by Linda F. Palmer, DC
author Baby Matters
The New York Times recently took the
opportunity to provide us with some great news from a new study:
Cosleeping in the US has doubled since 1993 --- from 5.5 to
12.8 percent. But, while the NIH report was neutral in nature,
the Times just couldn't bring themselves to show us
what good news this statistic could be.
The article also quotes that almost 1/3rd of
Asian-American and African-American infants are regularly sleeping
in adult beds, while only 10% of whites are. Overall, nearly
half of all babies were spending at least some time in adult
beds. While they quoted a couple of healthy-parenting experts
on the cozy and sleep-saving benefits of cosleeping, they still
had to print only this in regards to the safety issue: "The
same results worry safety experts, who say the practice causes
While many of the so-called safety experts
won't be changing their croon due to ties with formula and crib
industries, others have little chance of improving their understanding
when one-sided information is constantly presented by the press.
The Times went on to quote a Dr. Bradley
Thatch, professor of pediatrics at the Washington University
School of Medicine, as saying he was "in the camp that thinks
it's dangerous. In 50 percent of the sudden infant deaths in
St. Louis, and 70 percent of those among blacks, bed-sharing
Well, Dr. Thatch, if you were to read other
studies, you would learn that there is "good bed-sharing" and
"risky bed-sharing." When the adult-bed sleeping infant is not
accompanied by a conscientious, non-smoking adult, SIDS is higher.
It seems as though the Times had to
look for someone experienced with a high-risk population in
order to find a good quote. The population Dr. Thatch has studied
is one classified as having many more teenage pregnancies and
many impoverished areas with low education rates. More smoking,
drinking, and drug use are expected in these populations on
the whole. Along with St. Louis' large proportion of African-Americans,
all of these groups are typically associated with more formula
feeding (another high risk factor for SIDS). All of these populations
have also been shown to have very high rates of bed-sharing,
but more often with unsafe practices.
With a high level of risk factors, cosleeping
can result in higher SIDS rates than crib-sleeping. With 50
to likely 70 percent of the St. Louis infant population sleeping
in adult beds at least part of the time, many with higher-risk
behaviors, it's no wonder that 50 to 70% of their SIDS deaths
are found to have "bed-sharing involved."
Many studies have been performed to try to
solve the puzzle of the sad SIDS rates in African-Americans.
These suggest that the differences are associated with differing
behaviors. African-Americans are still placing their babies
to sleep in the prone position at very high rates. Prenatal
care rates are low (a known risk-factor for SIDS), and low-weight
births are far higher. One study reports that softer bedding
and pillows are also more-often found in this at-risk population.
This high SIDS rates is not reflected in many parts of Africa,
where more natural parenting behaviors are practiced.
While equal percentages of Asian-Americans
are regularly cosleeping, their SIDS rates are very low ---
less than 1/4th the rate of African-American populations. Clearly,
cosleeping itself is not the culprit.
It is important for us to know that certain
populations typically have riskier bed-sharing practices, (and
these need to be addressed in the proper frame of reference),
but when worldwide statistics demonstrate how much safer cosleeping
can be than crib sleeping --- when without smoke and drugs,
and even better when accompanied by breastfeeding --- there
is no benefit to making a blanket statement against cosleeping.
Those who practice conscientious cosleeping for the increased
emotional and physical wellbeing of their children (and for
better sleep) should not be frightened and misled by one-sided,
sensational, and inaccurate information.
McNeil, Donald G. Jr., "More
Babies Share Beds With Parents." The New York Times, 2003 Jan
Willinger M, et. al., "Trends
in infant bed sharing in the United States, 1993-2000: the national
infant sleep position study." Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 2003
Mathews TJ, et. al., "Infant
mortality statistics from the 1999 period linked birth/infant
death data set." Natl Vital Stat Rep 2002 Jan 30;50(4):1-28.
Johnson CM, et. al., "Infant
sleep position: A telephone survey of inner-city parents of
color." Pediatrics 1999 Nov;104(5 Pt 2):1208-11.
Papacek EM, et. al., "Differing
postneonatal mortality rates of African-American and white infants
in Chicago: an ecologic study." Matern Child Health J 2002 Jun;6(2):99-105.
Palmer, Linda F., Baby Matters,
What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Caring for Your Baby,
(Lancaster Ohio: Lucky Press, 2001), 87-97
Palmer, Linda F., "Cosleeping
and SIDS Fact Sheet." Jan 2003.
© Copyright 2002 Dr. Linda Folden
Palmer, All rights reserved.