Mothers have plenty to argue about when it comes to raising their babies and that includes sleeping arrangements. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be a single motherhood topic that doesn’t inspire some sort of debate amongst mothers. This becomes particularly evident when several generations of mothers are together in one space, as was the case at a coworker’s “after the baby arrived” baby shower.

She was given a Moses basket filled with clothes, diapers and various other baby essentials. Gushing, she told us that her little one would love sleeping in the basket on her bed until he was ready to sleep right on the mattress with her. This caused a cacophony of responses. Half of the room thought it was adorable, while the other half loudly proclaimed their horror that she would even consider co-sleeping. This wasn’t something I had ever really considered. Is co-sleeping a good idea, or is it as dangerous as the older mothers wanted her to think?

Due to the tremendous focus on SIDS in recent years, many researchers have begun to strongly link co-sleeping with the sudden death of newborns. These results have proven quite frightening to many parents, who automatically assume this means any co-sleeping behavior is a dangerous risk factor for the sudden death of a healthy child. In-depth studies have indicated, however, this is not truly the case. Many of the results indicating a strong connection between SIDS and co-sleeping actually showed a link between suffocation and co-sleeping. This suffocation occurs most frequently in non-breastfeeding relationships, particularly in smoking households. Parents who use heavy bedding also greatly increase the risk of SIDS due to suffocation or overheating.

In terms of non-smoking households with ongoing breastfeeding relationships, co-sleeping has actually been shown to be quite beneficial. Many researchers deem mother-child sleeping pairs to be the most psychologically, physically and socially healthful and beneficial sleeping arrangement as it allows both mother and child to benefit from the closeness of the sleeping relationship. When co-sleeping, mothers are better able to breastfeed on demand without tremendously disrupting their sleeping patterns or those of their child. The feeling of being close to one enough also encourages a sense of security that helps to produce deeper, longer and more restful sleep.

These researchers note co-sleeping is the natural arrangement, as both animals and humans tend to stick close to one another when sleeping for both comfort and safety reasons. Parents considering co-sleeping should remember the safest sleeping environment for a baby is a cool room with circulating air and no bedding or pillows that could pose a suffocation risk. Co-sleeping parents should never consume alcohol or any other substance that may reduce their ability to wake up if they were to accidentally roll onto their child.

Source: McKenna, James, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome in Cross-Cultural Perspective: Is Infant-Parent co-sleeping protective? Annual Review of Anthropology, Volume 25, 1996.

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