Co-Sleeping with Baby: Is it Dangerous?

I remember a little of what it was like when I had just given birth to my first child: I was exhausted, all day and all night.  I distinctly recall attempting to sit up at night in a chair to nurse my baby, and almost dropping her--I was so tired I almost fell asleep in the chair while holding her.  In those days (ancient times), it was verboten to sleep with your baby.  Unheard of.  Even nursing was not fully accepted culturally, and my own mother-in-law was dismayed by my insistence on it.

Even though I tried to do what was accepted and considered the norm at the time, I just could not sit up in a chair at night, so I began nursing my baby lying down, in bed.  My D. H. would stagger up to get her out of the crib when she awoke, and bring her to me in bed, where she snuggled up to me and we both dosed off, she nursing happily.

I have been reading lately about how that is considered dangerous.  Two weeks ago there was an NPR report about co-sleeping, with a frightening ad campaign pushed by Milwaukee Health Commissioner Bevan Baker, which shows a baby sleeping in an adult bed, next to a meat cleaver.

Co-sleeping, or at least, baby sleeping in the same room as the mother, can promote successful breast-feeding and good sleep patterns in baby, and a closeness and warmth between baby and mother.  Skin-to-skin touching is so important to baby's sense of security and attachment development.  On the other hand, what does it do to preparing the baby to sleep in his or her own bed later on, if he's used to sleeping with parents from infancy? And is it true that the infant mortality rate is higher for co-sleeping babies? I know I personally do not regret the time I slept with my babies nearby in a bassinet when they were tiny, or when I took them into my bed to nurse them at night.  It promoted a closeness and bonding that is not as achievable if baby sleeps by himself in a crib (which doesn't seem quite natural to me, anyway).

There are pros and cons to sleeping with your baby, and I would love some feedback on this from experienced mothers and breastfeeding experts.  There seem to be pros and cons to this idea, although some form of co-sleeping has been done by mothers and babies for millenia.  So, what do you think?


Batya said…
With my first two, I dragged myself to the rockingchair to nurse at night, but the third was born in England. No rockingchair, and I finally developed a technique to nurse in bed. And I happily used that technique with the next two.
If there's a danger, it's from heavy blankets which can suffocate a baby. But fatal flukes and sids can happen when babies are alone in their cribs. I once rescued my eldest who had gotten caught in her blanket. It's best not to have babies sleep in separate rooms when they're little.
Trust your instincts. And kids do learn to sleep alone... without their parents.
Morah Betsy said…
We had a water bed and sleeping with baby would have been dangerous. But I did sleep with him on the couch on occasion. Most often I nursed him on the recliner and put him back in the crib.
Falling asleep on the couch with a baby is more dangerous than co-bedding.
The cases in Milwaukee were mainly of a) parents who were drunk or on drugs b) baby sleeping with non-parents c) babies sleeping with obese parents (not recommended)

There are safe and not-safe ways to sleep with a baby. Lots of babies die in cribs. Know the risks, keep the environment as safe as you can, and do what is right for your family. Life is not risk-free no matter where and how you sleep.
Hadassa said…
I would suggest that a parent who tends to rollover not sleep with a baby.
The warning that I received concerning co-sleeping was that breathing on the baby is dangerous because of the amount of CO2 inhaled by the baby. When my second child was born I was non-functional due to lack of sleep unless I co-slept with her. I carefully arranged the blankets and positioned myself so that I wasn't breathing on her.
Lady-Light said…
Thank you all for your interesting comments. Apologies for not having responded until now: limited time, planning a trip to Israel (soon), etc.
Mom in Israel, I especially appreciate your very informed comment, as I hadn't done the research on the Milwaukee cases-I just took their information on face value. Thank you for your remarks; your information changes the picture on the safety of co-sleeping, and helps parents make a more informed decision.
chiggles said…
There is a book, The Continuum Concept, by Jean (or maybe Janet) Liedloff, which is about such things spoken of here, albeit focused on one particular tribe (not one of the twelve, mind you), if I'm not mistaken.

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