Co-sleeping is not dangerous according to original SIDS researcher

Author Philippa Murphy

06 September 2017
Co-sleeping is not dangerous according to original SIDS researcher


Recently I was doing a talk when I was rightly challenged by a listener about the research behind me recommending the Safe Snuggle, my adopted way of co-sleeping with a baby. The women asked, ‘but what about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)? Surely you are not saying this should be ignored?’ It was at this point that I was reminded that the paper written in October 2013 by the original SIDS researcher and pediatrician, Dr. Abraham B. Bergman, still wasn’t well known in the parent circles, which in my mind is a shame for families given the benefits of safe co-sleeping. So I thought it was time to share this paper with a wider audience so parents can make an informed choice for their child.

Many parents cuddle up with their baby in the first few months of life in order to provide their child the sound of their beating heart, the warmth of their body and the rhythm of their breath, all the while providing the child and themselves with the potential of better sleep. On doing this however, they may have received the well-meaning condemnation of other parents, family members or health professionals because of the widely taught risk factors associated with SIDS, as the guidelines stand today.

Definition of SIDS

The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD, 1997) define SIDS as the diagnosis given for the sudden death of an infant under one year of age that remains unexplained after a complete investigation, which includes an autopsy, an examination of the death scene, a review of the symptoms of illnesses the infant had before dying, and any other pertinent medical history. It is a diagnosis of exclusion — affixed only when all known and likely causes of death have been ruled out.

This is another way of saying that it is not known why these babies die. The actual cause or set of causes of SIDS is still unknown. Causes like smoking and co-sleeping are labelled as possibilities; but most studies suggest that there is no significantly increased risk of SIDS for babies who bed share1 and the doctor whom made SIDS known agrees with these findings. 

Dr Bergman’s 2013 paper

Dr Bergman was the first ever president of the National SIDS Foundation, aiding the national SIDS Act to be passed in 1974. In 2013 he wrote a paper disputing that which he once advocated, saying ‘Bed-sharing is not dangerous.’ In his paper you will find he states many reasons why the diagnosis of SIDS recording has been flawed and ‘subject to human opinion and prejudice.’ He states in the paper that the ‘lack of uniformity means that the personal beliefs of coroners and medical examiners determine the diagnoses written on death certificates’ and goes onto say that ‘evidence linking bed sharing per se to the increased risk for infant death is lacking.’ Despite this, co-sleeping is still pushed as one of the causes of SIDS and yet it is fair to say that much of the latest research points to co-sleeping with additional factors like being a smoker, drinking alcohol and/or co-sleeping on a couch are actually more likely to fall into the SIDS category rather than co-sleeping without these factors.2

This month Unicef published an article entitled, ‘Bed Sharing, Infant Sleep and SIDS’ which detailed a list of research that supports closer examination of the current SIDS guidelines. Further to this another study showed that ‘Bed-sharing and co-sleeping are practices associated with improved settling with reduced startling and crying. Startling and crying can release adrenaline, which increases heart rate and blood pressure while interfering with restful sleep.

Dr. James McKenna research, a well-known sleep and SIDS researcher, has boldly stated that ‘co-sleeping is safer than crib sleeping’ because his research shows steadier breathing and heart rates while co-sleeping. 

With all of this research now questioning the practice of SAFE co-sleeping – defined as parents not taking drugs while co-sleeping, being non-smokers, not being morbidly obese and not co-sleeping on a couch - may I suggest you read my blog on the Safe-Snuggle option of co-sleeping. Many of us end up co-sleeping with our babies out of share exhaustion anyway and for me, I’d prefer parents were taught how to do this in a safer manner.

Peaceful sleeping to you all.

Please feel free to comment below and if you know of someone that might like this article, please like and share the love with the green share button below.

1. www.sids.org.nz/site/resources
2. Ball & Russell (2014), SIDS and infant sleep ecology. Evolution, Medicine and Public Health 146. doi: 10.1093/emph/eou023
3. Young, J. (1999). Night-time behaviour and interactions between mothers and their infants of low risk for SIDS: a longitudinal study of room-sharing and bed sharing (Unpublished PhD thesis). Institute of Child Health, University of Bristol, Bristol, United Kingdom.
4. Ball, H. L. (2003). Breastfeeding, bed‐sharing, and infant sleep. Birth, 30(3), 181-188

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