There is a certain amount of irony that comes up in conversation with my clients or any parent once they find out I’m a doula. These women have no qualms about asking questions or relating stories – often in a very loud voice – about their private parts but then there comes a moment when their voice will drop into a hushed whisper and they’ll say, “Is it okay if my baby sleeps, you know… in my bed with me?”
For most of history, humans have been a co-sleeping people. It is only in the last hundred years that sleeping by yourself has become a regular occurrence, and a child sleeping alone has become the norm only in the last fifty years.
Co-sleeping fulfills a deep biological need for both mother and child (and even fathers). Newborns have trouble regulating their breathing and their body’s temperature. A child that sleeps with a parent will sync their body to the adult leading to better sleep. Co-sleeping helps parents to bond with their baby and to become more responsive to the baby’s needs during the day; it also aids greatly in establishing and maintaining breastfeeding patterns.
So why the stigma? The answer I get most commonly is “I heard about some mother who rolled over onto her baby” or “There was this Facebook post that said…” Instead of listening to often repeated horror stories, let’s look at the facts. Margaret H. Blabey, MPH and Bradford D. Gessner, MD, MPH did a study which looked at 13 years of infant deaths in the state of Alaska, which reports frequent bed sharing for 38% of infants. The study found that “of deaths [which] occurred while bed sharing; 99% of these had at least one associated risk factor”. These risk factors are maternal tobacco use, impairment by alcohol, tobacco, or other-drug, non-safe sleeping surfaces like a sofa or water bed.
This means if a parent is a non-smoker, hasn’t been drinking or using any kind of drugs – even some over the counter ones, the baby is sleeping on a firm mattress that has no gaps between the mattress and the headboard or wall, and there are no pillows or blankets by the baby’s face then co-sleeping poses no greater risk than a baby sleeping in a crib.
Naomi Starsiak is a birth and postpartum doula, a placenta encapsulator, a natural birth consultant, and the co-owner of A Peaceful Birth doula & childbirth service. You can find her on Facebook at facebook.com/APeacefulBirthDoulas. Have a question? E-mail it to Naomi at firstname.lastname@example.org.