Is a Family Bed Safe?

Making It Safer

Most mothers know at a gut level what kind of sleep situation they want their family to have. But even people who don't consider themselves co-sleepers are likely to drag their baby into bed with them for that 3:00 feeding or when the baby is sick and having a tough night. People are going to at least occasionally sleep with their children, no matter what the CPSC says, so the important thing is to teach them to do it safely.

A bed isn't designed for infant safety, so parents need to take certain steps. Based on the details available and a lot of guesswork on the part of investigators, the following are thought to be the main hazards of an adult bed for an infant and what you can do about them:

1. A mattress that's pushed up against something: If an infant rolls between a mattress and a wall, he can get stuck and suffocate. Data collected by the CPSC also indicates that some infants have gotten caught between mattresses and headboards or footboards, or between the bed and another piece of furniture, so it's crucial to be sure there aren't gaps in those areas. Your best bet? Don't use headboards or footboards for now, and position the entire bed at least a foot away from anything else.

2. Overlying: McKenna says that there's little to no risk of a healthy, sober parent rolling on top of a baby and causing suffocation. But parents who drink, do drugs, or even smoke cigarettes -- which increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) for their child -- should put their baby in a crib. In his new book, Good Nights (Griffin Trade Paperback), Jay Gordon, MD, also warns that an obese parent may not be as aware of his or her position in relation to the baby. Finally, keep older children from joining you in the bed -- they're less conscientious than adults.

3. Soft bedding: Anything soft is a suffocation risk for a baby who accidentally rolls over and can't roll himself back. If a baby gets stuck with his mouth against a fluffy comforter, for instance, he might not be able to breathe or will keep rebreathing the same air until there's no oxygen left. Put your comforter away and instead use light, cotton, breathable blankets (like the kind used in cribs), and never pull them above baby's waist. Or put your baby in a blanket sleeper, bundle yourself up, and put away your covers entirely. You may find you all sleep fine without them. It's best to forego pillows, too. Also be sure you're using a firm mattress. Never put your baby to sleep on a waterbed or a couch -- both are major suffocation hazards. Finally, keep your baby sleeping on his back.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

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