Police Warn Against Co-Sleeping In Wake Of 3 Infant Deaths, But Co-Sleeping Isn’t The Issue

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cute-baby-sleeping-cribCo-sleeping is a permanent fixture in the parenting world, even as more and more people come out against it, but there seems to be some confusion as to what co-sleeping actually entails. Often when co-sleeping is demonized what’s actually being talked about is bed-sharing. Case in point: Des Moines police are urging parents to stop co-sleeping with their babies after medical examiners determined bed-sharing was a factor in three seperate infant deaths in one week.

According to USA Today, three infants in Iowa have died of apparent suffocation within the past week after sharing a bed with their parents. The county medical examiner said investigations into the specific causes of the deaths are still pending, but that co-sleeping with an adult was a significant factor. He also stressed that Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) has already been ruled out as a cause.

When they say co-sleeping, what they actually mean is bed-sharing. Bed-sharing — an infant sleeping in bed with their parents — is a form of co-sleeping, but not every parent who co-sleeps also bed-shares. According to, co-sleeping can be divided into two categories: bed-sharing and room-sharing. Room-sharers, which is what I did, sleep in the same room as their infant, but not in the same bed. In our case, I slept with the baby in their crib beside me.

Room-sharing is encouraged by many, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, while bed-sharing tends to be more controversial. There are safe ways to bed-share, of course, but there’s no guarantee that everyone will listen to the safety guidelines or even know that they exist. A lot of that has to do with the way it’s talked about in public.

The emphasis on demonizing bed-sharing — especially when referring to it solely as co-sleeping, as though the terms are interchangeable — does nothing to educate people about their options or how to safely exercise their right to choose how their baby sleeps. If anything, proper co-sleeping, as in sharing a room with your baby, should be encouraged and bed-sharing should be thoroughly explained so parents understand how to do it correctly.

There is a “right way” to bed-share: infants should be on their backs on a flat surface, beside their parents but not between them, and there should be no cracks or crevices. There should also be guards to ensure the infant doesn’t fall out of the bed, or you could do what many parents do and just put your mattress on the floor and push it into a corner. You should be sober (obviously) and there shouldn’t be heavy blankets and pillows near the infant.

Police, medical professionals, and parenting experts can come out against “co-sleeping” as much as they want, but that’s not going to stop people from bed-sharing if they really want to, and it runs the risk of discouraging all forms of co-sleeping when sharing a room can actually be beneficial. We should be giving parents the tools to make safe choices and making sure they’re aware of all the options. An important part of that is using the right words to explain what we’re talking about.

(Photo:  / Shutterstock)