National Expert Details Benefits of Co-Sleeping
A recent print ad campaign by the Milwaukee Department of Public Health attempted to educate readers on the dangers of co-sleeping by showing an infant snoozing soundly in an adult bed ... next to a meat cleaver.
The caption read, “Having your baby sleeping with you can be just as dangerous.”
The campaign caused quite a buzz in the media, from parents who felt the ads went a bit too far and experts who cited the many benefits of co-sleeping.
Dr. Jim Sears knows a thing or two about being a pediatrician. He’s the Emmy-nominated co-host of the award-winning talk show “The Doctors,” as well as a board-certified pediatrician who is part of a family practice that he shares with his father, William, and younger brother, Robert.
He’s also an advocate of co-sleeping.
“Popular media has tried to discourage parents from sharing sleep with their babies, calling this worldwide practice unsafe,” he wrote in a recent email interview. “Medical science, however, doesn’t back this conclusion. In fact, research shows that co-sleeping is actually safer than sleeping alone. “
According to Dr. Sears, here is what science says about sleeping with your baby:
1. Sleep more peacefully — Research shows that co-sleeping infants virtually never startle during sleep and rarely cry during the night, compared to solo sleepers who startle repeatedly throughout the night and spend four times the number of minutes crying. Startling and crying releases adrenaline, which increases heart rate and blood pressure, interferes with restful sleep and leads to long term sleep anxiety.
2. Stable physiology — Studies show that infants who sleep near to parents have more stable temperatures, regular heart rhythms, and fewer long pauses in breathing compared to babies who sleep alone. This means baby sleeps physiologically safer.
3. Decreases risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome — Worldwide research shows that the SIDS rate is lowest (and even unheard of) in countries where co-sleeping is the norm, rather than the exception. Babies who sleep either in or next to their parents’ bed have a fourfold decrease in the chance of SIDS. Co-sleeping babies actually spend more time sleeping on their back or side, which decreases the risk of SIDS.
4. Long term emotional health — Co-sleeping babies grow up with a higher self-esteem, less anxiety, become independent sooner, are better behaved in school, and are more comfortable with affection. They also have less psychiatric problems.
Safe Co-Sleeping Habits
No matter where baby sleeps, Sears advises parents to provide a safe sleeping environment. He encourages co-sleeping families to observe these Dos and Don’ts:
• Like heat-seeking missiles, babies automatically gravitate toward a warm body. Yet, to be safe, place baby between mother and a guardrail or push the mattress flush against the wall and position baby between mother and the wall. Guardrails enclosed with plastic mesh are safer than those with slats, which can entrap baby’s limbs or head. Be sure the guardrail is flush against the mattress so there is no crevice that baby could sink into.
• Place baby adjacent to mother, rather than between mother and father. Mothers we have interviewed feel so physically and mentally aware of their baby’s presence even while sleeping, that it’s extremely unlikely they would roll over onto their baby. Some fathers, on the other hand, may not enjoy the same sensitivity of baby’s presence while asleep; so it is possible they might roll over on or throw out an arm onto baby.
• Place baby to sleep on his back.
• Use a large bed, preferably a queen or king. A king-size bed may wind up being your most useful piece of “baby furniture.” If you only have a cozy double bed, use the money that you would ordinarily spend on a fancy crib and other less necessary baby furniture and treat yourselves to a safe and comfortable king-size bed.
• Some parents and babies sleep better if baby is still in touching and hearing distance, but not in the same bed. For them, a bedside co-sleeper is a safe option. We recommend the bedside co-sleepers at www.armsreach.com.
Do not sleep with your baby if:
• You are under the influence of any drug (such as alcohol or tranquilizing medications) that diminishes your sensitivity to your baby’s presence. If you are drunk or drugged, these chemicals lessen your arousability from sleep.
• You are extremely obese. Obesity itself may cause sleep apnea in the mother, in addition to the smothering danger.
• You are exhausted from sleep deprivation. This lessens your awareness of your baby and your arousability from sleep.
• You are the child’s baby-sitter. A baby-sitter’s awareness and arousability is unlikely to be as acute as a mother’s.
• Don’t allow older siblings to sleep with a baby under nine months. Sleeping children do not have the same awareness of tiny babies as do parents, and too small or too crowded a bed space is an unsafe sleeping arrangement for a tiny baby.
Most of all, said Sears, “use common sense when sharing sleep. Anything that could cause you to sleep more soundly than usual or that alters your sleep patterns can affect your baby’s safety. Nearly all the highly suspected (but seldom proven) cases of fatal “overlying” in the literature could have been avoided if parents had observed common sense sleeping practices.”
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