California County Speaks Out Against Co-Sleeping

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Is sleeping with your baby safe? Credit: Getty Images

Proponents say it promotes bonding and facilitates breast-feeding; those against it say it puts infants unnecessarily in danger. Now, health officials in Santa Clara County, Calif., are weighing in on the issue of co-sleeping, offering sobering local statistics and saying parents should never sleep in the same bed as their children.

The Santa Clara County Child Death Review showed that 15 babies in Santa Clara county died over the past five years when their parents rolled over on top of them, according to the Silicon Valley Mercury News. A total of 27 babies younger than age 1 died during that same period because of unsafe sleeping arrangements, which, in addition to co-sleeping, included sleeping alone on an adult bed, pillow or couch, the newspaper reports.

The issue is a difficult one for health care experts to navigate, as there are clear benefits to being in close proximity to newborns, as well as risks. Dr. Patrick Clyne, a pediatrician who chaired the county's review team, tells the Mercury News he recommends parents sleep in the same room with their babies, but not in the same bed.
"The bottom line is parents should always put their infants to sleep in a standard crib or bassinet on their back," he tells the newspaper.

There are advantages for an infant sleeping next to his mother. Babies have better regulated temperatures and heart rates when they do so, Dr. James McKenna, head of Notre Dame's Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory tells the Mercury News. Still, many feel the risks outweigh the benefits, and the American Pediatrics Council strongly advises against bed sharing, the newspaper reports.

The Mercury News relates one incident of a woman who brought her 3-month-old daughter into her bed to nurse her in the middle of the night, and let the baby fall asleep there. When the parents woke up in the morning, they found their daughter lying dead between them.

Many health experts say a good compromise is to buy a co-sleeper that attaches to the side of the bed, or to have the baby sleep in a bassinet next to the parental bed. That way the infant is nearby but has her own, safe sleeping space.

Related: Should Your Family Share a Bed?

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.