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Bedsharing & SIDS – Why We Have it All Wrong

So today Carpenter et al published a horribly unreliable and flawed analysis of bedsharing. This scaremongering piece of ‘science’ (I use that term loosely) does not add to public understanding of the safety of bedsharing – far from it, it shrouds it in more myth and mystery and, in my opinion, is incredibly dangerous.

Why dangerous you ask? Their bold statement that bedsharing is 5 times more dangerous than a baby sleeping in it’s own sleep space may be incorrect (more later), but worse than being incorrect it is a claim that will doubtless scare thousands of tired and highly vulnerable new parents around the world. Those very parents who through sheer exhaustion are liable to fall asleep on a sofa with their baby, or in bed at night after a long night feed, babe in arms surrounded by fluffy pillows and cushions, perhaps their systems full of the opiate based analgesic they are still taken to recover from their C-Section. Two highly dangerous sleeping arrangements I’m sure you’ll agree? Two highly dangerous sleeping arrangements that COULD HAVE BEEN AVOIDED if they had known the REAL risks of bedsharing and how to minimise them.

You see the Carpenter research has many flaws, aside from the damaging call to action they propose they have just missed far too many variables for the research to be considered of any use to society. These missing variables are:

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Now publishing research, and even worse – public health advice, based on missing variables is not only stupid, it’s dangerous.

Consider this scenario:

LATEST NEWS: RESEARCH SAYS DRIVING CARS IS DANGEROUS – NEVER DO IT!!!

Today, new research just in says that driving cars is so dangerous that you should never do it, so many people are likely to die in car accidents that today’s information strongly suggests that all humans should be told cars are deadly and they should stop sitting in them immediately. We have looked at things that make driving supposedly safer, like making sure your car is in good condition, not drinking and driving and passing your driving test, so we can assure this this information is valid.

drive

Imagine if this ‘research’ forgot a few points, say:

  • The effect of prescription medication that makes you drowsy
  • The effect of driving when you are overly tired
  • The effect of driving for hours on end without a break
  • The effect of driving whilst talking on a mobile phone
  • The effect of driving without your glasses if you wear them
  • The effect of driving well into your pensioner years with failing eyesight and reactions

Now clearly this research into car safety would need to be discounted – there are just too many, vital, safety variables they didn’t include (because previous research didn’t study them). In fact if research like this came out there would be a public outcry “This is STUPID – what on earth are they talking about?”

Get where I’m going? Hey, I don’t want to be rude and call Carpenter et al. stupid, but hmmmmm you’ve gotta wonder what they were thinking when they sent out their press release to the world’s media. I’m only a Psychology undergrad and even *I* can see the mega holes in their research – peer review you say? Hmmmmmmmm

mom

The REAL Way Forward.

Just in my driving example above – the REAL key is INFORMATION, information, information…..inform people of the risks, the benefits and importantly how to minimise those risks. Just as in the driving example if we’re taking prescription meds the PIL says “do not drive or operate heavy machinery whilst taking this medication” – they need to add “do not share a bed with an infant”. Cigarette packets need to feature information “If you smoke in pregnancy and/or afterwards it is highly dangerous for you sleep with your infant” and so on.

Currently ‘the powers that be’ are not getting this important information out. The fact of the matter is parents will ALWAYS sleep with their babies (indeed research estimates that 60-80% will do so at least once!), this sort of research and message is NOT going to stop that – but (and it’s a big but) what it will do is stop them from understanding how to do so with as little risk to the infant as possible.

In my opinion it is vital that we stop this circular science and instead focus on how to help those parents who still wish to share a bed with their baby and to educate those who may do so accidentally.

THIS is a good starting point.

Sarah Ockwell-Smith

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Posted on May 21, 2013, in Babies and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. And a car journey is statistically dangerous for children too! But the prof said nothing about that.

  2. No mention of the effect of vaccinations either, I would like to see a study on that.

  3. When a baby or small child is ill, even if the yUSUALLY sleep in a cot, I would say over 90% of patents would put their child in bed with them to keep them closeby/safe/respond to needs asap….says it all really!

  4. Mum2BabyInsomniac

    Best article I’ve read in the subject so far. Love the comparison to driving a car, it’s so true.

  5. Excellent article. I read the Carpenter report & felt there just wasn’t enough info to go “banning” bed-sharing full stop. With my first (2007), and third (2013) I was actively given advice on how to safely bed-share by my midwife/ health visitor – surely better to trust them as they had first hand knowledge of my personal situation?

  6. I did a university literature review on SIDS and the information was scary. It’s much more probable that a second or third hand mattress will increase the risk of SIDS than anything else. I still co sleep with my son who is almost 10 months and have done since the day he was born.

  7. Hello, I think you should also mention one of the most fundamental flaws raised by reviewer Peter Blair (bmjopen.bmj.com/content/3/5/e002299.reviewer-comments.pdf), namely that the available drug and alcohol data is very sparse.

    If a small proportion of the co-sleeping SIDS death parents did not admit that they used alcohol or drugs — perhaps because of the massive feelings of guilt any parent might feel after their baby has died — then that would more than explain the statistical effect observed. It’s generally very difficult for studies to obtain honest answers about drugs, even in non-traumatic situations.

  8. Hey Sarah
    Another perfect post in response to this issue, thank you. Hopefully the collection of bloggers bringing up the flaws in the Carpenter study will redress the balance ever so slightly!
    x

  9. I suppose, because co-sleeping has been generally advised against, the studies about how easy it is to get your child to sleep in their own bed/bedroom and at what stage/age have not been done? I would think this is a mother’s primary reason for not planning to co-sleep. In reality, if you breastfeed it is almost impossible not to slip into it at some stage – even if it is only for an odd night. Advice on doing it safely is therefore essential. (Although pillows and duvets were all present in my case and fortunately my three children survived through it)

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