiving at worse to use these studies to tell parents not to sleep with their babies.
3) It’s Not Good for the Baby, They Need to Learn Independence
Yes they do, but before independence first comes dependence. When a baby is born they need us, they cannot survive without us, indeed they do not even realise they are a separate entity to us until they are 3mths old. So much research (Bowlby, Ainsworth, Harlow for starters) speaks about the importance of infant attachment, baby-carer bond, and how if an infant is allowed to be as attached to their parent as they need then we can help to create a confident toddler, child and adult – separating an infant from it’s parent before he or she is ready to separate does not make him autonomous or independent, it deprives him of a basic need. I have already written about my experience of this HERE.
4) Co-Sleeping Kills Marriages
Really? because I would have thought that stress & exhaustion with a non sleeping crying baby would affect a marriage far more than a small person in the bed. What about sex? is really the undercurrent here though, let me tell you something, as a new mum if there was one thing that put me off sex it was tiredness from sleepless nights – who gets more of those – bedsharers or non bedsharers? (have a read of James McKenna’s RESEARCH) Then there’s the small matter of the elephant in the room, or in this case – the small wee thing in a babygro in the bed. Use your imagination people! since when did sex only ever happen in a bed? are we really that much of a cliche in England?
1) Co-sleeping Can be Safe
What about those countries where co-sleeping is a cultural norm? During the 1990s, in Japan the SIDs rate was only one tenth of that of the West and in Hong Kong, it was only 3% – co-sleeping is normal in Japan and Hong Kong! maybe our high SIDs risk could even be LOWERED if we followed the East’s example of co-sleeping – that’s quite something isn’t it?! To quote William Sears, MD (and world renowned parenting expert):
“Until a legitimate survey is done to determine how many babies sleep with their parents, and this is factored into the rate of SIDS in a bed versus a crib, it is unwarranted to state that sleeping in a crib is safer than a bed. If the incidence of SIDS is dramatically higher in crib versus a parent’s bed, and because the cases of accidental smothering and entrapment are only 1.5% of the total SIDS cases, then sleeping with a baby in your bed would be far safer than putting baby in a crib. The answer is not to tell parents they shouldn’t sleep with their baby, but rather to educate them on how to sleep with their infants safely.”
October 2002′s “Mothering” Magazine reviewed current world wide research on the issue of infant sleep. Finding that not only is co-sleeping safe,“but it is actually much safer than having your baby sleep in a crib. Research shows that infants who sleep in a crib are twice as likely to suffer a sleep related fatality (including SIDS) than infants who sleep in bed with their parents.”
2) Co-Sleeping Can SAVE Lives
For oh so many reasons including the concept of limbic regulation, gaseous exchange, decreased levels of infant apnoea, and the increased arousability in breastfeeding mums (resulting in heightened awareness to their infants). To discuss just one of the points - Infant apnoea – as I mentioned above in my own anecdotal example. Research has found infant apnoea decreased by up to 60% in studies when babies are near to someone else breathing whilst sleeping! Again this research and so much more is summed up by the wonderful Dr. James McKenna from the University of Notre Dame HERE.
3) Co-Sleeping Means More Sleep For Everyone.
Before I co-slept I spent a good few weeks fighting my son, returning him to his moses basket where he would awaken and cry, yet he would snooze for hours in my arms. Yes he would awaken more regularly and feed more regularly during the night when in bed with me, however his feeds would be shorter and we would feed in a sleep induced haze, never really awakening, in fact when he was slightly older I didn’t even wake at all – he would just latch himself on! this is how nature intended babies to feed, little and often – not tanking them up to last through the night. Time and again research has shown that, contrary to popular opinion, co-sleeping mothers get MORE sleep than those with cot sleeping babies. You can read more on this HERE.
4) Co-Sleeping Helps Breastfeeding & Milk Supply
Co-Sleeping and breastfeeding go hand in hand, indeed we know the research says it is only breastfeeding mothers who should co-sleep with their babies (due to their heightened states of arousal to their infant), we know that the close physical contact – oftentimes skin to skin – that comes with bedsharing can make the breastfeeding experience so much easier. We also know that breastfeeding alone can decrease SIDs risk – imagine what a powerful combination we have in terms of decreasing SIDs risks when we combine safe co-sleeping *and* breastfeeding! This is a great blog on the co-sleeping/breastfeeding synchronicity.
Now Mr. Wright – how about you tackle the topic again with a little more knowledge and a little less bias?
Sarah (Mum to Four, Parenting Author and Founder of BabyCalm Ltd)
You can read more of Sarah’s articles HERE.