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Debates over co-sleeping. (Parenting).

A recent federal study of co-sleeping has some parents happy, while some safety experts are worried about potential suffocation. Advocates of co-sleeping maintain that sleeping together creates more secure children and better parent-child bonds.

The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development found that between 1993 and 2000, the number of infants under eight months old who usually shared a family bed more than doubled. In 1993 and 1994, 5.8 percent of those infants shared a bed; while in 1999 and 2000, 12.5 percent did. The percentage reached near 50 percent when participants were asked if an infant had shared the bed within the past two weeks.

The interviewees were gathered from birth records as well as from infant photographers and baby formula manufacturers. They were contacted by telephone in 48 states (excluding Alaska and Hawaii). There were approximately 1,000 respondents. The study did not ask why the choice was made to co-sleep. Experts on sleep habits have offered explanations for this practice.

Economics may play a role, say experts. Many families cannot purchase beds for all family members and it may simply become the norm in a family. Experts also indicate that culture plays a role in sleeping habits. Some cultures, including Asians and Latin Americans, believe that the North American practice of placing babies in separate rooms in cribs to be psychologically harmful. Working parents (regardless of income level) may be trying to regain the bonding they lose through working away from home. Additionally, co-sleeping is a common practice with nursing mothers due to the ease of nursing in bed and the closeness.

There were two categories where the study indicated an infant was twice as likely as others to share a bed with an adult: Infants whose mothers were under eighteen and infants in families earning less than $20,000 a year. Results of the study also showed wide ethnic differences. African-American infants were four times as likely as white infants to share an adult's bed, and Asian-Americans were almost three times as likely.

The percentage of white infants in adult beds more than doubled in the 1990s, to 9.6 percent from 4 percent. The percentage of African-American infants sleeping in adult beds increased over the same period by about half. A similar study of mothers in a low-income, mostly black urban neighborhood found in 1996 that almost half the mothers said their infants usually shared a bed with a parent or other adult caregiver.

Some professionals, such as Jan Hunt, director of the Natural Child Project (, call the report "good news." Mothers who sleep with their babies coordinate their cycles and are less likely to be dragged out of deep sleep by a howling child, Hunt said, "so it makes sense that it would reduce child abuse." She pointed out that human babies slept next to their mothers for millennia until the fashion changed in recent centuries.

Professor of pediatrics at the Washington University School of Medicine, Dr. Bradley Thatch, who studies infant deaths in St. Louis, said he believes co-sleeping is dangerous. In 50 percent of the sudden infant deaths in St. Louis, and 70 percent of those among blacks, Dr. Thatch said bed-sharing was involved.

Thatch indicated that taking the baby to bed to soothe or nurse it is not dangerous. However, he believes the risk rises when the baby is in the bed all night, when the sleepers are on a couch, when the bed has crevices between the headboard or wall, when a sleeper is drunk, drugged, or exhausted, when the baby is very small, or when the mother smoked in pregnancy.

Dr. James J. McKenna, head of the Mother-Child Sleep Lab at the University of Notre Dame, an advocate of mothers and babies sharing beds, drew the opposite conclusion. Baby deaths from suffocation "are in extreme situations--being with Dad on the couch when he's half-drunk," Dr. McKenna said, while the comfort and closeness babies get from sleeping with their mothers makes them "more independent and able to deal with stress better."

The notion of co-sleeping creates a strong, emotional response on both sides of the issue and concrete evidence for or against has not been sufficient on either side.

--New York Times, January 2003
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Publication:Special Delivery
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2003
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