New study concludes that parents should be warned against co-sleeping as it increases risk of death for infants. They report that almost half of infant deaths occurred in a bed-sharing environment.

This “study” is a prime example of how ridiculous conclusions are drawn by researchers, even where such conclusions cannot follow from their data. It was published in the prestigious journal Pediatrics and unfortunately, this study will be used by pediatricians as a basis to recommend against co-sleeping to their patients.

So let’s look at what’s really going on. The authors themselves, IN THE ACTUAL JOURNAL ARTICLE stated a limitation of the study is that “because there is no comparison group, risk cannot be determined.” This means that they acknowledge that they cannot conclude what they did in fact conclude. Sound confusing? There’s a good reason for that. Let’s take a look at why the researchers said that they cannot determine risk from the study without a comparison group:

Let’s imagine a study that pools data on those that die from heart attacks. It turns out, according to a database of 90,000 people across 35 states, that 95% of those that died of a heart attack brushed their teeth within 24 hours of the heart attack. Therefore, we need to warn the population of how dangerous tooth brushing can be.

Why does that conclusion sound absurd? Because had we compared people who had heart attacks to those that did not, we would probably find there was no correlation with tooth brushing and heart attacks. However, without that additional comparative data, it certainly sounds like something we should avoid [by the way, the heart attack data was fake … just an illustration : ) ].

Here is a humorous link on getting an understanding of the dangers of correlations without controls: http://tylervigen.com/

Finally, if we look at more objective data, it turns out that other cultures that co-sleep have some of the lowest SIDS rates: https://cosleeping.nd.edu/assets/31970/mckenna_why_babies_should_n.pdf

Co-sleeping is something we have evolved with for millennia. There are so many benefits to it and if any studies find significant associations with death, then we should ask ourselves if something else is going on. One common scenario is where the parent(s) were inebriated in some way. Its not likely that the parent is going to report that they were drunk and killed their child. Child services would be knocking the next day and taking the rest of their kids away (if they had any) and possibly bringing criminal prosecution against them. Most people will just say they don’t know what happened or blame it on something else. Another common potentially bad scenario is new bedding or beds/bedding that contain a lot of toxic chemicals (e.g., memory foam beds). This is also found mostly in adult beds in the US. Logically, co-sleeping should reduce the incidences of preventable deaths. Because the parents are in such close proximity to the child, they have a better chance of being clued into a problem. While logic doesn’t always pan out, in our opinion studies that defy logic should be pretty compelling to change an evolved, potentially protective and psychologically beneficial behavior such as co-sleeping.

If you are concerned about bed-sharing but like the concept, co-sleepers that attach to the bed are a good compromise. Another is this product.

Regardless, try to make sure your baby’s sleeping environment is as free of chemicals as possible. Our advice is to use only organic and preferably used items for infants. Make sure your bed is non-toxic if you are going to co-sleep.

citations:
http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2014/07/09/peds.2014-0401.full.pdf+html
http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/07/14/sids-risk-factors-change-with-age/12480055/
https://cosleeping.nd.edu/assets/31970/mckenna_why_babies_should_n.pdf
http://tylervigen.com/

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