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Cosleeping in the Media: They're Still at It

By Linda F. Palmer, DC

The New York Times recently took the opportunity to provide us with some great news from a new study: Cosleeping in the US has doubled since 1993 --- from 5.5 to 12.8 percent. But, while the NIH report was neutral in nature, the Times just couldn't bring themselves to show us what good news this statistic could be.

The article also quotes that almost 1/3rd of Asian-American and African-American infants are regularly sleeping in adult beds, while only 10% of whites are. Overall, nearly half of all babies were spending at least some time in adult beds. While they quoted a couple of healthy-parenting experts on the cozy and sleep-saving benefits of cosleeping, they still had to print only this in regards to the safety issue: "The same results worry safety experts, who say the practice causes suffocation."

While many of the so-called safety experts won't be changing their croon due to ties with formula and crib industries, others have little chance of improving their understanding when one-sided information is constantly presented by the press.

The Times went on to quote a Dr. Bradley Thatch, professor of pediatrics at the Washington University School of Medicine, as saying he was "in the camp that thinks it's dangerous. In 50 percent of the sudden infant deaths in St. Louis, and 70 percent of those among blacks, bed-sharing was involved."

Well, Dr. Thatch, if you were to read other studies, you would learn that there is "good bed-sharing" and "risky bed-sharing." When the adult-bed sleeping infant is not accompanied by a conscientious, non-smoking adult, SIDS is higher.

It seems as though the Times had to look for someone experienced with a high-risk population in order to find a good quote. The population Dr. Thatch has studied is one classified as having many more teenage pregnancies and many impoverished areas with low education rates. More smoking, drinking, and drug use are expected in these populations on the whole. Along with St. Louis' large proportion of African-Americans, all of these groups are typically associated with more formula feeding (another high risk factor for SIDS). All of these populations have also been shown to have very high rates of bed-sharing, but more often with unsafe practices.

With a high level of risk factors, cosleeping can result in higher SIDS rates than crib-sleeping. With 50 to likely 70 percent of the St. Louis infant population sleeping in adult beds at least part of the time, many with higher-risk behaviors, it's no wonder that 50 to 70% of their SIDS deaths are found to have "bed-sharing involved."

Many studies have been performed to try to solve the puzzle of the sad SIDS rates in African-Americans. These suggest that the differences are associated with differing behaviors. African-Americans are still placing their babies to sleep in the prone position at very high rates. Prenatal care rates are low (a known risk-factor for SIDS), and low-weight births are far higher. One study reports that softer bedding and pillows are also more-often found in this at-risk population. This high SIDS rates is not reflected in many parts of Africa, where more natural parenting behaviors are practiced.

While equal percentages of Asian-Americans are regularly cosleeping, their SIDS rates are very low --- less than 1/4th the rate of African-American populations. Clearly, cosleeping itself is not the culprit.

It is important for us to know that certain populations typically have riskier bed-sharing practices, (and these need to be addressed in the proper frame of reference), but when worldwide statistics demonstrate how much safer cosleeping can be than crib sleeping --- when without smoke and drugs, and even better when accompanied by breastfeeding --- there is no benefit to making a blanket statement against cosleeping. Those who practice conscientious cosleeping for the increased emotional and physical wellbeing of their children (and for better sleep) should not be frightened and misled by one-sided, sensational, and inaccurate information.


McNeil, Donald G. Jr., "More Babies Share Beds With Parents." The New York Times, 2003 Jan 14.

Willinger M, et. al., "Trends in infant bed sharing in the United States, 1993-2000: the national infant sleep position study." Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 2003 Jan;157(1):43-9.

Mathews TJ, et. al., "Infant mortality statistics from the 1999 period linked birth/infant death data set." Natl Vital Stat Rep 2002 Jan 30;50(4):1-28.

Johnson CM, et. al., "Infant sleep position: A telephone survey of inner-city parents of color." Pediatrics 1999 Nov;104(5 Pt 2):1208-11.

Papacek EM, et. al., "Differing postneonatal mortality rates of African-American and white infants in Chicago: an ecologic study." Matern Child Health J 2002 Jun;6(2):99-105.

Palmer, Linda F., Baby Matters, What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Caring for Your Baby, (Lancaster Ohio: Lucky Press, 2001), 87-97

Palmer, Linda F., "Cosleeping and SIDS Fact Sheet." Jan 2003.

© Copyright 2002 Dr. Linda Folden Palmer, All rights reserved

Linda Folden Palmer, DC, is the author of a healthy parenting book. See more about Linda.


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"The media have become the mainstream culture in children's lives. Parents have become the alternative. Americans once expected parents to raise their children in accordance with the dominant cultural messages. Today they are expected to raise their children in opposition to it."
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