Deadly Co-Sleeping Case Causes More Debate For Bed-Sharing Advocates

Co-SleepingCo-sleeping is a ferociously debated topic in the parenting community. Even here at Mommyish, we have some parents who choose to cuddle up with their little ones, while others heed the American Academy of Pediatrics warnings about the dangers involved in sharing a bed with your children. Often, the sleep debate is influenced by family tradition (people have been sharing beds with their kids for hundreds of years) or parenting philosophies (attachment parenting firmly supports co-sleeping). Then there are tragic stories like this one that underscore just why the AAP is so firm in their stance. A Utah couple charged with child abuse homicide and reckless endangerment after their second child died from co-sleeping just lost their appeal and will be facing a jury. Trevor Collet Merrill and Echo J. Nielsen are charged with quite simply “killing their baby by sleeping with him.” If that doesn’t send a chill up the spine of those cuddling up to their infants at night, I’m not sure much can.

These parents, both 28, were not drinking or taking any dangerous medication when their fatal accidents occurred, though they are both said to be “heavy sleepers.” Often, co-sleeping supporters maintain that the practice is safe as long as parents follow certain guidelines, which include staying away from sleep aids  and alcohol. Perhaps the most shocking thing about this case is that the couple’s daughter died of “positional asphyxia” in 2003. Then, they proceeded to co-sleep with their son Kayson in 2006. It ended in the same tragedy as before. This couple lost one child do to a practice that doctors deem dangerous and then preceded to do the same thing with their next infant.

This story reminds many of the case against a Texas couple, Mark and Vanessa Clark, who were charged with endangering their child after their second baby died during the night, apparently due to co-sleeping. Their 39-day-old baby boy’s death was considered an accident, though co-sleeping was the culprit. The Clarks had to attend a mandatory Safe Sleep training given by Child Protective Services. Then, their second child died while co-sleeping.

I think my biggest question in these two cases might be, “Is there any way to convince these people that co-sleeping is dangerous?” If the loss of a child doesn’t cause you to change your behavior, could jail-time really deter you? Obviously more education is necessary to discuss the dangers of this practice and why it continues to be so prevalent. Even the medical community is slightly fractured, with some renegade doctors trying to show the positives of sleeping with your young children. Dr. Nils Bergman of the University of South Africa, Cape Town says that co-sleeping reduces children’s stress and therefore helps brain development.

But while parents and pediatricians fight it out, I think the most important fact to consider isn’t whether these couples broke the law, it’s that four infants died due to a parenting practice that we can’t agree on. These families lost their children, which has to be so much more heart-wrenching than the possibility of legal action.

Co-sleeping is definitely a serious debate and people feel passionately on both sides of the issue. But those poor children have to weigh pretty heavily on the minds of everyone who wants to argue about safe sleeping. I’m sure that advocates on both sides of the issue will be watching this trial closely to see what the courts believe about co-sleeping and its inherent dangers.

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