Tragic Baby Death Shows Importance of Careful Co-Sleeping

A woman in South Yorkshire, UK woke to discover what can only be described as every mother's nightmare: her 5-week-old son was face down in the bed next to her, bleeding from his nose and mouth. Paramedics fought to save the infant, but shortly after arriving at the hospital, little Aaron Wright passed away.

The official, heartbreaking cause of death: Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, defined as the sudden and largely unexplained fatality of a previously healthy infant.

But there is an extra element of tragedy in Aaron's passing, one that serves as a warning to every parent who co-sleeps: because Aaron's father brought him to bed while the mother was sleeping, his mother didn't even know he was in the bed until it was too late.

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Aaron's father said that he wasn't aware of the dangers of co-sleeping and said that while Aaron had not been in their bed with them before, they had shared a bed with their other children in the past. He took the baby to bed in the early hours of the morning after a feeding, and two hours later, that's when Aaron's mother found him, face down under the duvet.

A hospital pathologist said a postmortem examination revealed that Aaron was a normal, well-cared-for baby who had suffered from oxygen deprivation. She also said that research at her hospital indicated 80 percent of SIDS cases involved children sleeping in the same bed as adults.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has long warned against bed sharing, recommending that infants sleep in a separate bed in the same room as a parent. In 2011, the AAP further refined their recommendations, stating that "room-sharing without bed-sharing" can decrease the risk of SIDS by up to 50 percent. They even recommend against devices that are supposed to make bed sharing less risky, like in-bed co-sleepers.

But the reality is, some parents choose to bed share for personal reasons, and some do it because it's their only chance at getting some sleep. I didn't share a bed with my first son, but for a short amount of time, I did with my second. He was always above the covers and carefully arranged, but still. Sometimes I even dozed off with him nestled on my chest, because he wouldn't sleep anywhere else.

I look back on that and feel a little shocked that I made those choices, but in those early sleep-deprived weeks, it's tempting to do anything that works.

While the AAP is staunchly anti-bed sharing, Dr. Sears advocates that safe bed sharing is actually healthier for babies. His recommendations include:

• Place babies to sleep on their backs.
• Be sure there are no crevices between the mattress and guardrail or headboard that allows baby’s head to sink into.
• Do not allow anyone but mother to sleep next to the baby, since only mothers have that protective awareness of baby (yeah, I call bullshit on this one for any number of reasons).
• Don’t fall asleep with baby on a cushy surface, such as a beanbag, couch, or wavy waterbed.

I can imagine how this baby's family felt—they'd shared a bed with their babies before, and the father was surely bone-tired when he brought little Aaron to bed. But oh, what a nightmare they're living now. I feel so sorry for them, and I'm so grateful nothing bad happened during the times I shared a bed with my child.

How do you feel about bed sharing? Do you think it can be done safely?



Image via Flickr/Muffet

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