Infant Bed Deaths Rising: Is ‘Cosleeping’ an Issue?

Pinrels, by Daquella manera / Daniel Lobo, via Flickr

Pinrels, by Daquella manera / Daniel Lobo, via Flickr

In the May issue of AJN Bunny Wong writes about the recently reported rise in infant bed deaths over a 20-year period. From 1984 to 2004, the rate of deaths resulting from accidental strangulation and suffocation of infants quadrupled.

The most important question, of course, is: why? Wong writes:

Although the authors conclude that the reason for the increase in deaths is “unknown,” a few suspects have emerged. One is improved identification methods: what once would have been classified as “cause unknown” is now filed under suffocation and strangulation. The other is cosleeping (bed sharing), which became popular during roughly the same 20-year period as the one in which the infant deaths increased; in the study, 53.3% of the 2003–04 cases reported bed sharing.

Wong also spoke with Diane L. Spatz, associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing. She said that nurses should remember that cosleeping, among other benefits, may encourage breastfeeding, and “unless we know concretely that

[the deaths are] due to cosleeping, I don’t think it’s wise to place the blame there.” Nurses, she said, should have “honest conversations with families about any practices that may put the child at risk.”

Since we went to press with Wong’s story, several news sources and blogs have reported infant deaths, pondered the reasons for them, and debated the cosleeping issue.

• The Los Angeles Times reports that in Los Angeles cosleeping “was blamed for 42 deaths in 2007.”

• Written by a pediatrician, a blog called MomLogic discusses four recent Wisconsin deaths of infants blamed on cosleeping. Also in Wisconsin, the city of Milwaukee has launched a campaign against cosleeping.

• Physician Kristie Leong lays out the pros and cons of sharing a bed with an infant on the blog Beyond Jane.  She suggests that parents might find a compromise in placing the infant’s crib in their bedroom.

• But when is that safe? The Washington Post blog says that that cribs are “not the safe sleeping environments we all imagine them to be.”

Nurses, tell us your opinions and experiences with this issue. Should parents sleep with their infants? Do you recommend the practice to your patients?

–Joy Jacobson, AJN managing editor

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2016-11-21T13:27:31+00:00 May 29th, 2009|Nursing|2 Comments

About the Author:

Former senior editor at AJN.

2 Comments

  1. Mary K May 29, 2009 at 9:20 pm

    I did attachment parenting with both my children. That included co-sleeping and breastfeeding at night with my daughter and son (15 months and 27 months, respectively). I am an adult nurse practitioner.

    An investigation into the events surrounding “co-sleeping deaths” might reveal that:
    1. some of the infants were sleeping with parents on a couch or sofa;
    2. some of the infants were sleeping with siblings;
    3. some of the infants were sleeping with non-parent adults; and
    4. some of the infants were sleeping with parents who were impaired (either with alcohol or recreational drugs).

    I would imagine that very few of the infant deaths involving co-sleeping actually occurred outside of these conditions. That is why it is important to learn how to co-sleep safely and successfully.

  2. Angela S May 29, 2009 at 12:25 pm

    Spatz is a wise woman. Instead of campaigns that demonize cosleeping, why not teach parents how to do it safely? The rest of the world, or the mammalian species, does not seem to have this issue. . .why do U.S. parents?

    I already fired one pediatrician who told me that my child was going to die in my bed. Surely she’s never had a patient who died, alone, in his or her crib.

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