Can Parents Sleep Safely With Infants?

May 14, 2002 -- Many mothers appreciate the comfort and convenience of having their crying and nursing baby sleep beside them in bed; but the Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued a warning to parents urging them to keep sleeping babies in cribs.

Over the past three years, at least 180 babies died after getting trapped or suffocated while sleeping in the same beds as their parents, the CPSC says in a public awareness campaign launched earlier this month. The commission warns parents to place children under age 2 in a crib when they are sleeping.

Yet at least a few leading pediatricians, including Dr. Bob Sears, disagree.

While not discounting the CPSC statistics, Sears insists that it is far safer for babies to sleep with their parents than not to, and points out that the incidence of crib-related Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is far higher than the infant deaths related to sleeping with parents. SIDS results in 2,500 deaths per year.

Parents should do whatever they can to prevent those 60 adult bed-related deaths a year, but one way is to simply learn how to sleep with their babies the safe way, Sears said.

"Those deaths occur only if proper precautions aren't followed," Sears told Good Morning America. "If you follow them, then the child's chances of dying are far lower than from SIDS."

Babies Get Trapped in Bedding, Frames

There are no statistics comparing the number of SIDS deaths that occurred in bed vs. the number that occurred in the crib. Until those statistics are known, the CPSC should not tell parents not to sleep with their babies, Sears said.

The incidents of infants dying while "co-sleeping" with adults, as documented by the CPSC, include the following: children getting trapped between the bed and the wall, or the bed and another object; entrapment that involves footboards or bed frames; soft bedding-related hazards, such as suffocation on a pillow; falls, sometimes into a pile of clothing or plastic, resulting in suffocation; a child or adult accidentally lying on top of the baby.

Co-sponsoring the CPSC campaign is the Juvenile Products Manufacturer Association, a trade organization representing 95 percent of the baby product industry, which includes manufacturers of cribs and bedding.

The CPSC recommends babies under 24 months sleep in cribs. Babies should be placed on their backs in a crib that meets current safety standards, and has a firm, tight-fitting mattress. If you use a portable crib or playpen, make sure it meets current safety standards, the CPSC recommends. Use only the mattress or pad provided by the manufacturer.

The commission also advises that babies should sleep on their backs, not their stomachs, because babies who lie on their stomachs are more likely to succumb to SIDS.

Sleeping Safely With Babies

Some estimates say that as many as 50 percent to 60 percent of parents sleep with their infant children.In today's busy society, where both parents often work, it is a way to spend extra bonding time with the baby, who may be nearly ready for bed by the time they get home. If they sleep with the parents, it provides extra snuggle time and a good way to reconnect with the baby, Sears said.

He and his wife, Cheryl Sears, have three boys — Andrew, 9, Alex, 6, and Joshua, 2 months. Joshua, the newborn, sleeps with his parents every night, just as his brothers did. The Sears begin weaning their children away from the bed between the ages of 2 and 4.

Cheryl Sears, said that with Joshua, she barely lost any sleep, and is barely aware of nursing him in the bed beside her. Besides removing the sleep deprivation from the parenting experience, the experience is also more pleasant for the babies, who do not have to cry alone in a room to get parents' attention, she said.

Here are Dr. Sears' tips on how babies can safely sleep with their parents.

Bed Against Wall: Some accidental deaths occur because the infant fell through a crack between the bed and the wall. To prevent this, push bed firmly against the wall, and fill cracks or empty spaces with a rolled up blanket.

Push Furniture Away From Bed: Some infants roll out of bed, and get stuck between the night table and bed, so make sure any furniture is pushed far away from the bed.

Safe Bed Railing: Infants have died getting stuck between bed railings, so make sure that you are using a CPSC-approved bed rail that is completely safe.

Check Mattress Size: Babies can fall and get stuck between the bed and the frame, so make sure the mattress is the right size for the bed frame. Do not use a waterbed or feather mattress.

Avoid Rolling Onto Baby: Parents can roll over onto babies in the night, so you should avoid drinking or taking drugs, or even some over-the-counter medications, like antihistamines, that can make you lose your sense of awareness. Mothers have an inborn sense of where babies are, so unless they are under the influence, that instinct is going to keep them from rolling onto the baby, Sears said.

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