The Editor's Note: Beds and Babies
Nancy Jo Bykowski
Managing Editor, NEW BEGINNINGS
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 17 No. 1, January-February 2000
We provide articles from our publications from previous years for reference for our Leaders and members. Readers are cautioned to remember that research and medical information change over time
On September 19, 1999, the United States Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) issued a recommendation against family co-sleeping, citing research that seemed to show an increased risk for SIDS, for suffocation, and for strangulation associated with co-sleeping. While some mothers may stop bringing their babies to bed with them as a result of this warning, it would be impossible to stop mothers from sleeping while breastfeeding. The relaxing effects of breastfeeding can cause a mother to doze off even if she isn't lying down at the time!
Lots of furniture used for babies is, by its very nature, dangerous. A fall from a high chair or changing table can cause serious injuries. Children have been seriously injured by falls down stairs in walkers. Babies have strangled when loose clothing gets stuck on parts of cribs. These dangers have been known for decades, yet when they are publicized, parents are not told to cease using those pieces of furniture. Instead, safety features are added and the public is educated about precautions to reduce the risk from these devices. Why the difference?
High chairs, changing tables, walkers, and cribs match with Western culture's expectations for baby care. Most people would find a suggestion to do without them to be ridiculous. The prospect of feeding a baby without using a high chair would be as astonishing to some people as the idea of feeding a baby without any bottles.
Another reason lies in the complex world of product liability lawsuits and insurance. As Peggy O'Mara wrote in the November- December 1999 issue of Mothering, "Medical recommendations regarding pregnancy, childbirth, and parenthood, for example, are notoriously rift with fears of liability and the concerns for special interest groups." Manufacturers of baby furniture wouldn't have a market if people stopped using them for their babies, so those manufacturers would put pressure on the CPSC to avoid a ban on their products. Whether or not babies sleep with their parents, manufacturers of adult-size beds will still have a market. They are unlikely to protest against the CPSC recommendation because then they might have to make safety changes. Paradoxically, making such changes could also increase their chances of being sued. They are caught between a rock and a hard place on this issue.
But parents are caught, too. In the face of such a recommendation, what are parents to do? They will do what they have always done --educate themselves about the risks, real or perceived, and make the best choices they can in the context of their family's values. One place to gather such information is from Dr. Bill Sears' newly revised book, NIGHTTIME PARENTING. The May-June 1999 issue of NEW BEGINNINGS featured an excerpt about the possible protective effects of family co-sleeping. Dr. James McKenna, who has done groundbreaking research on the effects and mechanics of co-sleeping, will speak at the LLLI Conference in Chicago, Illinois, USA in July 2001. In a joint press release with LLLI, Dr. McKenna stated, "While specific structural hazards of an adult bed are important, the fact that they exist means neither that they cannot be eliminated nor that all bed-sharing is unsafe." Dr. McKenna also considers the conclusions and recommendations of the CPSC study to be inappropriate because the authors based their findings on incomplete and anecdotal evidence rather than hard scientific data.
Dr. McKenna believes that co-sleeping can be a positive experience for a breastfeeding family and should not be considered dangerous if parents follow these guidelines: Parents should not sleep with their babies if they are smokers or have ingested alcohol or drugs. Bedding should be tight fitting to the mattress. The mattress should be tight fitting to the headboard of the bed. There should not be any loose pillows or soft blankets near the baby 's face. There should not be any space between the bed and adjoining wall where the baby could roll and become trapped. The baby should not be placed on its stomach.
Peggy O'Mara writes, "Over the years, I've observed a progression in the life cycle of new ideas. They are first ignored, then ridiculed, next attacked, and, finally, assimilated. This process of social change can take decades." Perhaps in this new century, the age-old practice of co-sleeping will be reassimilated.
Nancy Jo Bykowski