Cosleeping and SIDS

In 1963, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) became a medical concern, and the death rate was two to three babies per 1,000 live births in most Western nations. Epidemiological research in the ‘70s and ‘80s identified factors that co-occurred with SIDS, especially stomach sleeping and sleeping with adults. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics took their cue, and all pediatricians recommended that babies be put to sleep on their backs, separately from adults. The SIDS rates began to decline.

At the same time, researchers observed that SIDS is lowest in cultures where cosleeping is most common. During the vulnerable age of two to three months when voluntary breathing comes online (and SIDS peaks), the close supervision and presence of the adult may be especially important if the baby has a glitch in the development of her breathing mechanics.

What to do? Research over the last 30 years revealed that the risk of bedsharing can be managed when it is done safely—when the infant is placed on her back and cannot become entrapped in loose furniture or bedding, in a nonsmoking environment, where parents are fully aware of where the baby is and where their own body is. Safety precautions like these have lowered the incidence of SIDS to fewer than one baby per 1,000 live births.

See the American Academy of Pediatrics’s recommendations for safe infant sleep here, and McKenna’s recommendations here.