Co-sleeping: Compassionate or Careless? A Pediatrician Clarifies

Blog Sleeping Baby Web

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, infants who sleep in adult beds are at high risk for suffocation.

When you first bring your new baby home from the hospital, things can be overwhelming. Suddenly, you are in charge of caring for a new little life.  My name is Dr. Kim Schneider and I am a Pediatric Hospitalist at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health, which means that I take care of babies and kids who have to be admitted to the hospital.  I have worked at Riley for over five years, and before that I worked as a private pediatrician. As a pediatrician, I have heard many questions from new parents. 

Kimberly Schneider

One hot topic revolves around a parent’s decision to sleep with their baby in their bed.  This situation is often referred to as co-sleeping, but can also be called bed-sharing.  Co-sleeping or bed-sharing refers to when a baby sleeps in the same bed or sleep space as the parent or caregiver.  Another term, room-sharing, refers to keeping your baby in a crib, bassinet or playpen in your room with you, right next to your bed, but not in the parent’s bed.  Some parents make a conscious decision that they will keep their baby in bed with them for sleep at all times.  For other parents, it happens as a last resort in a state of exhaustion after failed attempts at getting the baby to sleep elsewhere.  Whatever the reason may be it’s important to note: There are risks that are present with this practice. 

To start, co-sleeping has been found to be one possible cause for SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).  According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), infants who sleep in adult beds are at high risk for suffocation. The bedding or pillow can smother them, or a parent can accidentally roll over on them.  When I was a pediatric resident, on my emergency room rotation, I helped try to save the life of an infant whose parent rolled over on them during sleep.  The infant did not survive.  It was devastating for everyone involved.  Parents believe it will never happen to them—until it does.  

The American Academy of Pediatrics [AAP] have developed guidelines and recommendations to keep babies safe during sleep, in an effort to reduce SIDS deaths. Since they began their initial campaign in 1992, more than 30,000 babies have been saved. Still, co-sleeping continues to happen.

In the state of Indiana alone, 86 babies died in 2014 from unsafe sleep. Co-sleeping is one of the biggest causes of infant sleep related deaths.  According to the AAP, “room-sharing without bed-sharing” should be practiced to give the best chance of preventing sleep related infant deathsSo what does this mean?  The safest way to make sure your baby wakes up again the next morning is to place the baby in her own sleep place such as a bassinet, crib or playpen.  Place this infant “bed” right next to your bed so you can easily reach over and touch your baby at any point in the night.  Your baby will know you are there for her but will not be at risk of suffocation. And remember to keep all loose blankets, stuffed animals and bumper pads out of that infant bed as well to prevent suffocation. Until your baby is over a year old, she should always sleep in her own bed to protect her from a sleep related death.

So, the next time you find yourself dozing off with your little one, think about all of the little lives that have been lost too soon, and find a safe place to lay your baby down while you get some rest. 

-- By Kimberly Schneider, MD
   Pediatric Hospitalist
   Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health

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