Top Cosleeping Myths, Busted.

Cosleeping Myths Turned Upside-Down
Cosleeping Myths Turned Upside-Down

“I have a secret,” a new mom pulled me aside and whispered. “My baby sleeps in my bed. I’m worried I’m putting her at risk.”

Sadly, these types of secrets are shared with moms like me all the time. By moms like me, I mean modern moms who openly embrace traditional parenting practices like bed-sharing. While normally a private person, I’ve outed myself to help fill a huge information gap for new parents.

If infant sleep is such a vital issue for new parents, and new babies have been sleeping in their mothers’ arms since time began, then why is bed-sharing such a taboo subject?

A 1999 CPSC Safety Alert warned the public not to bring babies into adult beds after recording 515 bed-sharing deaths over an eight-year period. The medical community took decisive action, creating poster campaigns and educating new parents about the dangers of bed-sharing.

If you compare these 515 bed-sharing losses to the number of SIDS deaths (AKA crib deaths) across the same eight-year period, you’ll find 33,837. So why the uproar over just 1.5% of sleep-related infant deaths over a decade? The answer lies beyond the scope of this post, but I believe our cultural ideas about early independence have shaped our authorities’ attitudes toward bed-sharing.

The fact is, the vast majority of these tragic bed-sharing deaths were preventable – caused by major risk factors like drug or alcohol use by a caretaker, bulky bedding, sofa-sleeping, or bed frames with gaps that entrapped babies. A safe-sleeping checklist could have literally made the difference between life and death.

Today, most new parents leave the hospital armed with actionable tips to prevent SIDS. Such education efforts have successfully halved annual SIDS deaths over the past 20 years. Yet we still lose over 2,000 babies a year to SIDS! Compare this to about 60 bed-sharing deaths per year, most of which could be prevented by a shift in the “abstinence” policy embraced by U.S. authorities. Pretending that bed-sharing is not an option is a major disservice to the more than 13% of Americans who openly bed-share, and the many thousands of families who do so privately.

Sadly, parents who respond to their babies’ needs by sharing sleep are swimming against the mainstream. While some speak out confidently, many keep quiet and treat their sleeping arrangement as a shameful secret. This despite bed-sharing being statistically safer than crib-sleeping. It’s kind of like hiding the fact that you strap your baby into a carseat when going for a drive.

Keeping our babies alive is our #1 responsibility as new parents, but the numbers are just one side of the co-sleeping story.

Hands down, bringing my baby into bed was the single most transformative tool that allowed our whole family to sleep peacefully during those crucial first months together.

New babies have tiny stomachs, and they require frequent feedings for physical and emotional nourishment. By keeping babies close in the nighttime hours, parents can maximize sleep time for the whole family.

Babies are also nourished by touch, a key element to their survival and sense of security in those early months. A baby needs frequent loving touch to anchor himself in his new world, to form a secure attachment to his caregivers, and to facilitate strong brain development and emotional regulation skills.

And yes, we’ve all heard the popular refrain about how you can “spoil” your baby by holding him too much, or meeting his needs too regularly. Not only has science disproven this sad notion, it also defies common sense. How did you feel when you were little and your parents didn’t soothe your tears? Angry? Resentful? Alone? How did you feel when they comforted you? Loved? Cherished? Valued? Spoiling comes from overindulging wants, like toys, candy and television. Not from meeting needs. And definitely not from loving your baby.

Most of us who have been through what I like to call “baby boot camp” – those first three months caring for a newborn – are familiar with the rhythm of sleepless nights. The baby cries, and is soothed to sleep in mom or dad’s arms. The baby is put down to sleep in his bassinette or crib, and promptly wakes up screaming. Repeat, ad infinitum.

Sleepless nights not only make us crazy, they also can make us resent our little ones. Why can’t they sleep like a “normal baby,” we wonder. It rarely occurs to us that normal babies don’t sleep in cribs.

Cribs were invented by entrepreneurs, not delivered by the stork. They are not the natural state of affairs for babies. Cribs don’t meet babies’ need for closeness to their caregivers, nor access to food sources. In fact, cribs block those two essential needs.

Leading sleep researcher Dr. James McKenna comments in The Other Baby Book, “Human infants are not designed to sleep alone, as they are born exceedingly neurologically immature. The best protection you can give your baby is to never let your baby sleep alone.”

Practicing safe bed-sharing was my “Aha” moment. My baby slept contentedly by my side, waking briefly to nurse throughout the night. The act of nursing released the blissful mothering hormones oxytocin and prolactin, which easily lulled me back to sleep. No more hauling my butt out of bed in the middle of the night for feedings; no more miserable hours wasted trying to keep us both awake to finish a feeding.

It’s no wonder so many moms do what comes naturally to bring peace to their babies. Bed-sharing is a miracle-drug for new mom and baby sleep.

**********************************************************************************************************
Miriam KatzMiriam J. Katz is co-author of The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year, where you can find a guide to safe co-sleeping and other fun tools. Miriam is a career and life coach whose passion is to help women realize their life purpose. She lives in Boston with her husband and daughter.

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18 thoughts on “Top Cosleeping Myths, Busted.”

  1. Awesome article, Miriam. Very well-written and articulated. I especially appreciated your word choice of “abstinence policies.” I have been preaching the dangers of those scare tactics for years. They absolutely harm more babies than sound information about safe sleep practices in any location. I’ll be sharing this one widely.

  2. The CPSC “safety alert” was generated by off the clock workers paid by the crib mattress manufacturers. Not an “official” alert. Hired guns. ‘Nuff said.

