Health officials want better education on safe sleeping
There’s a lot new mothers have to figure out. Near the top of the list is the tough task of getting an infant to sleep. Many moms say snuggling up in the same bed lets the baby – and the rest of the family — get a good night’s rest. But many doctors say that’s a dangerous way to put a baby to bed. WHYY has more on co-sleeping.
Chester County mom Kerri Klugewicz has lots of experience putting little ones to bed.
There’s four kids in the house. The youngest is 10-month-old Isabelle. She sleeps in bed with mom and dad, nestled at Kerri’s side.
Klugewicz: That’s all they know is mother’s heartbeat and her sounds and her scent and that’s what brings them comfort.
Co-sleeping is the norm at her home now, but when she was pregnant with her first child, Klugewicz didn’t plan on sharing a bed with the new baby.
Klugewicz: I had imagined that I would nurse the baby and then I would lay her down, and she would just drift off to sleep on her own, and wake up next time she needed to be fed, and it would be very simple.
But the baby slept best in bed with mom. Klugewicz is a breastfeeding coach and she says sleep schedules synch up much better for nursing when moms and babies sleep side-by-side. She’s also convinced that co-sleeping is a good way to monitor an infant’s needs.
At St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia doctors agree: There is something protective about having a mom nearby at night.
But the hospital follows recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Room sharing is encouraged, but not bed sharing.
In the St. Chris ER: It’s really, really important to put the baby on his back to sleep. Not on the side, not on the belly or anything like that.
The hospital changed its policy a year and a half ago after several infant deaths. In each case, the baby was rushed to the ER, unconscious and not breathing. Kirsten Johnson Moore is the director of emergency nursing.
Johnson Moore: What we find out sometimes after we resuscitate them, unsuccessfully mainly, is that they were in bed with their parents. So every time it would happen to us we would say: Gosh, we have to do something about this.
In the St. Chris ER: So if you see on the picture you don’t want to have any clutter in the crib, or anything, at all. And it really, really important that you have the mattress fit really, really well against the sides.
St. Chris stepped up its education efforts, and there’s a new policy: When an infant is treated in the emergency room, the parents get a lesson in safe sleeping
Moore says stuffed toys and fluffy blankets can easily smother an infant. In adult beds, infants can get wedged between the headboard and the mattress. And she says sometimes, parents roll onto their babies.
Moore: You would think: ‘I’ll wake up. I’ll hear them and I’ll wake up.’ But you are really so sleep deprived as a new parent, that that’s not always reasonable.
In Philadelphia many sudden and unexpected infant deaths are linked to unsafe sleeping environments, including bed sharing.
St. Chris pediatrician Eileen Tyrala:
Tyrala: Many of these deaths that had been previously called SIDS deaths, meaning that they were totally inexplicable, really weren’t so inexplicable after all.
But co-sleeping advocates say the push to bed babies separately discounts parents’ ability to figure out what’s best for their infant.
Anthropologist James McKenna directs The Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame.
McKenna: It dismisses the important responses parents are designed to give to their babies to make the babies happy and settle the baby that permit the baby and the parent to get more sleep.
McKenna says co-sleeping allows a mother to detect when an infant is in distress, but the academy of pediatrics says the evidence doesn’t support claims that bed sharing lowers infant death risks.
Still, McKenna says there’s no better safety precaution than a mother’s hard-wired instincts.
McKenna: The biology is so powerful that unites both mothers and babies in the evening, especially at breastfeeding. That simply won’t be stamped out by someone claiming that they know better than the mother and the baby.
Pediatrician Eileen Tyrala’s message to moms is very different. She says an adult bed is a dangerous place for babies and the benefits of bed-sharing don’t outweigh the risks.
Tyrala is backing state legislation to require all Pennsylvania birth centers to give new parents safe sleeping education. The bill floundered last session, but supporters are trying again.
More info: Co-sleeping and bedsharing on WHYY’s weekly online discussion, Digest This.