This post is an open letter to the editor of the Ottawa Citizen in response to an article that appeared in a series of newspapers and websites owned by the Canwest News Service, including canada.com.
I was dismayed but unfortunately not shocked by Sarah Schmidt’s article Co-sleeping fears prevented call for parents to abandon defective cribs. Governments across North America, including the federal and some provincial governments in Canada, have been waging an ongoing war against co-sleeping. Unfortunately, this is not based on sound science.
It is important to note that both bed sharing and cribs have safety risks. Both co-sleeping and cribs can be made very safe if certain safety precautions are taken (but neither one is completely safe all of the time – there is no such thing as a 100% safe sleep environment). However, when a baby dies in a crib, the Ontario coroner will determine whether it was an unsafe sleep environment (e.g. full of stuffed animals and blankets) or if it was SIDS (meaning they don’t know why the baby died). When a baby dies in bed with its parents, the Ontario coroner simply calls it an unsafe sleep environment. This is unfair to parents who do make the effort to create a safe sleep environment and also unfair to parents who are scared out of co-sleeping by the dire warnings of the government.
Even if co-sleeping were more dangerous than sleeping in a crib (which I do not accept), parents are going to co-sleep with their babies. Some do it for cultural reasons. Some do it because of the benefits of co-sleeping, such as ease of breastfeeding and promoting bonding. Some do it to because their baby simply will not sleep in a crib. By telling parents that co-sleeping is dangerous, rather than providing them with guidelines on how to make shared sleep as safe as possible, the government is playing a role in the deaths of co-sleeping babies. Tell parents not to drink or smoke and co-sleep. Tell parents to do something to prevent falls, to avoid crevices where the baby could get stuck, to avoid thick bedding that can cause suffocation, to not co-sleep on a couch, and so on. Some governments, like Quebec and Nova Scotia, do provide such guidelines for co-sleeping parents. Ontario should do the same. Most co-sleeping deaths (like most crib sleeping deaths) are preventable.
Telling parents to use a crib instead of bring their baby into bed with them is like telling parents to take the bus instead of taking their baby in the car. It isn’t convenient or even possible all of the time. In the case of cars, the government advises parents on the use of car seats, tells them not to drink and drive, not to use their cell phones while driving, to obey the speed limits, etc. If they can and do expect parents to follow those rules while driving a car, why not do the same with regards to bed sharing.
Calling co-sleeping dangerous is calling parents stupid. Give them some credit. Give them some responsibility. Give them some safety guidelines. Stop making parents feel guilty for getting some sleep and bonding with their baby.
Annie is a co-sleeping mom of 2 kids and blogs at PhD in Parenting.