Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Co-sleeping and SIDS

Oooohh...hot topic. There are two very opposing sides to this, so a debate over co-sleeping ALWAYS gets nice and steamy. I will attempt to separate facts from feelings, which is what I always try to do, and which always tends to tick the emotional people off.

Here's the thing... I understand why people like to sleep with their baby in the bed. I've done it. It is nice, especially when you are exhausted and too darn tired to put the baby in her bed. It is comfy, it is sweet, it is nice to wake up to a sweet smelling, peaceful little person that you are finally able to touch, stroke, and snuggle with after 9 months of waiting. I get co-sleeping. I do.

Let me clarify terms I will use going forward so that this makes more sense. Co-sleeping includes bed sharing, but also includes having baby in a co-sleeper next to the adult bed. Bed sharing is actually bringing the baby into the adult bed. The difference is important. I will use the term "co-sleeping" to define a sleeping arrangement whereas the baby has his own sleeping environment next to the adult bed, such as a co-sleeper. I will use the term "bed sharing" to define a sleeping arangement whereas the baby actually sleeps in the adult bed.

That said, bed sharing is NOT safer than placing your baby in her crib. Co-sleeping CAN be safer than any other type of sleeping arrangement, but only under certain circumstances which I will explain in a minute. When it comes to bed sharing and SIDS, many proponents who defend bed sharing usually don't know what they are talking about. Not all. But many. For instance, some say that no babies have died while bed sharing, which is absolutely untrue. Others will blame bed sharing deaths on SIDS, with the idea that if it wasn't caused by suffocation or overlying, then the baby would have died in her crib, bassinet, or co-sleeper anyway, since, "SIDS is not preventable, detectable, yada yada..." and they feel that this exonerates bed sharing. Well, it doesn't.

How so? If you cannot (for whatever reason) accept the toxic gas theory for crib death, you are never going to be able to grasp the concepts pertaining to bed sharing and crib death (SIDS). This is where so many proponets of bed sharing go wrong. They are too busy "but"ing that they miss the facts. Set the emotions aside, peek your head out of the natural parenting- defend it 'til death- world and take a look at what's really going on.

The toxic gas theory states that toxic nerve gases permeate from crib mattresses when a naturally occuring fungus eats away at elements in the mattresses. These elements are phosphorus, arsenic, and antimony. Sleeping a baby face up helps keep these gases away from babies' breathing space, but it is not always enough. IMPORTANT NOTE: These gases are also found in adult mattresses. Many parents, having heard that bed sharing is not safe, have lost babies during sofa-sharing. Sofas and other furniture also contain the same elements and are just as dangerous as a baby or adult mattress, if not more dangerous. (On a side note, infant car seats and swings contain the same chemicals that can produce toxic nerve gases. The chemicals are used as preservatives and fire retardants.)

Proponents of bed sharing say that it helps prevent SIDS because of information presented by Dr. William Sears such as http://www.askdrsears.com/html/7/T071000.asp. There are other articles out there, by different authors, and other studies, but generally, Dr. Sears' article is full of speculation and guess work about SIDS and what causes it. Oddly, he gives credit to the Back to Sleep campaign which was started in the UK by the very scientist who discovered the toxic gas theory! Similarly with the results in New Zealand: the co-discoverers of the theory helped diminish SIDS in the UK and New Zealand, but oddly, Dr. Sears has no idea how or why. Same with the US SIDS "experts." They tell you that you should put your baby on his back, but have no idea why. Or maybe they do, but that's a whole other can of worms not to be opened just yet.
Okay, so let's assume that Dr. Sears and other "experts" don't know what they're talking about, and Dr. Sprott and Barry Richardson, the co-discoverers of the toxic gas explanation for crib death, were 100% correct and toxic gases are in fact the sole cause of SIDS. (More proof on this later!) A mattress wrap was developed by Dr. Sprott called the BabeSafe mattress cover. This cover has been used on approximately 200,000 babies' sleep surfaces with NO crib deaths. The cover prevents the toxic nerve gases from permeating into the baby's breathing space. The covers are available in various sizes for babies' bassinets, co-sleepers, and cribs. They are not available in adult bed sizes, and now we come to the secondary problem when it comes to bed sharing. (And this is why Dr. Sprott does not condone bed sharing).

Since most people aren't aware of the toxic gas theory and the danger of mattresses, usually the main concern with bed sharing is suffocation, parent overlying, strangulation, and falls. There is such a thing as "safer" bed sharing by removing ALL pillows and blankets, putting the baby in the middle so she doesn't roll off, not sharing with an older child, etc. But not only will you still have the initial risk of SIDS from sleeping your baby on an unwrapped mattress, you have the secondary concern of things or bodies in the shared bed which can harm the baby during sleep.

The absolute safest sleeping environment for a baby until 14 months of age is in a co-sleeper with a wrapped mattress, next to the parents' bed. The mattress cover prevents SIDS, and the separate sleeping environment prevents the additional bed sharing risks. It is worthy to note here, that with a mattress cover on the baby's co-sleeper, your baby can now sleep on his stomach. Since I personally purchased a mattress cover because both of my children were tummy sleepers, I wonder how many other parents purchased one for that same reason...and yet there are STILL no SIDS deaths on wrapped mattresses!

Yes, I *know* that bed sharing has been happening since the beginning of time. So has overlying. There is no sense in putting your infant at risk rather than placing him a foot or so away into his co-sleeper. Dr. Sears can go on and on about how well babies sleep with their mommies. What about all the babies who are held frequently throughout the day, nurtured, breastfed, etc. who sleep perfectly well in their own space in the parents' rooms? He didn't ask ME! My daughter slept wonderfully from day one. She didn't care where she was, she slept fine. And talk about THRIVING! The thing is, most co-sleepers/bed-sharers practice other attachment parenting idealogies, so there is no way that Dr. Sears can speculate on just the sleeping arrangement. He even admits that. I shouldn't pick on Dr. Sears, and I'm not really. I just wish he would be more open about what he doesn't know rather than stating things that appear to some readers as fact.

Back to my point. The safest environment for baby is sleeping on a wrapped mattress, whether it is a bassinet, co-sleeper, or crib mattress. There are other steps you should take to provide a SIDS safe bed. These are VERY important.

So no matter how good it feels to snuggle with your baby in bed, it is not the safest place for baby to sleep. Imagine the feeling of all the moms who woke up to a cold baby. I cannot imagine the guilt I would feel if I took my chances and something happened to my baby. If you were proactive enough to search out this information, keep using your head and place your infant on a wrapped mattress where she is safest of all. Do not allow other moms who have not done the research to convince you that bed sharing is safer. It is simply not true.