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

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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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About SarahOckwell-Smith

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Parenting author and mother to four.
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