Second Opinion: Co-sleeping
I remember the tidal wave of emotions I felt after the birth of our first child. The fear and sense of responsibility driving home from the hospital. The sense of wonder watching him gaze at his surroundings. The joy in my heart seeing him coo or smile. Except for the times he had projectile vomiting, I wanted to be around this little guy all the time, awake or asleep. And so I was first confronted with the issue of co-sleeping.
Let’s first define what co-sleeping is in regards to this article. Co-sleeping is when a parent sleeps next to his/her infant in the same bed. (Incidentally, my least favorite form of co-sleeping is in a motel room with family — usually because there is little sleep.)
What are some of the potential benefits of co-sleeping? Moms may not need to get out of bed to breastfeed. It may deepen the relationship between mother and child. And some may sleep better in this arrangement.
But studies indicate there are pitfalls to co-sleeping as well. The most important potential danger is SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). Co-sleeping becomes more dangerous when parents use tobacco or alcohol or when a parent is overly tired or sleeps on a couch. The United Kingdom Department of Health advises that the safest place for an infant to sleep is in a crib in the parents’ room for the first six months of life. Similarly, the American Academy of Pediatrics, in a November 2011 report, recommends that baby can sleep in the same room as parents, but not in the same bed. Sharing a room is OK, but sharing a bed is not.
Let’s re-examine some of those purported benefits. If co-sleeping works while baby is small, fast-forward a year to when that toddler needs to graduate to his or her own bed — that could be a more difficult task. There are other ways to bond, as well: taking a walk, reading a book or playing games.
And on a related note, please place your baby on his or her back to sleep, and avoid blankets and toys in the crib (please see healthychildren.org for more information). The above AAP report also notes that immunizations and breastfeeding are associated with a lower incidence of SIDS.
Many mothers go the extra mile in pregnancy, avoiding over-the-counter medications, caffeine, soft cheeses and fish. Parents fill their homes with safety latches, gates and CO2 detectors. I would challenge parents to think of co-sleeping as a similar safety issue, where good choices can potentially save lives.
David Pommer, MD, is a family physician with Selah Family Medicine. He is a graduate of Whitworth University and the University of Washington School of Medicine. He co-sleeps with his pager, and he is happily married with three children.
Filed under From the Mag, Second Opinion