ATTACHMENT PARENTING INTERNATIONAL CALLS ON GOVERNMENT TO DELAY CAMPAIGN WARNING PARENTS NOT TO SLEEP WITH THEIR BABIES
by API Staff

May 13, 2002 - A recent government report that warns parents not to sleep with their babies is misleading, according to Attachment Parenting International (API). API is a nonprofit member organization with nearly 100 parent support groups in the United States and four foreign countries.

API is calling on the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA) to delay their public campaign about the "hidden hazards of placing babies in adult beds" until more detailed medical research has been done on the issue.

"Millions of parents around the world share their beds safely with their babies every night," said Lysa Parker, executive director of API. "Our experience is that parents who follow safety guidelines for co-sleeping reap the benefits of better sleep cycles for mother and child, increased breastfeeding, and emotional bonding with their infants. Mothers have even saved their babies' lives by being close by when a sleeping baby stops breathing."

API submits that the CPSC's conclusion that bedsharing is innately hazardous jumps to conclusions that are not supported by their data.

Unreliable Data

There is disturbing evidence that the information upon which these definitive claims are made is incomplete, unreliable and misleading. API faults the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) for relying on inconsistent and incomplete data from death certificates, coroners' reports, newspaper clippings and other anecdotal sources instead of using comprehensive medical studies.

  • The CPSC's own fact sheet shows that 22% of the deaths "involved asphyxiation," but, by the CPSC's own admission, "no additional details were available" -- meaning the actual cause of death was not clearly determined to be a result of hazardous conditions; in fact, these do not seem clearly determined at all. Another 8% of the infants were found lying face down on the bed, but "it is unknown whether bedding (such as blankets, pillows, etc) were involved in these incidents." Thus, a full 30% of the 180 deaths do not conclusively result from a hazardous situation of the adult bed itself. Further data collection and analysis should be undertaken in order to more fully understand the causes of these deaths.
  • Fifteen of the deaths (another 8%) cited by the CPSC were from bedding-related incidents such as suffocation by pillows and blankets. These dangers are completely preventable when parents understand how to make a sleeping environment safe. Although the CPSC did not make this clear in its statement, these bedding-related risks also affect infants who sleep in cribs.
  • The information gathered from the CPSC's sources also fails to identify cases when parents may have used alcohol or drugs while sharing a bed with a baby. In addition, these reports do not indicate how many of the infants died while sleeping alone in a bed without parental supervision.
  • Experts have indicated that "overlying" is a notoriously difficult diagnosis to prove and there is tremendous variation how the term is used across the country. In addition, infants who are found in cribs are much more likely to receive a diagnosis of SIDS. It is nearly impossible, they say, to determine the exact cause of death without a full medical investigation.

Unknown Relative Risk

  • Without a sense of how many parents safely co-sleep with their children, we do not know the relative risk of sleeping with an infant. In other words, if millions of parents slept with their children without incident, then 60 per year, while tragic, is a relatively small number.
  • There is no mention of the number of children who died in cribs during this same time period. It is likely that many more children died of suffocation or other reasons in cribs than in adult beds, yet there is no move by the CPSC to ban cribs simply because children have died in them. Instead, they urge manufacturers and parents to make the cribs safer. The very same approach can and should be taken with co-sleeping. Parents should be educated about how to safely sleep with their babies by creating an environment that is free of hazards like fluffy bedding, gaps between the mattress and wall and unguarded bed edges.

Conflict of Interest

API also cites a conflict of interest in the campaign because it's co-sponsored by JPMA, a trade association representing crib manufacturers, which stands to profit from increased crib sales. The announcement by the CPSC helped launch a national campaign which intends to distribute their warning in the form of pamphlets, posters and video news clips to health care facilities, retail outlets and grassroots organizations.

"Our experience is that parents are looking for good information from medical authorities," said API's Parker. "The opinion of a trade industry group that sells cribs is not a valid substitute for solid medical research. API supports efforts to promote a safe sleeping environment for infants. However, rather than banning the family bed, let's make this a campaign that informs parents about how to share a bed safely with their babies."

Guidelines for safe bedsharing:

  • Place an infant to sleep on their back
  • Place infant beside mother rather than between mother and father
  • Use a large firm bed and take precautions to prevent baby from falling out of the bed
  • Do not sleep with infant on a water bed or couch
  • Do not place an infant to sleep alone on an adult bed
  • Do not use a lot of pillows and fluffy bedding
  • Do not share a bed with your baby if under the influence of drugs, alcohol, over-the-counter cold or allergy medications or if you are extremely sleep deprived
  • Siblings or baby-sitters should not sleep with an infant

API urges the CPSC to look at the relative risks of sleeping environments, as well as the benefits of co-sleeping. The very public use of poor data is not in the best interest of parents or the infants the CPSC seeks to protect. Parker says that "API calls for an objective, comprehensive, and independent report which analyzes the relative risk of all types of sleeping environments. Only when that is available can the CPSC truly assist parents in making the best decisions for their family."

For more information on the CPSC recommendations, see our website: http://www.attachmentparenting.org/