Safe Sleep Is A Choice

by Tamara

Last week, on my Facebook Page I posted a link to an article by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about the City of Milwaukee’s new safe sleep advertising campaign.

City of Milwaukee Safe Sleep Campaign

I wondered, at the time, if the ad campaign was too disturbing and would alienate those that bedshare, instead of convincing them that bedsharing has significant risks to a baby.
I’ve been reading follow up articles, the posts on facebook, blog posts, forum posts and this has become a pretty heated debate with a very “us vs them” mentality. The good news is… bedsharing is getting a lot of attention in the national media. Hopefully, that in itself will save lives.
Let me say that my personal stance on bedsharing is that it can, most definitely, be dangerous and baby is safest in a crib, on their back, with nothing in the crib and in the same room. I also think, that prior to 6 months of age, bedsharing should be avoided.
However!! I DO understand why mothers sleep with their babies. My son slept attached to me from age 8 to 13 months. He was too old to swaddle and he was waking constantly during the night. Bedsharing was the only thing that was going to get us decent stretches of sleep.
I see more and more encouraging of bedsharing with newborns and young infants in the online community. I see a lot of misinformation about what makes it “safe”. There seems to be this idea that as long as you breastfeed and don’t use drugs or alcohol, bedsharing with your newborn/ young infant is safer than putting them in a crib next to them, and that’s just not true.
Let’s move past the propaganda of both sides and consider just plain old common sense for a minute. Most likely, the greatest risk of bedsharing is that baby will suffocate or asphyxiate. Take SIDS out of the argument because until they truly know what causes real SIDS, nothing can prevent it. Studies can pinpoint what may reduce the risk, but as of now, there is no actual prevention.
Now consider just how small a newborn’s face, nose and mouth are. I’ve breastfed three children as newborns. Covering the entire nose and mouth would take just the smallest shift in position while sleeping. You don’t have to roll onto a baby to cut off the air supply. You don’t even have to completely cover the face for rebreathing to become an issue. You don’t have to be overweight, or on drugs, or drunk, or overtired to accidentally suffocate a baby. All that needs to happen is to be just a little too close, for a little too long, in the wrong position.
I’ve read a lot of “Well I don’t drink or do drugs and I breastfeed, so my baby is safe.” I’ve also read a lot of posts in the bedsharing community describing the conditions under which they bedshare. Quite a significant portion are not bedsharing safely. They are using pillows, blankets, pillowtop mattresses, have a headboard or footboard hazard, other children and adults are in the bed..etc and so on. I’ve even read about a baby being placed on a pillow to sleep between the parents. I’ve broken a few of the safe bedsharing rules myself.
Something else I see a lot of is what I call “breastfeeding-voodoo-magic”. Make no mistake, breastmilk is an absolutely amazing substance. It helps keep our babies healthy, it nourishes them, grows them and comforts them. But what it will not do, is magically keep a baby’s airway clear of obstacles that may inhibit their breathing. Just ask a sober mom at a healthy weight that lost her breastfed baby to a bedsharing tragedy.
On the opposite side of the argument, some believe there is no such thing as safe bedsharing. Can bedsharing be as safe as a crib? Hard to say, as even with nothing in the crib, baby placed on their back, no bumpers, etc.. a baby could roll over and suffocation or rebreathing is still a risk. Probably not as likely, but besides putting our children in perfectly constructed bubbles, there are always risks.
Safe sleep recommendations for cribs aren’t followed all the time either. Babies are put to bed on their stomachs, with a lovey, rolled up blankets, loose blankets, stuffed animals and those cute crib bumpers can be hard to resist. I’ve broken a few of those rules at one time or another as well.
Leave the emotion of the bedsharing vs crib sleeping debate out of the picture and just step back and take a good honest look at your baby’s sleeping environment. Are you following the guidelines for safe sleep to the best of your ability and in the way that you feel is best for your family? Whether baby is in a crib or in the bed, we all get to choose safe sleep.
Latest Safe Sleep Recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics
Bed Sharing Safety Checklist

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