Green Moms Weekly: Safe CoSleeping

This week’s Green Moms Weekly post touches on a subject that is hotly debated amongst parents: CoSleeping.

I’ll never forget the time a friend cornered my husband and asked him where the baby was sleeping. When my husband told him, he got agitated and began to regale him of the dangers of cosleeping on one’s marriage.

(Not to be snarky, but one of this man’s children, a son, was arrested and imprisoned last year for killing a cop. His other daughter had a baby out of wedlock. Nobody’s lining up to ask him for parenting wisdom, to be sure. Oh, and the marriage has been in trouble for years too. If something was going wrong in that family, it sure wasn’t about where baby slept at night!)

But this week we aren’t talking about just any of the “negatives” that people bring up against cosleeping. Just one, in particular.

Safety concerns.

In light of recent controversial co-sleeping ads, what would you say as a proponent for co-sleeping safely?

What would I say? I would say Poppycock.

Well, that was easy. :-)

Seriously though. I’ve read a few outstanding articles on this topic in the past week. I’ll link to those first and then share my thoughts.

First is PhDinParenting’s comparison of car travel and cosleeping.

Her basic point is that EVERYTHING we do has some element of risk.

Cribs can cause death (every month when I step into Target, I see another crib recall posted on the wall), driving in cars can cause death, pregnancy and birth can cause death! We don’t tell parents to stop driving, getting pregnant, or giving birth.

We tell them how to do those things safely.

Tiffany at The Attached Parent wrote her thoughts on safe cosleeping here. I love how she makes the very important, but often overlooked connection between who is funding the study and the supposed “outcomes” of these studies.

Follow the money.

Often when you do so you find a pile of poop referred to as a conflict of interest.

Here is an interview I did with the creators of the Arm’s Reach Co-Sleeper. (It’s transcribed if you don’t have time to listen.)

I wrote this post back in 2007 entitled: safe cosleeping is safe.

By the way, if you want to read more from a true expert, read every word you can by Dr. James McKenna. The man has spent more time studying the science of mother and baby sleep than anyone in the world.  A list of safe cosleeping guidelines are posted on his site, The Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory.

My experiences and thoughts:

1- I’ve coslept with 5 babies so far. (I was a cosleeping baby/toddler too.)

What I’ve noticed is that cosleeping keeps me in tune with my baby, and my baby in tune with me, all night long. This doesn’t just occur during the few months postpartum, or even when baby is still breastfeeding. In 13 years of mothering, I CANNOT COUNT how many times I have awakened with a sense that something was “off”, and seconds later heard a child vomiting, or otherwise distressed, nearby. Would my baby have been safer if they were vomiting in another room alone?

In my own very unscientific “study”, having had 2 husbands and therefore 2 cosleeping daddies, I’ve found that Dads are just as aware of baby’s body too. I’ve never had a Dad hit or roll over on or otherwise endanger a baby. They become more sensitive to baby also.

2 – Cosleeping is not perfect, but it is a far better alternative than cry it out.

As an example, I’ll use my stepdaughter. My husband is a very gentle minded parent. For the first few months of his daughter’s life, it was HE who got up in the night to parent and feed little Z. This is remarkable especially considering he was working 2 jobs at the time, and his wife was a stay at home mom.

He has shared with me that he looks back with regret at the way little Z was “sleep trained” by her mother after she was weaned (around 4 months old). Her mother resorted to Cry it Out. He has told me that it was physically painful for him, listening to his baby cry that way,  that it felt like a knife twisting inside him, and he protested often, but finally acquiesced to his wife to keep the peace. She kept insisting that the “Doctor said this was best”, and he felt powerless to do anything about it. He was likely horribly sleep deprived at this point himself.

If his then wife had been willing to cosleep, everyone in the family would have gotten more rest, and my stepdaughter, as a tiny infant, would not have been forced to scream, cry, and finally sink into depression (because that is what happens when babies cry it out). It grieves me to even think about it.

3 -  The “overlying” argument is patently ridiculous.

Nobody has a problem with people sleeping with their dogs and cats. (Which seems perfectly gross to me!) There are no campaigns by the powers that be to convince pet owners that they might accidentally suffocate their pet.


Because people are aware, even in their sleep, of their bodies and of other bodies.

I’ve never accidentally sleep on top of my husband’s thigh, or his bicep (two things roughly the size of a baby), because I know where they are on the bed in relation to me, even while I sleep.

I’ve also never fallen out of bed. Why? Because even in a deep sleep, I know where the edge of the bed is!

The only people who should not sleep with their babies are: drunk people (who shouldn’t be taking care of babies, period, day or night), people who smoke (even if they don’t smoke around baby, particulates stay on their bodies and hair and there is an increase of SIDS among smoking parents), people who take drugs to knock them out or otherwise alter consciousness and normal brain function (I had a friend who jumped out of a window while on Ambien. Ahem.) and lastly, the morbidly obese or others who, due to health conditions, may not be aware of their OWN bodies.

