Tuesday, May 27, 2008

To Sleep or Not to Sleep with Your Baby—that is the Question

by Corky Harvey MS, RN, IBCLC, Co–Founder of the Pump Station

Several weeks ago the LA Times had an article that warned parents against sleeping with their babies. I suppose the newspaper’s job was just to report the statement made by the LA County Officials, but I was so frustrated reading it because the co-sleeping issue has come up repeatedly, with the same recommendation—don’t sleep with your baby. There is so much information available today that disagrees with this statement. Dr Robert Sears was the only authority who was quoted as saying “that some co-sleeping can be unsafe” but, he disagreed with the blanket statement that the practice is unsafe all the time. Dr Sears co-authored The Baby Sleep Book with his father and brother (all 3 are Pediatricians) and his mother an RN/Lactation Consultant. The Sears are strong supporters of sleeping with your child, but only when done in a safe way.

It would have been so helpful to parents if the newspaper had referenced the leading expert in the field of Sudden Infant Death and co-sleeping, Dr James McKenna (Claremont McKenna College is named for him). McKenna is currently a researcher at The University of Notre Dame, and has dedicated his lifework to the subject of infant sleep. He has authored a very important book, Sleeping with Your Baby. Its subtitle says a lot: “Whether you do it occasionally or every night, do it safely.” This book should be required reading for all expectant/new parents and any health care providers who work with parents and babies. It is an easy read that is filled with evidence-based information which allows each family to make correct and safe choices for themselves. It answers all the questions about bedsharing that parents NEED to know, taking the pressure, guilt and angst off their shoulders. In the book Dr McKenna gives his recommendations for every sleeping situation and addresses cultural bias and myth as versus the scientific evidence. In the introduction McKenna states: “This book is designed to describe the present scientific status and medical and social controversies in the field of co-sleeping, and why there is no consensus on the issue of bedsharing. It is intended to educate parents about safe and unsafe sleeping environments according to all lines of scientific evidence, and to let parents of healthy, full-term infants know how to best avoid recognized adverse conditions that can make forms of co-sleeping and bedsharing dangerous.” Dr McKenna goes on to say that the book is not intended to advocate any one form of sleeping arrangement, but to clarify the importance of matching the best sleeping arrangement to each family and inform parents about the potential benefits of sleeping close to the baby when safe conditions can be met.

It would have been beneficial if the newspaper article had said that each parent needs to be well informed and make an educated choice about where their baby will sleep? We have fearful, sleep deprived families who may do dangerous things because they don’t know differently. The article tells of a father sleeping with his baby in a recliner. The baby slipped between dad and the arm of the chair and suffocated. The article also mentions that “some of deaths were connected with parents who were under the influence”. Both these situations are known to be unsafe.

The America Academy of Pediatrics' stand against co-sleeping was brought up in the Newspaper article. It is totally understandable why the AAP needs to make statements like one size fits all. Their recommendation for NO bedsharing could be similar to their recommendation on supplementing all infants with Vitamin D to protect against Rickets. At a recent conference I learned that the AAP didn't want to recommend how much sun exposure is safe for a baby (sun is required to activate Vitamin D in our bodies), so they recommended supplementing all infants with Vitamin D to make sure. The AAP probably doesn't want to take responsibility for saying how to bedshare safely, so they make a statement that it shouldn't be done at all.

We are so grateful to Dr. McKenna for providing his important book. I talk about it to almost every parent I meet. Recently an ER physician with a new baby read the book at my suggestion and reported that it completely changed what he thought and what he says. It changed his family’s life. His working wife had been struggling with her milk supply, but once they allowed the baby to sleep beside mom and nurse as needed during the night, her milk soared and everyone slept better. Please, please read Dr James McKenna’s book and then share it with a friend or two.