Thursday, September 30, 2010

Parents Should Not Give Babies Baths, Let Them Ride in the Car, or Sleep in Cribs

How many times do I have to see this on the news?  Co-Sleeping is dangerous!   Babies have died while sleeping with an adult.  Parents need to stop co-sleeping. It's bad bad bad!

Today the advice came from Mark Johns, a South Australian coroner.  According to The Australian, Johns made the passionate announcement after studying the death of five babies who died between 2007 and 2008.  I'm guessing this was five babies in South Australia? Were there five deaths total in South Australia or five deaths that Johns studied?   I'm not sure.

It's sad. It's tragic. The death of babies is a HORRIBLE thing.   

And co-sleeping can be very dangerous. Definitely. So can cars, bathtubs, and cribs.  Babies die in these too.  Do we have "experts" shouting out to avoid sticking babies in cars, bathtubs, and cribs?    No.  Well, some attachment parenting gurus shout out against cribs, but that's another story.

When a baby dies in a crib accident, we either blame it on the mysterious SIDS or we blame it on the crib manufacturer.  If it's the latter, the crib is recalled, and parents are advised to take new precautions regarding crib sleeping.

Cars are very dangerous for babies, so experts and manufactures have created car seats. This increases the chance that the infant will survive an accident.

It is very easy for a baby to drown. Do we tell parents to skip the bath and just wipe the kid down with a sponge?  No. We create special devices to make bathtubs safer for babies, AND we repeatedly warn parents not to take their hands and eyes off the bathing baby.    

Why can't we treat co-sleeping the same way we treat cribbing, bathing, and auto-transporting?   Instead of saying, Don't do it, the experts SHOULD be saying: It's okay to do it, but there are some important safety precautions you need to take.

These safety precautions were not taken for some of the babies mentioned in The Australian.

One baby died on the couch with his father. Couches are known to be one of the most dangerous sleep surfaces for a baby.

One baby slept with his mom and sibling. Another safety advisement with co-sleeping is to NOT to let siblings sleep with an infant.  

I'm not sure about the other kids. It could that other safety precautions were not taken. It could have been that a freak accident DID occur, and the baby died from as-safe-as-you-can-get co-sleeping.   But what if we compared that to the number of babies who died in "perfectly safe" cribs?

Another expert was interviewed for The Australian article; Roger Byard, a forensic pathologist. I like his take a little better. He recognizes that co-sleeping does happen safely in other cultures, but he says our Western beds are different.

That's true.  Our beds aren't really safe for co-sleeping. We have head boards, fluffy pillows, heavy blankets, soft mattresses, etc.  

If parents want to co-sleep, it's a really good idea to make adjustments to the bed.  When we co-slept with Jack, we did have a headboard. So demerits for us on that one. But we took the heavy blankets off the bed, and we used only one pillow each.  What I had heard is that you'll likely wake up and notice your ONE pillow missing, but you might not notice if one of your two pillows is missing, and laying on top of your infant's nose.  

Later to make things more safe, we moved to the floor. We slept on mattresses. That way we didn't have to worry about Jack falling off the bed.

Each co-sleeping family is different, and chooses their degree of safety. I'd say on a scale of 1-10, we were probably a 7.  You could go for the 10 but then when your kids gets might as well force them to wear a helmet all day and night.  

Personally, I don't think families are divided by co-sleeping and not co-sleeping. I think (outside a few exceptions), they're divided by official co-sleepers and dabblers.

Official co-sleepers believe co-sleeping is a good thing. They're not usually ashamed of it. They read about it. They understand what's safe and what's not safe.  They take precautions.  

Dabblers think co-sleeping is wrong....and shameful. They end up doing it out of desperation.  Sometimes they do it accidentally. The exhausted mom gets out of her bed to retrieve the crying baby.  She sit on the couch and breastfeeds.  Then she falls asleep.  She can't help it. She's so sleepy..... 

This is not safe.   I'm ashamed to say I did these things before we decided to become co-sleepers.   When you're're tired.   And another co-sleeping safety precaution is for parents not to sleep with their babies if they're extremely tired.  I think parents have some level of heightened awareness, even when sleeping.  It's part of being a mom or dad. But if you're extremely tired, this lessons the chance of that being true.  The same goes for parents under the influence of drugs. As drugs and sleepiness don't mix with driving, the same goes for parenting!

Now that I think of it.  Why do I often see articles advising parents to stop co-sleeping, yet I rarely see articles suggesting that parents not drink while taking care of young ones?  I definitely think we should be more concerned with intoxicated parents.   I'm guessing that a drunk parent is more likely to roll over on their baby, not watch it carefully in the bathtub, not put it in the car seat correctly, not give it the correct dosage of medicine, etc.  

If co-sleeping is a reasonable practice and can be relatively safe if done correctly....why ARE parents given the simplistic message of Just Don't Do it! 

I think the answer is easy.   It's a cultural thing.  Our society is still dominated by the idea that children need to be pushed into independence.  Parents shouldn't just avoid sleeping with their baby.   They should put them in daycare as soon as possible. They shouldn't hold them too much. Put them in the stroller or swing!  They should wean them from the breast as soon as possible. They shouldn't spoil their kids with too many cuddles. Apparently strength of character comes from having cold parents who limited the amount of love you received. 

Who knows. Maybe there's merit to that. I doubt it, though.   And scientists are doing studies to show the opposite is true. In July, there was news about a study that showed kids who were showered with affection as babies grew up to be able to handle stress better.  

Now I'm not trying to say that parents NEED to co-sleep in order for babies to get the right amount of affection. Sleep-sharing doesn't work for all families, and these families can still have high levels of love and affection.  I just think when we see co-sleeping villainized, we need to consider the real motivation behind the message. Is it really about safety? Probably not.