The family bed is not just a family practice. It is the basis of an entire parenting philosophy. Many parents have long believed that sharing their beds with their children is an integral part of the family bonding experience. For nursing mothers, the convenience and joy of keeping their infants in bed with them is an important part of the breastfeeding since nursing infants get hungry several times in the night. So the implications of these findings are a blow to family bed advocates, like me. My family’s communal bed has long been a place of refuge and sanctuary for all of us. It has been a place where five children were nursed… and many classic books were read aloud… and several rounds of chicken pox were spread!
The CPS study indicates that while we endeavor to give our children the best of us, we may actually be putting them at risk. This is disturbing news. According to the Houston Chronicle, the 170 cases are significant because they indicate that family-bed causes of death (mostly in children younger than 3 months old) surpass drowning as the leading cause of accidental death in children. Most of the deaths were due to suffocation. However, it is important to look at the circumstances surrounding these deaths. The Chronicle reports that several of the cases involved circumstances outside of the classic family bed model, like for example, one death occurred when a mother was sleeping with her infant and two other young toddlers in a twin bed. So many cases involved multiple family members, including several young children, sharing small beds. Often, in these cases, the beds were placed against a wall or in a corner. These pose special risks that can be avoided.
And so with care, common sense and caution, the family bed can be safe and parents can avoid the kind of accidents that occurred in the CPS cases.
Before bringing your infant to bed with you, you should: (According to CPS)
1. NEVER drink alcohol or take drugs , including prescription meds, before bed. You are likely already tired. Anything that additionally impairs your judgment and ability to rouse yourself adds dangerous risk to your baby. A New York study showed that these kinds of deaths were more common on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, when parents are more tired and more likely to have been drinking alcohol.
2. NEVER sleep with small children on a couch, waterbed or in a chair or recliner. These smaller spaces with tucked corners pose a high risk of suffocation and injury from falling over the side.
3. NEVER place soft bedding, loose pillows, excessive blankets or anything that could suffocate an infant. Keep bedding to a minimum.
4. NEVER place your infant in a bed with younger children, even if you are present. If you have the other children in the bed with you, put the infant in a separate bassinet or crib nearby to sleep.
5. NEVER overcrowd the bed. The risk goes up with every additional person in the bed. Each additional child is a special risk because young children are not developmentally able to appreciate the handling risks for an infant.
There are special benefits to having your children with you at night. The family bed can be a rewarding and practical choice. But sharing the bed with your infant poses risks parents just should not ignore. As always, it’s better to be safe than sorry!
(see Grim Figures on Babies Sleeping in Parent’s Bed, Terri Langford, Houston Chronicle, November 27, 2008