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The Potential Dangers of Co-Sleeping

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Four infants in Wisconsin who were co-sleeping with adults have died in the last six weeks. Here's what our pediatrician has to say about the risks.

mother and baby cosleeping

Four infants in Wisconsin who were co-sleeping with adults have died in the last six weeks. Reportedly, in each case, the adult turned over and accidentally landed on the baby, suffocating it to death.

  • Two-month-old Tyler Winston died April 19 while sleeping with his mother, Carlen Friday. When she woke up, she found the newborn faced down on the bed dead.
  • Three-month-old Kymarius Hunt died April 5 after his grandmother apparently smothered him while they slept on a couch.
  • Ten-month-old Gavin Robinson died April 4 of accidental suffocation after sharing a futon with his mother, police said.
  • Six-day-old Ceianna Buchanan was found dead March 8 in her home after sleeping with her mother on the couch. She appeared to have been smothered.

Granted, two of these adults broke a cardinal rule of co-sleeping: They slept on couches, not beds. Experts advise never to co-sleep on a sofa as your baby could get wedged in the cracks between the cushions or between you and the back of the couch. Co-sleeping on a waterbed is also a no-no, as they are too soft and may have deep crevices around the frame where your baby could get trapped.

Alcohol was also a factor in two of these incidents. Drugs and alcohol can impair your memory and cause you to forget that your baby is sleeping next to you. They can also cause you to sleep so soundly that you may not realize it if you roll over on your baby.

Is co-sleeping safe?

Pediatrician Dr. Cara Natterson says: The "family bed" is another term for parents sleeping with one or more children. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has officially recommended against the family bed, and the proponents of attachment parenting adamantly disagree. The AAP recommendation is based upon infant safety issues. Here are three reasons why:

Tossing and turning: There is a risk that a parent could roll on top of a baby, potentially injuring or suffocating him or her. While this is uncommon, it is possible.

Down will come baby: Unless a baby is in the middle of the bed between two adults, it is easy for him or her to squirm or roll off the bed. Surrounding a baby with pillows or other bolsters is neither safe nor effective.

This bed's too soft: Parents tend to sleep in beds with soft mattresses and heavy comforters. It is safer for a baby to sleep in a bed with a slightly harder mattress with lighter covers or none at all.

The Milwaukee Health Department launched a citywide safe sleep awareness campaign yesterday. "If you love your baby, put them in the crib," said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. "Do not have them sleep with you."

Our thoughts go out to the families of the babies who died. Tell us: Do your babies sleep in your bed?

next: The Carbon Footprint Diet
31 comments so far | Post a comment now
Jessica April 21, 2009, 4:10 PM

I was very aware of the dangers of co-sleeping when my sons were born, and they slept in a bassinet right next to our bed. However, they both went through a clingy phase where they wanted to be attached to my hip, so we let them sleep with us. However, they were both over a year old, able to crawl and turn over and walk. I think age makes a huge difference when it comes to co-sleeping. My heart breaks for those families, and they have my condolences.

Anonymous April 21, 2009, 4:30 PM

Co-sleeping is the wrong term to be used here. This is “bedsharing” - even if it’s on a couch. Co-sleeping is having a crib or bassinet in the same room where a caregiver sleeps.
If proper guidelines for bedsharing/family bed are followed: risk is lowered significantly.

redmum April 21, 2009, 4:31 PM

Why did you feel it necessary to put an age on the teenage mum and not the others? Doing so reads as passing judgement.

All these stories are an absolute tragedy for the families and Mom Logic would be better just reporting the facts, raising awareness and not passing judgement.

Lindsay April 21, 2009, 4:37 PM

The above article is a bit misleading. Yes, attachment parenting advocates encourage co-sleeping, BUT most are very clear that there are specific safety guidelines that MUST be followed when co-sleeping. It is never safe to sleep with a baby on a couch or futon, and no one but the child’s mother should be sleeping next to the child (baby should be between the mother and a safety guard rail that is snug enough to prevent baby from getting trapped).

Beth in SF April 21, 2009, 4:45 PM

We had a co-sleeper bed, which is a separate baby bed that pulls right up next to our bed. Occasionally when he was a newborn, he would feed around 6am and I’d put him on the bed next to me with no pillows or blankets near him (my husband would get up and take a shower at that time) and we would snooze there together for an hour or so. I tried not to lie near him. And I hardly move at all when I sleep. If I was a “roller”, I’d never have done that. It was always a fear of mine that he’d get a blanket stuck over his face or something. From 6 months on, he’s been in his own crib to sleep.

Katy April 21, 2009, 5:05 PM

Sleeping on the couch is NOT co-sleeping and it is NOT safe. The risk of SIDS is lower in co-sleeping babies because they hear their mother’s heart beat and hear her breathing, and reminds babies to breathe. However, co-sleeping while impaired (drugs, alcohol, smoking, pain killers, etc), or in a bed with big fluffy bedding or pillows, or on a thick pillow-top mattress is NOT safe. I get tired of seeing “death by co-sleeping” headlines when you find out that the death was caused by negligence. Co-sleeping, when done properly is a wonderful thing. It lowers the risk of SIDS, it helps with family bonding, and in most cases it helps everyone get a good night sleep and keeps the baby close to food!