    1. Great to know. I also thought it was strange that the numbers in the online version of the CPSC press release have dropped in the last 2 years since we researched The Other Baby Book – they’ve dropped by about 1000. Likely the original numbers were inflated and/or unsubstantiated.

  3. Great article. My wife and I often wondered what was best for our 5 m/o son. We have his crib in our room so that he could be right next to us when we were all sleeping at night. Sometimes we bed share and other times yes in his crib at night. We find that whatever is best that keeps him sleeping well is what we go for, and usually that’s the bed. We only use the crib when necessary, like when sometimes my or my wife’s movements wake him since he’s a bit of a light sleeper. We have cushy bumpers in his crib to ensure safety. Thanks again for the article.

    1. Thanks for bringing this up – cosleeping is defined by sleeping in close proximity to your baby. A crib in the parents’ room is another great option, especially for light sleepers or formula-fed babies. Once safety has been addressed, there’s no one “right” way to do things. What works best for your family is the right way for you.

      A side note- I’ve read that cushy crib bumpers can actually be a risk factor for SIDS due to suffocation hazards, but our baby never took to her crib, so I haven’t researched the issue thoroughly.

        1. your right about the cri bumpers. there is alot of research that shows it does infact play a part in SIDS. when we used the crib we didnt use the bumpers but we also didnt use it often when our babies werent sleeping with us we used the porta crib it has sides with little holes for pleanty of fresh air to get to the baby

  4. Good article! If I may add something? Contrary to popular belief that a parent next to a baby is somehow endangering that baby, our presence is actually protective in several ways. There is subtle communication between mother and infant regulating the infant’s bodily functions such as breathing and regular heart beat. The mother’s proximity also regulates cortisol levels in baby (cortisol is a stress hormone) since she will be immediately responsive to her baby’s night time needs.Babies’ temperature is also regulated. This is crucial to very young infants whose neurological systems are immature. Any mother who sleeps with her baby will testify that she will rouse just before her baby wakes up. So much going on between mother and infant we may not yet know about. If only we could move our cultural lens a little bit and start focusing on how to support parents with information on how to make bed-sharing as safe as possible–that would be a great start!

  5. Thanks for the article. You’ve provided number of “bed-deaths” vs. number of “crib-deaths”. I would like to see that ratio compared to number of “bed-sleepers” vs. number of “crib-sleepers”. It MIGHT show that the reason bed-deaths (SIDS, sofa-sleepers, sleepers-under-the-influence) are so high is because it’s currently WAY more prevalent in the past decade…like more thank %98.5. I don’t know, but it would be nice to see that research.

    In the meantime, I think my wife and I are going to “take our chances” for the emotional health of ourselves and our month-old-baby. We will surely continue co-sleeping when he “asks” for it. Now, you mentioned, “A safe-sleeping checklist could have literally made the difference between life and death.” My final question is…where could I find a good checklist like this?

    1. The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding has a great list on pg. 227. That is the 8th edition. Also, La Leche League probably has it on their website.

    2. Great points, Chris. It’s been hard to pin down the number of bed-sharing families. Two figures I’ve seen are 13% of families openly bed-share (yet we can assume many more do it quietly, given the social stigmas), and that over 50% of families have brought their children into their beds at one time or another. When looking at the 13% figure, the lower bed-sharing figure is more proportionate to the number of deaths, but still much lower at 1% of total deaths than 13%. If you look at the 50% figure (and keep in mind that people who take babies into their bed in the middle of the night as a stopgap solution are far less likely to be bed-sharing safely), then the 1.5% of deaths is significantly lower than SIDS. Countries that regularly practice bed-sharing, like Japan, where SIDS deaths are not an issue, would be interesting to look at. If anyone can find bed-sharing death stats for those countries, please post links!

      Regarding safe bed-sharing checklists, the Sleep chapter of The Other Baby Book has an extensive list of risk factors and how to mitigate them. You can find it at amazon or at http://www.theotherbabybook.com,

  6. This is a great article and a wonderful beginning. The best thing you can do for your FAMILY is bed share, well beyond infancy. My children have slept in our “big bed”, which is two king beds side by each, since birth and my oldest is 6, my son is 4 and my babe is a year old now. They all sleep through the night and have since birth(with my nursling next to me, neither of us really wake). They rarely have bad dreams and if they do, they are right there to be immediately comforted. If they are sick or feverish, I can check on them by just laying my hand on them to check for breathing or movement. If they need me for cuddles, I am easily accessible. We all have enough room to sleep comfortably, even though there are now five of us in the bed! In the morning, it eliminates the kids getting into things they shouldn’t being alone in their rooms plus the bonus of we all begin our day in a loving, togetherish way. And, just a note, it does NOT disturb my husband and I in terms of “alone time”(as is evidenced by my THREE children), we just get more creative with other rooms in the house! They are all three healthy, well-adjusted socially and amazing little humans. I truly think that family bed is one of the most important ways you can connect with your children and significant other. It brings us all closer and it overrules the prevalent thought of society that we all need to learn to be alone, which is very, very sad and not beneficial for fostering peace and love. Keep spreading truth!

  7. When I gave birth, I have decided to let my baby sleep in his crib. Even if the crib was right beside our bed, the first few days were very difficult. Restful sleep was not an option because aside from the fact that I had to get up several times during the night to feed him, I was worried about SIDS so I had to check up on him to see if he was still breathing. I gave up after a while and let my baby sleep between my husband and me. In our culture, it is common to share the bed with kids. I guess you could call it a mother’s instinct because even if I was sleeping, I was aware of my baby and where he was. I was never concerned that I will roll on top of him. Now that he’s more than a year old, I know he should start getting used to sleeping on his own but now, I love sleeping beside him and it looks like I’m the one who’s having a hard time letting go, haha.

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