08/07/2014 10:20 BST | Updated 06/09/2014 06:59 BST

Making Sense of Co-Sleeping Advice

As parents, we have never been under more pressure to protect our children from risk.

From the time we get pregnant, we are given advice by medical professionals, websites, friends, family and sometimes complete bloody strangers all of whom want us to believe that if we follow their advice, we can guarantee that our children will avoid harm.

The script is simple: Medicalise and monitor ... and your child will be safe.

It's a seductive promise that taps into our deepest fears as human beings and parents.

Unfortunately, it's not a promise that delivers.

The Lancet reported in May that the UK has one of the highest child mortality rates in Western Europe.

I would imagine news like that made an impact at the Department of Health.

The cynic in me wonders if it might have been the sort of impact that would lead to some dramatic child saving type news just two months later.

Such as the recent news that, co-sleeping leads to greater risk of SIDS.*

As a parent that is a simple, and terrifying message.

It's the kind of terrifying news I would expect healthcare professionals and their advisers at the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) to be all over like a donkey on a waffle.

So have NICE stepped in to provide healthcare workers with some simple guidelines on how to co-sleep safely?

Well, no.

Having read through their draft recommendations, there are a few things that seem to have been lost in translation:

  • When NICE talk about co-sleeping, they are talking about sleeping in a bed OR a sofa OR a chair. The latter two are known to be bad co-sleeping practice in contrast with the much safer practice of sharing a bed.
  • The studies that NICE discuss include results for deaths that occurred when a parent was under the influence of drugs and alcohol or a smoker. These are all known co-sleeping risks and are vastly different from sharing a bed with a sober parent.
  • The new guidelines are based on 12 studies, all of which NICE rate as being of Poor Quality.
  • The new recommendations state that "the evidence does not allow us to say that co-sleeping causes SIDS".
  • NICE declare that they made this review because they were requested to do so by the Department of Health.

So how should we receive the proposed guidelines?

I think a slow hand clap is in order.

First let me say that I am absolutely in favour of parents being given evidence based advice that helps them to make decisions.

For my money, this apologetic set of draft guidelines is neither: In fact, they sit somewhere between "non-committal" and "politician on Newsnight".

They might make for some exciting headlines, but nothing in these news guidelines will help parents make informed choice or to guide midwives and health visitors in having a sensible discussion with new parents.

I have fallen asleep 1,698 times since I became a mother, and each night my last conscious thought is to pray that the spectre of SIDS stays away from our door.

For 956 of those days I have been a co-sleeping parent and while I found that it soothed my fears to have my babies asleep by my side, the lack of consistent safety advice has bothered me.

If you are in a similar position, and feel that co-sleeping is something you want to do, but are surrounded by hysteria, I'm afraid the new guidelines from NICE aren't going to help.

After a lot of searching, I would like to offer you an alternative: This article is filled with well referenced and comprehensive advice.

I offer it to you as a parent looking to co-sleep.

I offer it to any healthcare practitioner who is unsure of how to talk about co-sleeping.

Mostly though, I would like to offer it to NICE, who - despite having produced 77 pages of document - are no closer to helping parents co-sleep safely.

* SIDS accounts for approximately 250 of the 3,984 children who die in the UK each year.