Monica April 21, 2009, 5:13 PM

Get over yoursleves. You are NOT doctors!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Pamala April 21, 2009, 5:44 PM

I’m too paranoid to co-sleep. I know a lot of people do it but I find it to be too much of a risk in general. I found my daughter once (who was over 2 at the time) darn near under her father one time when they took a nap together (I was out of the house at the time). I’m sure she would have got out if there was a problem but seriously a lot of bad happens and I just don’t risk it.

cosleeping mom April 21, 2009, 8:13 PM

This is an irresponsible & inflamatory way to present this information. You’re admitting that 2 of the cases involved drugs or alcohol, but you don’t state which ones. Also, 2 of the cases involved a couch or other unsafe place to sleep with a baby. Those aren’t safe cosleeping, they’re irresponsible accidents that resulted in tragedy. Proper cosleeping significantly lowers the risk of sids. OBVIOUSLY, if one has indulged in drugs or alcohol that render one less than easily rousable, you shouldn’t be sleeping with a baby! I have slept with both of my first and am now sleeping with my 1 month old and I am more fearful of having her in her own bed, because I know that she wouldn’t be stimulated to remember to breathe if she’s not near me. I wake easily at any noise she makes and I do not move when she’s next to me, and normally, when not with my baby, I’m a tosser in my sleep. Every other mom I know who has coslept with their babies reports the same hyper awareness during sleep. If I were having even one glass of wine or taking an antihistamine, I would not sleep with my baby. I wish the media in general would stop generalizing with articles like this. And stop calling suffocation deaths due to negligence SIDS and blaming cosleeping without sharing all the facts! SIDS is by definition a death that can’t be explained. If the baby was suffocated, that is not SIDS. Give us the facts, not the propaganda started by crib manufacturers to sell cribs!

Pamala April 21, 2009, 8:38 PM

Last time I checked the APA isn’t crib manufacturers. I love people who blow off information to suit how they parent.

cosleeping mom April 21, 2009, 9:03 PM

I’m not blowing off information. I know the AAP’s recommendation and agree with it for what it’s intended, which is the general public. I read many parenting books and articles on the subject written by pediatricians and experts and made the decision that cosleeping is for me and my family and have done so always in a safe manner. All my post above is asking is for the complete facts in these cases so that we can distinguish between responsible cosleeping and negligent accidents.

briellis April 21, 2009, 9:09 PM

I’m a co-sleeping mother. My daughter is now 6 1/2 mos old and we’ve slept together every night since she’s come home from the hospital. Initially, I started co-sleeping because she had some apnea spells in the hospital and had to wear a monitor…there was just no way I was going to put her in a crib with that horrible machine on all by herself. It eventually evolved into an easier way to breastfeed and now it’s just the way things are. I don’t blame people for not co-sleeping, sometimes it does make things harder, but the AAP makes a lot of generalized rules because a lot of people who probably shouldn’t have children in the first place need to be told what to do.

I recommend co-sleeping. Some of the most precious moments of my daughter’s life have occurred while we’re lying side-by-side in bed.
(And yes, I experience the hyper awareness, too.)

kate April 22, 2009, 12:09 AM

My daughter and I slept in the same bed for about two years. When she was an infant she was small, had reflux, and would get so cold (she has hypothyroidism). She would not sleep by herself and I would not change what I did. She sleeps in her big girl bed just fine now. I kept her warm and safe when she was the most fragile. Mothers are capable of being safe while sleeping. I question whether underlying, undiscovered health conditions are not responsible for at least some of these sad cases. It just seems so unnatural to not be near your baby while they are sleeping. I could never discourage a mom from sleeping next to her baby.

brandi April 22, 2009, 7:08 AM

i co-sleep with my son. I don’t see how a parent could possibly roll over onto their child, unless they were under the influence of drugs or alcohol. I don’t move when i sleep next to my son at all, and if i did roll on top of him by some wierd chance, I know i would instantly wake up. I mean come on, your lying on an INFANT. Its not like rolling over onto a tshirt, or a pillow. April 22, 2009, 12:05 PM

I personally do not agree with “co-sleeping” simply bc accidents happen. I do everything in my power to avoid them, esp. where my children are involved. I mean, 4 deaths in 6 weeks all from 1 state. If this isn’t a warning, I don’t know what is!!

Ali April 22, 2009, 3:01 PM

My baby is 9 months old and has slept in her crib in her room since the day she came home from the hospital. We have a sensor monitor that beeps if no movement is detected for 20 seconds, it has gone off a few times and scared me to death but I run in her room and give her a little shake and the monitor shuts off. Occassionally she naps in the bed with my husband but I always go in and check on them every 5 minutes and watch her chest to make sure she’s breathing. I’m not a heavy sleeper but co-sleeping would make me nervous to the point where I would not get a good night of sleep.

theyearofasking April 22, 2009, 5:09 PM

admittedly, co-sleeping has always freaked me out. i think breastfeeding is great, babywearing rocks. but the bed is for the parents — and for their happiness, and the children’s safety, it should in most cases stay that way.

Rachel April 23, 2009, 2:37 AM

I totally agree with theyearofasking. Sorry, but my bed is just that…MY bed. No way do I want to end up like my SIL was and have my kid sleeping with me until he is THIRTEEN…Just not for me. Husbands and wives need their own time together and keeping the bed, if not the entire bedroom sacred, is one way of keeping the marriage and friendship alive.

Twila April 23, 2009, 7:56 AM

I like many knew not to have my babies in the bed with me but I was a hard headed mother. now by the grace of God I never rolled over on my children, I must admit it was hard getting them out of my bed. But everyone was out by the age of 5.

Holly April 23, 2009, 3:28 PM

My husband is a pediatrician and I used to work in organ procurement, and we have both seen first-hand the tragic consequences of well-meaning parents sleeping with their children.

Drugs don’t even have to be involved; after too many nights of poor sleep even the most diligant and loving parent can roll over onto an infant and not wake up.

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