The Co-Sleeping Campaign That Backfired Completely

CoSleeping Campaign Backfired

To co-sleep, or not to co-sleep…that’s a hot, debatable topic these days! Of course, we work with families all over the world, who sleep in a variety of arrangements, so we pass no judgment. We make it our priority to respect every parent’s personal philosophies and goals.

But we also make it a priority to emphasize the importance of safe sleep practices. And let’s face it, when it comes to co-sleeping, there is quite a debate out there about whether or not it’s a safe way to sleep.

The Overlooked Facts About Co-Sleeping

There’s a lot we could say about safe co-sleeping, but we’ve already made those points in this article, Is Co-Sleeping Dangerous?

But here’s the thing – we have learned a lot about how and why parents co-sleep in the years since the American Academy of Pediatrics issued its warnings about the dangers of bed-sharing in 2011. The AAP went to great lengths then to issue warnings about the dangers of co-sleeping…and some states (New York and Wisconsin, for example) have taken up the call by creating their own anti-co-sleeping campaigns. The goal was to staunch the rising tide of infant deaths related to bed-sharing, and some of the tactics used in this anti-co-sleeping campaign were downright disturbing (like this image of baby sleeping next to a meat cleaver).

But it’s looking more and more like these campaigns have not only failed to make a meaningful difference in co-sleeping rates — it’s looking more and more like they have backfiredand it’s easy to see why.

For one, most of these campaigns strongly emphasize the dangers of sharing a bed with your baby – but really, sharing a bed is far, far less dangerous than parents sharing a couch with their babies, or a recliner. As Dr. Melissa Bartick shared in a recent article with WBUR, in Boston,

“As states have adopted the AAP 2011 recommendations, the advice to never sleep with your baby has backfired in the worst possible way. Rather than preventing deaths, this advice is probably even increasing deaths. Included in 2009 study that the AAP even cited in its statement for other conclusions, parents of two SIDS babies who slept with their infant on a sofa did so because they had been advised against bringing their infants into bed but had not realized the dangers of sleeping on a sofa. In fact, deaths from SIDS in parental beds has halved in the UK from 1984-2004, but there has been a rise of deaths from cosleeping on sofas.”

And it’s becoming clearer and clearer that not all co-sleeping is equal. An attachment parent who is committed to co-sleeping, and who is incredibly intentional about her family’s sleeping arrangements, is not at all the same as a parent who simply collapses on the sofa with baby on her chest, out of sheer exhaustion. So to treat ALL co-sleeping as dangerous is really unfair; we know that intentional co-sleeping, done safely and carefully, is actually quite safe indeed.

And finally (and perhaps most importantly), here’s what is most revealing about how far short these anti co-sleeping campaigns have fallen: the evidence suggests that in spite of the AAP’s best efforts, over 40% of mothers report that they frequently or always share a sleep space with their child (and it’s likely the co-sleeping stats are grossly underestimated). The scare tactics simply aren’t working.

So what does this suggest? To us, it suggests that what we don’t need is a fear-based campaign designed to terrify mothers into not co-sleeping…instead, what we need is a comprehensive system to educate mothers about how to co-sleep safely and with intention, if they do choose to occasionally or frequently (or even always) share a sleeping space with their babies.

In some ways, this is similar to the sex education that many teenagers receive in school. (Okay, not totally similar, but stick with me here!) There is lots of evidence that abstinence-based sex ed, on its own, is not nearly as effective as programs that teach both the value of abstinence AND safe-sex practices. You simply can’t terrify or persuade teenagers into not having sex, and hope that works. It doesn’t.

Similarly, you can’t terrify moms into not co-sleeping – the evidence suggests that they will anyway. So what if, instead, we focused on educating moms about what safe co-sleeping practices look like?

The fact is, as Dr. James McKenna points out, co-sleeping has been around since the dawn of time. We will never eradicate it, and campaigns that are designed to dissuade parents from sharing a sleep space with their children are bound to fail – whereas campaigns designed to educate and inform can only succeed.

How To Co-Sleep Safely

With all this talk about how to co-sleep safely, you may be wondering, “How exactly DO I co-sleep safely, anyway?” Glad you asked! These resources are great ones, if you want to educate yourself about safe co-sleeping practices:

In the end, what we want to leave you with is this: there is no “right” or “wrong” sleeping arrangement for you and your baby, provided your sleeping arrangements are safe. Safe bed-sharing, safe room-sharing, safe crib-sleeping…it can all work! And your baby can sleep well, and peacefully, in any sleeping arrangement. The Baby Sleep Site® team is 100% committed to respecting your parenting goals, and your family’s sleeping arrangements, and we will work with you to improve your child’s sleep no matter what those arrangements look like. We will never pressure you to change you sleeping set-up; instead, we will work within the parameters you give us, and will respect them every step of the way.

Browse our list of consultation package options here.

What are your thoughts on co-sleeping? Any co-sleeping stories or tips to share?


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