Despite New Warnings, I’m Still Co-Sleeping

Amy Keyishian

cosleeping with pennyI am paranoid about my children’s safety -- almost to the point of irrationality. In fact, I’m so afraid of SIDS that I kept my older daughter next to me in a sidecar co-sleeper well past the age of 12 months, and my younger daughter has moved from said co-sleeper into our bed.

What a cruel irony, then, that a nurse in Florida says that upon re-examining some infant deaths in her area, co-sleeping is the culprit and she discourages co-sleeping in her area.

But when I looked deeper, I made the decision to keep co-sleeping.

In the story, the nurse, Jennifer Combs, found that some infant deaths were not classified as sleep deaths even though she, looking at their records, would call them that. A medical examiner she works with agreed, saying parents are often not educated about safer sleep practices. She’s quoted as saying, “You may have slept with your baby and it was fine, but you were lucky ... Things are different now. Parents are obese, they use [sleeping pills], they use drugs. Back then, we didn’t have pillow-top beds, tons of pillows and blankets.”

All right. Is this what we’re talking about? Because neither I nor my husband use sleeping pills or other drugs, we don’t have a pillow-top mattress, and contrary to our shared body dysmorphia, neither one of us is obese. I will resolve to be more careful about pillows and blankets, but when both girls were infants, I had an elaborate built-up sleeping position that kept the baby in my arms and me in a sitting-up position. (I would rather have had a big cushy recliner to sleep in, but nobody was buyin’.)

In another achingly heartbreaking case, a young mom in Reno had her baby die while they were co-sleeping. At the time the article was written, it seemed she had smothered the baby during feeding, because she was so exhausted she fell asleep. But they hadn’t made a final determination. The poor baby had spent a month in the NICU and may have had other issues, and the poor mom must be absolutely wracked with guilt at the idea that her loving and nurturing her son led to his death. I wish I could see a follow-up to this story, because I have a feeling the truth is more complicated.

Though again, even if this is what happened, I don’t worry about it personally because Abby is a huge, 10-month-old bruiser at this point who has been known to practically rip open my bodice like Fabio in her quest for num-num. Even if it's determined that it’s not safe to co-sleep with newborns, I think at this point, Abby and I are out of the woods.

The Dr. Sears website is typically even-handed on this issue. They admit, of course, that there are risks to co-sleeping, just as there are risks to anything, and they list many precautions parents can take to make it safer -- including putting baby on the mom’s side rather than in the middle of the bed, having a huge bed, and not being on drugs or obese (duh-hickey).

It seems to me that Nurse Combs, though well-meaning, is doing the wrong outreach. She’s discouraging co-sleeping in her county, especially among black families who reportedly lose twice as many babies as white families in the state of Florida. Those resources would be better put into an education campaign for safer co-sleeping, just like the campaign and easy, bullet-point fact sheets for safer sling-wearing.

This sentence broke my heart, from a parent: “Sometimes it’s the only way the child will sleep, right up against the mother. But we have to break them of that habit.” Break that bond, break that habit, break that mom’s heart. Is that really the answer, when we can instead raise awareness and help moms create safer sleep situations for themselves and their babies?

After all, if it’s good enough for this kitten-mom, it’s good enough for me.

Do you disagree? Is co-sleeping just too dangerous for anyone, or can the risks be managed like with slings and cribs? Tell us in the comments! 

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