Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Fear mongering is NOT a public service
He handed me the bib.
It read: “Babies Sleep Safest Alone.”
I took it, thanked him, and used the blue-fringed bit of cloth to clean the toilet.
“Babies sleep safest with mommies who wake up to their needs,” I muttered to myself, knowing full and well that some mommies and daddies are able to do their best jobs as parents when their infants are crying it out down the hall.
I don’t judge. How could I? They know themselves better than I do. They know their kids better than I do, too. I don't believe they are inflicting harm on their children. By the same token, however, I also think parents who have adopted the family bed sleep style - those who have made the informed decision to do so, anyway - are not endangering their kids’ lives in the least.
My vantage point in this belief comes from being on both sides of the debate: Our first baby thrashed and squawked until she was put down in her own crib next to our bed. It seemed pretty natural. She was still in our room, and I would wake up at the slightest sound to check on her in the night. She moved to her own room at around a year, and we all started sleeping through the night again. The doctor assured us, if she needed us we'd know.
The second baby wanted to be held and cuddled and soothed. Perhaps it was the circumstance of a rough recovery from his birth and my inability to get up and down for night feedings that made him accustomed to my constant presence. For the most part he slept soundly in the crook of my arm or on my chest where I could not only hear but feel him breathe.
I can't report whether either of my kids' sleep patterns are good or bad or normal or abnormal; all I can say SHE still wakes up some nights and finds her way into our room, and HE is he is a BABY. He sleeps like a baby. But he won't be a baby forever.
So ... the long and short of it is this: I've become fond of co-sleeping. I think when done correctly, it can rewarding. I think parents should consider it one option of many.
The American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t agree. It has come out solidly against co-sleeping for reasons of safety. Joining it in its efforts are the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission and – not so surprisingly – the Juvenile Products Manufacturing Association (the association for people who make cribs).
Between the lot of them was devised this four word campaign of public disservice.
While acknowledging that co-sleeping is widespread in many cultures, the AAP notes that “what’s often overlooked is that in countries where co-sleeping is routinely practiced, families almost never sleep in beds with soft mattresses and bulky covers. A baby may be less likely to smother when the family sleeps on a floor mat with only a light coverlet.”
However what the AAP overlooks seems mind boggling.
It seems as best as I can tell from reading, the reasoning all hinges on a three-year study in which 180 children (in an age range containing 12 million) died in bed with their parents or siblings. It makes no mention of the circumstances surrounding the deaths: Who was the adult? Mother? Father? Babysitter? Were they obese? Were they intoxicated? Taking medication that causes them to sleep more deeply than normal? And it doesn’t compare information from the same time frame that shows thousands of children died in cribs.
What’s really in play here is the imperfect world.
*We cannot know which parents will drink too much or abuse drugs.
*We cannot know how medications will cause each person to react.
*We cannot know who is in an abusive relationship, and who might turn to infanticide if stress becomes unbearable.
*We know there ARE dangers. There ARE reasons people SHOULDN'T co-sleep even if they want to.
And since we cannot know those individual things we, therefore, cannot condone. We'd rather put our overwhelming trust behind manufacturers to keep us safe. We'd rather trust an increasingly overburdened and financially strapped government agency to inspect and verify the goods.
The question I really don't understand is why? Why do we look at the family bed deaths of 180 infants, shake our heads and mount campaigns while thousands of infants die, alone, in cribs, and not draw the conclusion that EVERY SLEEP SITUATION HAS THE POTENTIAL FOR HAZARD?
According to one report, more infants die each year in house fires than died in adult beds for all three years of the study, many of whom might have been saved if their parents could have reached them.
It shouldn't be lost on us that it is the AMERICAN Academy of Pediatrics is in America where we have real issues with societal norms and differences. Nor that the AAP's precautions about sleeping arrangements go beyond the immediate safety concerns into the more social ones as to why it believes parents are co-sleeping in the first place: It suggests that parents who can’t afford to purchase a safe crib should be directed to financial aid; if the parent is sleeping with the child to “offset loneliness” it suggests counseling. It even goes as far to recommend that babies can be buffers when the marriage is troubled, and again recommends counseling.
All of these things make sense when looking at both hard data and anecdotal evidence, especially if you infer that their target audience is the poor, the illiterate or the potentially drug addicted. Or if you believe that coddling babies is making America soft.
But the truth -- especially about safety and sleep -- can't be gotten to in four words.
The real public service would be to explain how to we can be safer in whatever choices we make. How we can make the best choices for our own individual lives.
The only problem seems to be that the information won’t easily fit on a bib.