Sleeping with baby raises SIDS risk

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South Australian Coroner Mark Johns concluded that parents sleeping with their babies put them at great risk as he was conducting an inquest into the deaths of five babies in 2007 and 2008. The youngest was aged just three weeks and the oldest 10 months. While the cause of death remained undetermined in four of the cases, the infants were all sharing a bed or were sleeping with an adult when they died. Mr Johns said, “The message to be drawn from these five tragic deaths is that the risk of sudden, unexplained death in infancy is greatly increased where a child sleeps in the same bed with one or more parents or other adults, whether the mechanism of death is asphyxia due to overlaying, bedding or otherwise.”

One of the deaths was seven week old Hannah Francis who died of suffocation as her father lay on the couch with her on his chest. The father had fallen asleep and when he woke up around 3 AM he found his baby suffocated, lying between a pillow and the back of the couch. Naomi Kade, a 10 month old was asphyxiated by her sleeping grandmother’s arm on her nose and mouth. Of the other babies who died similarly Jaia Nelson was three months old when she died, James Cleland four months and Diesel Phelan three months old.

According to South Australian SIDS and Kids state manager Colin Cameron, they have been trying to stop co-sleeping for two decades now. He said, “We recommend that parents do not co-sleep at all…Infants are very vulnerable in those first 12 months.”

Mr. Johns however also agreed that there were some benefits to parents sharing a room with an infant where the child slept in a cot. Roger Byard, an expert on infant sudden death, forensic pathologist said infants sleeping in the same room as their parents were more stimulated and therefore would not experience deep sleep, which cut the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Mr. Johns suggested placing an infant in a cot beside the parental bed saying, “The emphasis should be on room sharing and not bed sharing.” Professor Byard explained that co-sleeping was common among some cultures but these babies were not prone to SIDS. However the Western society is different he said. What with softer bedding, heavier parents who are often affected by alcohol or other drugs the Western babies run a higher risk with co-sleeping he added. “Certain infants taken into the parental bed will not survive the night,” Professor Byard said.

SIDS was responsible for 0.543 deaths per 1,000 live births in the US in 2005. It is responsible for far fewer deaths than congenital disorders and disorders related to short gestation, though it is the leading cause of death in healthy infants after one month of age.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.


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  1. Julie Julie Australia says:

    Just some points I though I'd put forward: SIDS?  There is clear reasons why these babies died, and it was not SIDS at all, is it?

    Yes, every babies life lost is a tragedy, but I put it to you, 5 babies do not make co-sleeping a conclusive cause.  There are arguments, well put in the opposition that state it is safer to co-sleep with your little ones.  

    And the reasons about Asians being OK to co-sleep when Westerners are not.

    One, clearly racist! (Westerners heavier/using soft bedding? Come on.) Two, even aware co-sleeping parents/professionals who recommend it state NOT to co-sleep when you are on certain medications/recreational drugs or alcohol (it's simply sensible).  
    Three, many American studies are funded by companies who produce cots, clearly biased.

    Four, modern as in the last 100-150 years the trend may have been putting babies in nurseries and seperate beds, but look beyond that and the majority people co-slept in many cases, they breastfed etc.  And way beyond that when we were all back to origins we ALL kept our babies close to us.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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