I hadn't been online all day, so it was snuggled in bed with my four-week-old baby nestled in the crook of my arm that I read the headlines on my phone Sudden infant death greater when parents share beds with babies – and this one from The Guardian, that balanced, unsensationalist, altogether superior news outlet (spoken like a true biased liberal, ha!)
I read the report with what must have been an expression on my face much like the one that appears when people tell me they don't have Twitter accounts – somewhere between incredulity and fear.
Could it be true? Despite years of rubbish data and myth peddling around co-sleeping, have they finally proven something that means I must stop this beautiful parenting practice?
I love co-sleeping with my little ones. My two and a half year old, Ramona, is still in the bed with us mostly and I am once again delighting in the joys of sharing sleep with my tiny (OK, actually comically MASSIVE) newborn, Juno.
Co-sleeping is a continuation of our daytime parenting philosophy; until they are several months old they will be rarely out of our arms – let alone sight. And, as psychologists and neuroscientists have suggested could happen, this initial closeness has developed a fierce independence and daring confidence in my toddler.
Rather than dreading those frequent night feeds, I look forward to night, knowing that I am likely to get a steady 10 hours where I am barely disturbed because, even at four weeks old, Juno can latch on without either of us stirring much.
(I'm not the only one who loves this element- even SCIENCE loves the way co-sleeping aids breastfeeding; a wonderful relationship has been established by researchers between the two, and it has been shown that breastfeeding lowers the chances of SIDS.)
Once or twice in the last few weeks I have risen to the surface to discover Juno's breathing doing something a little bit peculiar, just for a few moments, and have been able to listen in to it settling back down again- almost as if there is a subconscious thread that connects her rhythms to mine.
When she snuffles about I can restore her peace with a gentle hand on her belly or a badger mamma-like nuzzle into her cheek with my nose. (I can see myself like a badger; lopingly calm until crossed and wearing edgy monochrome.)
As my older daughter has grown, co-sleeping has continued to hold benefits – allowing a sleepful connection and passing of love between us even when I was often doing long days at work without her close by.
I'm sure it has made the transition of a New Kid On the Block much smoother for her too. (It also provides a few jolly chuckles, like the time Ramona played hide and seek with her legs in her sleep.)
I love co-sleeping; it has helped my parenting in both a touchy-feely emotional way and a very practical way too. Yet as I read the news last night I wondered if I would have to let it go for the safety of my babies. Should I turn against this deep instinct of mine – an instinct that parents have felt for thousands of years?
Fortunately, as the words from the newspapers flew like darts into my brain other facts, reports and stats swam amongst them- from books and blogs and articles I have enjoyed over the last few years. How can one new bit of research make all of that redundant? This niggle caused me to delve a bit deeper (erm, search Twitter) and I found that – OF COURSE- it doesn't. In actual fact, the "new" bit of research isn't new at all, but a regurgitation of old data – data that was initially flawed and now even more so as it has been shoe horned in to a prove an unprovable hypothesis.
As the British Medical Journal hit publish on this co-sleeping research by a fellow called Carpenter a host of other scientists, professors and sleep experts from across the globe rushed to hit publish on their own analysis- analysis that deeply calls into question both the methodology and the conclusions of the Carpenter study.
*Serious face* I do have a BA and an Msc in Social Policy, so can get my head around statistics and research methodology and the making of health policy but I'm not going to do my own analysis because, hello; YAWN!! *serious face vanishes* Just kidding, it is because it is all there, already ready to read.
Please see below for the 5 MUST-READS in response to the Carpenter study and the propaganda (YES, propoganda why, why, WHY is there this crazy bias against co-sleeping?) that has been produced in the last 24 hours.
But one thing I must add that I don't think can be said enough. There is a GARGANTUAN difference between intentional and accidental co-sleeping and this hasn't been differentiated between at all in any of the studies used.Fifty per cent of parents co-sleep at some points but the majority of these doing it in an impromptu manner, as mother and baby fall asleep together during a night nurse. This MUST NOT COUNT as co-sleeping in these studies!
People who choose to co-sleep take into account their bedding, their night wear, baby's night wear, room temperature, presence of pillows, the presence – and state- of other people in the bed and baby's position.
All of these things can produce extra risk for baby's in the parent's bed so if people have planned and prepared for co-sleeping these factors are more often than not taken into account and eliminated. Very much unlike accidental co-sleepers.
Not only does this hugely skew nearly every study done, but it also poses a problem for generating policy on co-sleeping. Calling for a ban on co-sleeping stops any dialogue about all those factors above and makes unintentional co-sleeping much more likely to happen.
Co-sleepers with intention: YOU HAVE NOTHING TO FEAR.
Read on for full assurance...
"...it is not possible to determine that one variable, such as bedsharing itself is inherently responsible for risk remaining in this study."
Before items get any steam behind them they must be peer reviewed – this study was reviewed and found to be good by a few academics (all of which have published anti-bedsharing stuff before) apart from one, Peter Blair, a leading SIDS epidemiologist who writes this scathing and damming review – it is a download but an absolute must!
"The primary focus of this paper, stated in the article summary, is to answer the question "Is there a risk of SIDS due to bed sharing when baby is breast fed, the parents do not smoke and the mother does not use alcohol or illegal drugs?" This question cannot be addressed when only two of the five studies collected data on maternal alcohol consumption, none of them collected data on the use of illegal drugs prior to bed sharing and the question is confined to one co-sleeping parent when there are often two."
"... it is important to be aware that the data upon which these analyses are based are now 15-26 years old (although referred to as 'recent'), and have been compiled ad hocfrom a heterogeneous collection of studies performed in different countries at different time points, using different methods and definitions for data collection (i.e. it is based upon data that are neither comprehensive nor systematic). It can therefore provide only weak evidence for informing public health policy, and parental infant care behaviour in 2013″
"Discombobulated, perhaps, by recent evidence that has clarified that the risks of bedsharing are limited , and that breastfeeding protects against SIDS (a finding which some SIDS researchers have never wanted to accept) several authors teamed up to to rehash and respin some of their old data, much of which uses poor, outdated definitions of things like co-sleeping and breastfeeding."
"The impression from the press release is that infants in the general population are at a 5-fold risk of SIDS when the parents bed-share and don't smoke, which is untrue. The risk is considerably smaller than 2.7 and might not even be significant. Considering these findings, it is surprising that the authors have focused on the risk among non-smoking, non-drinking bed-sharing mothers, when there are groups at far higher risk."
"...the Carpenter research has many flaws, aside from the damaging call to action they propose they have just missed far too many variables for the research to be considered of any use to society."
"So here we have internationally recognised doctors ... stating actually co-sleeping may be protective against SIDS."
"NCT does not support a universal instruction not to bed share as it could lead to an increased likelihood that a parent or carer inadvertently falls asleep while holding the baby, in a chair or on a sofa, which is much less safe for the infant."
If only our media were better at finding this stuff and giving us balanced reporting (GOSH, I'm just a blogger tapping away on a laptop with a newborn strapped to my front and a toddler trying to put her Thomas the Tank Engine down my pants and I can manage it! Pull your finger out, Guardian et al.)
HAPPY CO-SLEEPING EVERYONE!
Lucy describes herself as a 'hippy with a twist' - she blogs about attachment parenting and knitting her own muesli but with humour!
Blogs at: Lulastic