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Fear and Loving in Co-Sleeping: Part 2

Fear and Loving in Co-Sleeping: Part 2

In New York state, where I currently reside, there is a “Babies Sleep Safest Alone” campaign, produced by the New York State Office of Children and Family Services, that urges parents to always put their infant children to sleep on their back, rather than on their stomachs, which has been deemed a SIDS risk (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). Fair enough. Research conducted over the last few years has indicated that simply flipping your child over from stomach to back greatly reduces the incidence of SIDS, or crib death (a peculiar and haunting moniker).

However, I should note that as much ink has been spilled in effort to curb SIDS, experts are still in the dark as to what primarily and exactly are the root causes of SIDS. The other more notable part of the New York campaign (and said plainly in the tagline) is the assertion that babies are better off sleeping on their own. Pointing out the potential dangers of unwittingly rolling over on the child and/or accidentally smothering the child is the chief objective of the campaign. Presumably, concerned parents exposed to this campaign’s message are frightened into submission, and babies who may have been warm and toasty in their parent’s bed are summarily ejected for the sake of the supposed safety of the child. What is wrong with this picture?

Well to take it all the way back to my previous post from earlier in the week, there is a veritable firestorm of ideas and heated furor on the subject of co-sleeping/ bedsharing/ family bed concepts that continue to divide and confuse parents. Many health professionals (but not all) will caution new parents about the numerous dangers of sleeping alongside your child, and how it should remain forbidden territory, much like the practice of leaving a child alone in a hot car. But many parents, pediatricians, breastfeeding advocates, and concerned citizens defend the practice as, not only safe when precautions are taken, but highly beneficial for both parent and child on multiple levels. As was evident from the vital and budding comment section from my last post, Care2 readers have a good deal to say on the matter.

I don’t need to encapsulate or summarize here, as I would urge everyone to read through the many illuminating accounts, tributes, and opinions posted by Care2 readers on the subject (everything from Freud to infant mortality is touched upon). The fact is, like it or not (Hello, NYS OCFS!) co-sleeping has been around longer than the Internet, longer than sanctimonious punditry, and longer than New York State and continues to be put into practice by the majority of cultures on this planet.

This is not to say that just because something has a long tradition, it is above reproach and not worth reconsidering, but the fact is that co-sleeping holds numerous emotional, developmental, and psychological benefits that, I would venture to guess, far outweigh the risks (some will obviously disagree with this bold statement). Everything from the lowering of stress hormones (in both mother and child) to the stability of the babies physiological functions, including the possibility of reducing the incidence of SIDS, has been listed as potential benefits to the act of co-sleeping.

But the element of risk is really the mobilizing factor for the most impassioned opponents of the practice. The obvious concern is that sleeping in close proximity to the parent will physically harm the child. That the adult sleeping environment is unsuitable for an infant, and that you are inviting a nocturnal dance with death every time you invite your child into your bed. Another element of concern for some people is the hindrance and delay of the child’s sense of independence from the parent. Many critics of the practice of co-sleeping dismiss and undermine the parent’s intentions as self-serving, and having little to do with the health and psychological well-being of the child and everything to do with the parent’s need to be needed. This is where the debate gets a bit ugly.

I think it is fair to say that everyone that is a sentient, caring individual is concerned with the welfare and safety of babies. Whether it is co-sleeping or the Ferber method, a thoughtful and constructive discussion should be ongoing and encouraged. However, any issue involving parenting that is frequently bracketed by panic and rebuke obviously needs another approach. Clearly, the practice of co-sleeping has not decimated the infant population and that most parents that do practice it, do it in a safe and conscientious manner. Sure there may be room for improvement, and increased safety, but does the state really have the right to mandate how we sleep and with whom we sleep with?

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, N.Y. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

40 comments

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11:58PM PDT on Sep 13, 2009

i absolutely agree that co-sleeping benefits far outweigh the isks. but thats my own personl opinion. co-sleeing has been around since the birth of our species no doubt. the state has no right how to tell ppl to sleep and who they can or cannot have in their bed. that is proposterious, ridiculous, and outrageous!!!

2:57PM PST on Feb 16, 2009

I worked full-time after my children were born, and breast fed both (one till she was 2 1/2, one till he was 4). I found co-sleeping an absolutely natural, simple, and easy way to reconnect after a day away, breast feed, and also protect my child. I slept soundly, but any movement from my infant instantly registered with me so I would never have rolled over on them. In fact, their gentle breathing and warm bodies helped me relax and sleep. I wasn't worried about SIDS, or about kidnappers, because my child was fully protected curled up next to me. If they stopped breathing, I would know instantly because I was right there. We did simplify the number of sheets, blankets, etc. so there was no chance of tangling up, but because my sleep patterns were so in tuned with my children, I think they wiggled around the same time I was ready to roll over too. It was the most natural thing in the world. I let them determine when to stop nursing and co-sleeping. They were both toddlers when they moved on to their own beds. Now at 9 and 12, they have a healthy sense of privacy and independence. They like to curl up with me to read a good book, but have no hesitation climbing into their own beds afterwards. So perhaps mine is just one story among many, but I sure am glad I didn't listen to the pressure of some Government Agency to determine what was best for me and my children. That knowledge came by instinct. I listened to my own heart and my own instincts. So far, so good, and less stress.

