Recently a multitude of social agencies have come out, discouraging parents and moms from sleeping with their babies. New ads issued by the Health Department in Milwaukee, WI show an infant sleeping with a butcher knife. That’s not screwing around. They want parents to know the real risks of sleeping with an infant after multiple infant deaths in the area were determined to be caused by co-sleeping. Many counties around the U.S. have seen co-sleeping deaths rise, even double over the last year, according to News Channel 7 in South Carolina. They go on to say that authorities don’t know why the rate is increasing but suggest the economy may be a factor in forgoing cribs or the growing pressure to win ‘best mother on earth’ measured by how much glue you can rub between your babies skin and your own.
Most government agencies cite the reasons for unsafe bed-sharing: Soft pillows, blankets, rolling off the bed (for an older baby), sleeping with other siblings as well, and/or parents being under the influence.
The problem is, you can’t run a campaign on, “If you’re lit up, then don’t sleep with your baby — you junkie.”
Unfortunately, campaigns have to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Setting boundaries for adults is often like setting boundaries for children. If you say it’s okay sometimes, they’ll think it’s okay all the time, so let’s just tell them no so they don’t have to think about it.
Granted, there are safer ways to sleep with infants if that’s a big priority for you. Minimal fluffy crap in your bed and not being drunk helps and having safe side rails.
But it is not always the drunk or prescription drug popping mom that rolls over on her baby.
I remember when my first son was about 3 months old, being so exhausted and sleep deprived, I laid him beside me in our bed, just to rest for a few. Turns out, I fell fast asleep. I had not slept in days and days. I was a Nervous-Nellie of a mother and found it difficult to sleep no matter where my son slept. If he was in his crib, I worried. If he was sleeping with my husband and I, I heard every little sound he made, eyes wide open as saucers, cursing the sleep fairies.
Weary and debilitated with no end in sight, I decided to take a little time out with him on our bed and wound up falling fast asleep. I woke about 90 minutes later only to find myself on the other side of my baby. I had inadvertently rolled over him. Not only did I roll over him, but he was sideways with his mouth pressed against one of our pillows.
If this didn’t add to my already paranoid mothering experience, it wasn’t enough that I already spent hours on end just watching him breathe while he took naps in his bassinet, now I was never to take a nap again, until he was in college.
Turns out, he was fine, although I’m not sure how long he would have been fine since he was about to be suffocated by my favorite down pillow. Luckily, it turned out okay and now he’s a teenager with a big attitude. Trust me, the torture never ends.
The problem as I see it is that it’s turned into a parenting style debate instead of one based upon sound information and CHOICE. The fact is, despite your best efforts, there are risks associated with bed sharing. Granted, the risks can be limited and minimized significantly, to the point where some parents believe the benefits outweigh the risks, and that’s fine. If you believe it makes you a better parent and your children, better human beings, then by all means, take the risk and do it, but don’t try to cover up the risks to promote your parenting agenda.
While rare, parents can and do roll over their babies absent the influence of drugs or alcohol and babies do get trapped between mattresses and bed frames and get caught in soft bedding. It can happen to the most well intentioned parent.
With my second son, I did the whole ‘Arms Reach’ co-sleeper thingy. It worked out well. It was like adding an extra 2 feet onto our King size bed. Everyone had their own space. I could sleep with my hand on his tiny, premature body and all was right with the world. I slept the second time around. Experience changes people.
With my older son, I had tried to put a bassinet in my room after he was born, but he was a loud baby who kept me up all night with his baby yakin’. I couldn’t function without getting some sleep, which required me putting him in an adjacent room with a baby monitor so sensitive, it picked up his soft breathes and lulled me to sleep. I still woke up and checked on him religiously, every few hours.
This worked for us. I was a better mother after I was finally able to sleep well and attend to my children’s needs during the day. Co-sleeping for us would have compromised my abilities during the daylight hours when my children needed me most.
This was my choice to make. Not some doctor who doesn’t know me. Not some mother with their own identity issues and not some family member who wants to live vacariously through me.
So who’s on the right side of the bed on this one? No one.
If you want to sleep with your baby, have at it. If you want to use a co-sleeper bassinet or a crib, go crazy! I think it’s easy to forget that mothers are individuals, as unique as each of our own children. Neither is better or worse, it’s the parent who holds that commitment to their children which decides that, not the place you choose to lay him to sleep.
Bed-sharing is extremely personal and for those doctors who argue that it’s a baby’s birthright as it’s been done for thousand of years and practiced in third world countries only expose a profound disconnect from the challenges that face today’s mothers. For thousands of years, extended families and friends raised babies collectively. This isn’t the case today.
In third world countries, if mothers could afford a crib, extra bedroom and a high tech baby monitor, do you honestly think they wouldn’t be intrigued? Even if they weren’t, so what if third world babies share their mother’s beds more often than mothers in modern industrialized cultures? Do third world babies have it better than babies here? Is that the environment we want to emulate for our children?
Mothers need to drop the drama and make this less about them and more about what’s in the interest of everyone’s unique family dynamics. Any mother wishing to push her own co-sleeping agenda likely cares more about validating her own self worth than the long term outcomes of babies who sleep in cribs.
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