Sadly, throughout the years “overlying” has been a coverup for “infanticide”.   It’s nearly impossible to prove that when a mother kills her own child by putting a pillow over its face and says she accidentally smothered him in her sleep, that she is lying (or, drunk or high at the time of baby’s death).

4 – Everyone cosleeps anyway, why not educate parents on how to make it safer?

Depending on which study you read, over 90%  of parents cosleep either all or part of the time. Because there is such a stigma attached, a parent filling out a study will often not admit to cosleeping, because their child starts off in their own bed, but crawls into their bed at some point during the night. It’s difficult to study cosleeping because of this.

5 – Cosleeping means mom gets more sleep. Isn’t sleep deprivation dangerous too?

Personally, due to a late night out or a sick child, I’ve lost a lot of sleep and felt the effects the next day. Sleep deprivation can make you walk sloppy, make poor decisions, have accidents, and be more likely to abuse your child.

Driving while sleepy is especially dangerous, and most parents have to drive every day. Isn’t it safer to sleep where everyone gets the most sleep, rather than try to get baby to stay in a crib, wake up and sit up for night feedings (and risk falling asleep in a rocking chair, which is far more dangerous than any other sleeping arrangement), and be a zombie?

6 – Breastfeeding is safer than formula feeding, and cosleeping is good for breastfeeding.

Cosleeping “couples” breastfeed more often. Experts like James McKenna and Dr. William Sears claim that since cosleeping babies sleep “lighter” and are stimulated by mom’s breathing and movement, they don’t get into the dangerously deep sleep characteristic of formula fed babies and “forget” to breathe and/or wake up. Therefore, breastfed babies are less likely to die of SIDS.

SIDS used to be called “Crib Death” a generation ago. Isn’t that interesting. I wonder what agencies were behind the change?

7 – Anti-cosleeping campaigns are culturally illiterate and insensitive

Asians cosleep more than Westerners, and their SIDS rates are lower. African-Americans cosleep more than whites, as a general rule.  So do Latinos. In fact, Americans are the only people in the world who are opposed to cosleeping.

Interestingly, cosleeping was the norm in this country until fairly recently. Ever read a Little House on the Prairie book? Where did the babies, toddlers, and children sleep? (Answer: In mom and dad’s bed, and then they graduated to a sibling’s bed.)

Now, for a few safe cosleeping tips:

  • Use a firm mattress  (waterbeds and fluffy beds are a no-no)
  • Don’t use heavy or fluffy bedding (dress mom and baby warmly and have one light blanket in winter)
  • Make sure there is no space where baby could be trapped (such as between the mattress and headboard, mattress and frame, or mattress and wall).
  • Use one or no pillows for the adults and nothing else on the bed (such as those long blind pull cords) that baby could could get entangled in
  • Use common sense! No boozing, smoking, no drugs.

And finally, even though it has nothing to do with safety, I’ll address cosleeping and sex.

Let me make this clear: Sleeping and sex have nothing to do with each other. I don’t sleep during sex, and neither should you. :-)


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6 Responses to Green Moms Weekly: Safe CoSleeping

  1. Tiffany says:

    Love how you linked cosleeping to breastfeeding and the how that is the healthier choice. Many don’t often think of that. And the last part… ROFL. ;)

  2. Zombiemommy says:

    I think what hasn’t been said is the reason the study came out was that an area where there is high drug use among mothers is where the spike in SID deaths occurred.

    For the record, they call me Zombiemommy because I never sleep, because when you have little ones, all they have to do is cough and my ears PERK UP like a chihuahua.

  3. Rachel says:

    Such great points, Carrie! I’m going to have to look back at those little house on the prairie books!

  4. carrie says:

    Caroline Ingalls is one of my mothering heroes :) She was so patient, and never raised her voice. She was also a homebirther, homeschooler, and devoted wife.

  5. carrie says:

    Interesting, I hadn’t come across that yet.

    I understand, I’m the same way. And so is my husband! He just about jumps out of his skin in the middle of the night if he thinks Ruby is falling off the bed.

  6. LILA HUGGINS says:

    A.W.E.S.O.M.E article Carrie!!

    I remember the birth of my first daughter and how, well there’s just no other way to say it, how STUPID I was. But in my defense, I was very young and had no one to help or advise me. I pushed her bassinet as close to my bed as it would go and then cut a huge hole in the bassinet so I could put my arm on my baby.

    When she outgrew the bassinst “others” told me to put her in the crib. So I did. I was miserable and cried all night every night she was in there, although she was fine! I was not! When she was 6 mo. old someone bought her a crib mobile with bees hanging down and twirling around. I attached it to the crib, laid her down and she started screaming bloody murder! She’d never done that before. It didn’t take me long to figure out she was frightened of the bees and to this very day (she’s 43 now) she’s terrified of bees! She slept with me after that although I never told anyone back then (the 60′s), too afraid they would think I was doing something “wrong”

    Fortunately, and I’m VERY PROUD to say, both my daughters have had natural childbirth, breastfed their babies way past the one year mark and coslept with all their babies.

    Thery’re much happier mommies and babies for it!!

    Miss Lila

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