According to recent research, staggering numbers of parents misrepresent their sleeping habits in regards to one very hot button parenting issue—bed-sharing.
You've almost certainly heard the warnings against bed sharing, which has been called out as a contributor to SIDS rates. But do you choose (or find yourself) sleeping next to your newborn anyway? If so, you're not alone—the issue of parents and babies sleeping in the same bed is a hotly debated one, and many moms still prefer to do it, despite stern warning from medical professionals. But according to a recent study, parents aren't just choosing to bed-share—they're also lying about the choice.
The truth about bed-sharing
Sarah Rockwell Smith, a parenting expert and author of Why Your Baby's Sleep Matters is among those who don't see bed-sharing as a black and white issue. Contrary to what so many experts and medical organizations advise, Smith believes it's more important to educate parents about the safest ways to bed-share than it is to prohibit the practice entirely. She's commissioned the study in question and its findings seem to prove she's not the only one who challenges commonly held beliefs about the dangers of bed-sharing.
For this study, 600 mothers were polled. The results indicated that 46 percent of the moms observed do sleep alongside their babies...but don't admit that to their doctors. According to Smith, it might be because they worry about judgment from medical experts.
"The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence [in the U.K.] don't say, 'don't bed share,'" Smith told the Daily Mail. "They say parents should be helped to make an informed choice. Lots of health professionals are completely misinterpreting this and telling parents not to do it. I'm just really worried that by telling people not to do it they're putting more babies at risk. Surely it makes more sense for parents to know how to do it correctly."
While there are certainly many medial experts who firmly believe that bed-sharing is best avoided, and the National Institutes of Health firmly insists that babies should not share a bed with an adult, there are doctors like Prudence Hall, M.D., an OBGYN at The Hall Center in Santa Monica, who agree with Smith's view.
"I love mothers co-sleeping with their infants. It is not natural to put a small and helpless child in another bed or room away from her mother's warmth and heartbeat," Dr. Hall told Fit Pregnancy. "Ancient and tribal civilizations have always co-slept with their children, giving their little ones the vital connection to oneness and unity. When I was a young obstetrician pregnant with my first child, I was doing a cesarean section and got into a discussion with the well-known pediatrician attending the birth. He told me that due to co-sleeping, his practice had never experienced a SIDS case even once in 15 years. I was so impressed that all three of my children co-slept with me and my husband for many years."
Dr. Hall believes there are benefits to bed-sharing—and her argument is one many moms will find all too relatable. "Having my children tucked in next to me allowed me to sleep more securely and I knew with certainty that the energy, stroking and nursing my infants received created strong emotional attachments. With me being a hard-working doctor, I imagine they might not have bonded so securely and become so successful and independent if I hadn't put in our co-sleeping time together," she said.
So how would Dr. Hall react if a patient admitted to bed-sharing? "Over the years I have encouraged all my new mothers to do what felt natural to them. To cuddle, sleep next to, nurse until age three or four and whatever else made them be loving mothers...the timing of when co-sleeping stops is usually a mutually negotiated time between the parents and child. Some children need more time; others less, and parents need their own time too," she said.
But Dr. Hall does agree that bed-sharing should be done carefully. "The baby should sleep on the mothers side of the bed and not between parents. No mother will fall on her child, but I couldn't vouch for a father. A mother's awareness of an infant is ever vigilant and while nursing, they are not consuming alcohol, which could cause less sleep awareness," she said.
So there you have it—the topic of bed-sharing is a complicated one, and parents and experts alike are bound to have complicated views on it. With that being said, if you're one of those moms who is afraid to report your bed-sharing habits to your doctor, it's worth coming clean. It's better to have an honest conversation and keep your baby safe.