Thursday, November 10, 2011

Co-sleeping Forever, or Why Blame Co-sleeping?

The boys get some rest.
Recently, in Gisborne, New Zealand, a tiny baby died in his mother's bed

The death is a tragedy.  Another tragedy is the reporting. 

"The tragic death of a Gisborne baby has highlighted the risks of adults co-sleeping with babies."

We are being instructed to believe co-sleeping is risky.

Not the mother leaving a 1-month old baby illegally with her 12 year old son so she could go drinking (and return to continue parenting drunk). 

Barbara Sturmfels described this media insanity well (commenting on Facebook):
Tragic yes, and tragically avoidable, but once again bed-sharing gets simplistically blamed by the coroner and the media for a baby's death. It's the alcohol that's the risk factor, not the bed-sharing. Bed-sharing is safe if it's done safely.
When a baby dies in a car accident at the hands of a drunk driver, does the news report say "The tragic death of a baby has highlighted the risks of driving with a baby in the car"? It says "... the risks of driving drunk..."
Safe sleeping guidelines are free in public hospitals and Plunket clinics throughout the country. Each misleading story drives some of us to repeat these guidelines as loud as we can without screaming.  The Coroner's Office and the Herald must know it.

Why do they blame co-sleeping?

Because that's the best they can do. 

They can't make irresponsible people into responsible parents. Some will drink, smoke, abuse drugs, and otherwise endanger their children - no matter what.

They can't make sure parents will always have a support person - a caregiver and/or a friend who will say, "Stop drinking, you've got a baby."  (Legend).

Driving drunk is illegal and can ruin your career - and some people still do it. Parenting drunk?  We're an alcohol abuse culture.  It's a growth industry.

Safe sleeping guidelines would not have saved that Gisborne baby.  The news report painted a vivid picture of consistently unsafe parenting.

It takes a village, and there is no village.

At the Coroner's Office
"Another drunk mother smothered her baby in bed."
"Tell them not to co-sleep."
"But you know co-sleeping can be done safely."
"I think they're not reading the pamphlets!  Another baby is dead!  I can't face another family ruined forever!  Tell them not to co-sleep!"

This approach is shortsighted - our families:
  •  miss an irreplaceable bonding experience that benefits other cultures
  •  risk unsafe co-sleeping due to ignorance and exhaustion
But the approach won't change. The alternative to the blanket ban is blanketing the community with safe-sleeping (and parenting) information and laws like the drink-drive or family violence campaigns.  We're talking about a sweeping culture change from the highest level - which will not happen.

No motivation for change

Even unsafe co-sleeping does not kill very many babies.  Unsafe co-sleeping notably kills very few babies from politically influential families.

And our society prefers to separate child and mother as soon as possible, so the mother can be an income-generator again.

And free pamphlets are not going to stop that.

Educate yourself

Our community must keep spreading the word.  Here are some words to the wise - not soundbites.
Another myth put to bed

Your offspring may still want to sleep with someone when they're fully grown - but it won't be you. (Thanks Pinky McKay)

Co-sleeping with my kids

Alex started out in bed with me.  My birth trauma meant I couldn't sleep while he was nearby, so he ended up in a separate room.  I remember waking and searching through the covers for my baby.

I wish I could have bedshared longer with Alex.  He was a baby who needed lots of attention night and day. I wish I had tried bedsharing again later instead of walking the halls several times a night for so long.

With Nadia - different birth, different house, different result.  Nadia and I eased naturally into co-sleeping with a crib alongside the bed.  Instead of the traditional nuclear family setup, for more than three years we have had the girls' room and the boys' room.  One parent there for each child.

Independence Day (and night)

Nadia sleeps through pretty well now - I thought we might make changes as a special occasion when she turned 4. 

But discussions about sleepovers had Nadia suddenly putting her hot pink pillow onto her very own bed - the lower bunk that was Daddy's.  She wanted to "giggle all night" with Alex.

She still has company and usually a feed to get to sleep.  And she's always back in our bed by morning.  She is welcome.  Some nights she goes back and forth and back again.  I love this natural transition - she shows her own readiness.

It's nice being able to read myself to sleep in bed again.  I've earned it.  And it was worth it.


  1. Exactly. Co-sleeping is not dangerous unless the parents are drunk or heavily medicated. I think cot deaths are greater risk and they don't happen to babies who co-sleep, but the ones who are left alone to sleep in their beds. DD is turning three and shows no interest to move out of our bed. It's perfectly fine, we love to have a slumber party every night :) She can stay as along as she wants to, and then perhaps get her own bed beside ours.

  2. Hi Cat, great to see you here again!

    Like I always say, there's a reason it was called "cot death" first.

    We do need to know how to co-sleep safely - but it would be so much more effective learning by example than from a printed list. Maybe someday...