7:34PM PST on Feb 12, 2009

Here is what I have learned, the AMA here in the USA is run by the toxic companies ~ Monsanto ~ Dow Chemical ~ Du Pont ect. What these companies do not want anyone to know is their toxic waste chemicals, pesticides, herbacides and other chemicals cause a depletion in Vitamin C. A Doctor (Not from this country) has proven that SIDS victims that were immediately resuscitated and give doses of injectible vitamin C lived and didn't have an issue again. Parents that had previous deaths in the family from SIDS babies were tested proven to be low in Vitamin C and given the Vitamin through an injection and NEVER had an episode and lived. Now here in the USA they have been told of this study and they have refused to look into it all. Genetically Modified foods are made with the nasty bugspray already IN IT, and then tons of herbacide is sprayed on this nasty food also. Women are terribly low in Vitamin C while pregnant and hence so are babies. Since the genetically modified foods have been released into our food system thousands of babies have died from "SIDS". I feel it is from the nasty pesticides and herbacides. The nasty genetically modified foods are playing a HUGE part in cancer deaths and heart disease. No one does anything. I complain to President Obama and anyone else who will listen and hopefully start looking into studies being done by other countries.

3:03AM PST on Feb 12, 2009

Follow your heart & allow your child complete access to you day & night. Breastfeed until the child calls it quits. That will produce the most independant & secure child. Do you really think a sober loving parent would sleep so soundly as to suffocate his own child? Wouldn't some panic on the child's part also ensue?
They don't know the cause of SIDS because it would cost vaccine manufacturers their business.

6:44AM PST on Feb 11, 2009

Thanks to everyone for your thoughtful and illuminating comments. The co-sleeping issue is extremely loaded, as is the SIDS issue, and I really appreciate everyone contributing to the conversation. The more anecdotes you share, links you post, and ideas you present, the more the dialog begins to take shape and the fear and ignorance begins to recede.

Also, many of your comments are seeding ideas for future blog posts.

Thanks again awesome readers!!!

Eric

5:35AM PST on Feb 11, 2009

In India babies usually sleep with their parents and SIDS is not one of the major reasons of infant mortality here. I believe parents are more conscious, alert and vigilant when babies are sleeping with them.

3:16AM PST on Feb 11, 2009

Okay, our daughter is still in our bed at 2 1/2 and after yet another child dissapearing in the night (Ocala, FL area) from her parent's home from her own bed at te ripe age of 5, I say I am perfectly happy with mine being right where she is for now! I would have brought her back into my bed last night anyway after hearing that news...we live in a remote area and our house(trailer) is very large. She would be so far away I think that we wouldn't get a decent night's sleep worrying about her on the other end of the house! She has been in our room from the start in a co-sleeper as I nursed until almost 1 year and then she got old enough to climb in with us. I have a background in child welfare and child development and have discussed this issue in length with my peers. So far none of her doctors or others that come in contact with her see anything other than a well adjusted, secure and happy child! I will take that any day over some of the children that I deal with on a daily basis, damaged beyond repair and seeking attention in any way that they can get it!
Go on CO-SLEEPERS!!!! Now, if we can just get more Americans to keep their parents in the home...okay that is a whole different blog! LOL

4:17PM PST on Feb 10, 2009

thanks for your links on the real causes of SIDS--toxins in mattresses and vaccines. I had my babies sleep with me until they were about 6 months --it was so much easier to nurse and I got more sleep. and it is actually safer as others have pointed out-they synchronize their breathing with moms. After 6 months I moved them to a crib in the same room and after around 2 yrs or so I moved them to their own room but they all came and got in bed with me at various times(sick, nightmares etc) They are all extremely independent healthy young women who are still very close to me. Parents need to ignore child rearing "experts" and do what works for them!

3:45PM PST on Feb 10, 2009

Vaccines and flame retardant play a significant role in SIDS. Part of the reason the "Back to Sleep" campaign appears to work is that it gets the the infants' noses and mouths farther away from the outgassing toxic chemical in the mattresses and bedding. http://www.criblife2000.com/index.htm
http://www.thinktwice.com/sids.htm

7:54AM PST on Feb 10, 2009

I enjoy sleeping alone with my husband but I held my children as babies to put them to sleep and laid them in their own beds (amazingly, the current trend then was to lay babies on their bellies-worked great). My son slept next to us in a separate bed for a while, but what worked the best for our family was for me to lay down with my 2 sons and read to them. Sometimes we all fell asleep and my husband had to come get me. But that was a win-win situation. Reading,comfort,loving and still the comfort of our own beds....

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