And the Sleep Debates Are Back On
Resist the temptation to hit the snooze button -- or to start a pillow fight. There's too much at stake in the sleep safety wars.
Another infant sleep safety study is making headline news – which means that one of the hottest debates parenting debates is back on again: whether or not you should sleep with your baby.
Here's the dirty little secret about this particular debate. The majority of parents end up sleeping with their baby at some point, whether if it's for a single night or the long haul.
That primal quest for sleep -- to say nothing of that primal drive to comfort a baby who refuses to fall asleep more than an arm's length away from a parent because the baby is lonely, scared, in pain, or simply a baby -- can lead to a rewriting of the sleep rules at any time.
When that happens, parents find themselves in the situation of having to make complex sleep safety decisions when they're at their most sleep deprived and least coherent.
And if they had never intended to bed share (and didn't bother reading up on bed sharing issues as a result), they can find themselves improvising in the area of sleep safety as well.
This is not a good thing.
The lack of any official bed-sharing guidelines doesn't make life any easier for sleep-deprived moms and dads -- or wide-awake moms and dads for that matter, either. They have to make up their minds about a complex situation without having all the facts they need to make a truly informed sleep decision. You see, in an effort to avoid doing any harm, public health authorities have failed to share sleep safety information that has the potential to prevent harm. Talk about a sleep-safety Catch 22.
The Canadian Paediatric Society is one of the few health organizations to recognize this problem and shine a spotlight on what needs to be done. Its sleep guidelines highlight the need to support parents by providing them with information about all sleeping infant environments: "No sleep environment is completely risk-free,
but much can be done to educate parents on the provision of safer sleeping
environments for their infants," the recommendations state.
The CPS, however, tends to be the exception rather than the rule.
Other health authorities, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, have taken a much more conservative approach to providing information about bed sharing -- and been much criticized as a result. 'While bed sharing can never be publicly recommended, due to its complexity, blanket recommendations against bed sharing and eliminating safety information for bed sharing families cannot be justified either," respected sleep anthropologist James McKenna, PhD, has stated (.pdf), for example.
So what's a sleep-deprived and safety-conscious parent to do in the absence of comprehensive evidence-based sleep sharing guidelines?
Get informed, regardless of what you think you'll be doing about bed sharing tonight, tomorrow, or next week. Share the best sources of sleep safety information with other parents. And stay tapped into the sleep research grapevine.
Here are some resources you may find useful, whether you're currently bed sharing, thinking about bed sharing, or positive you won't be bed sharing ever. (Never say never, remember.) Because we're still waiting for an evidence-based set of guidelines to be released by a pediatric health authority (and we may be waiting some time for such guidelines), you'll probably want to consult as many of the following sources as possible before making your own decisions about whether or not to bed share.
- Canadian Paediatric Society: Safe Sleep for Babies
- Canadian Paediatric Society: CPS Position Statement: Safe Sleeping Environments for Infants and Children
- American Academy of Pediatrics: The Changing Concept of Sudden Infant Death (.pdf)
- American Academy of Pediatrics: Other Sleep Resources
- "Sleep Arrangements and Bed-Sharing Families in the Home Setting:" Baddock et al. Pediatrics, January 2, 2007.
- The Natural Child Project: James McKenna, PhD
- PhD in Parenthood: Co-Sleeping Safety
- A Safer Sleep (.pdf) tip sheet which I developed for a parenting workshop. It is based on a much lengthier chapter on this topic ("Bedroom Politics: Where Will Your Baby Sleep?") from my book Sleep Solutions for Your Baby, Toddler, and Preschooler (Wiley, 2006). (More sleep articles here.)
BE SLEEP SAFETY SAVVY: Steer clear of sleep safety source that promises to offer the definitive set of do's and don'ts for safe bed sharing. No source can make that guarantee at this time; just as no source can make the opposite guarantee -- that your baby can sleep totally risk-free away from you. Nothing about babies and sleep is totally risk-free, just as nothing about raising kids is totally risk-free. "Safer" or "less risky" is the best deal going.