Thursday, March 1, 2012

Co-Sleeping, Babywearing- Frugality at the Expense of Safety?

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I have a weekly column on frugality in an international magazine, and I wrote an article not so dissimilar to from my article I wrote on Baby Bare Basics, and oh boy, did that cause controversy.
A few negative letters to the editor about my piece were written and printed, and on top of that, I was privy to whole long discussions on facebook about my article on my friends' facebook walls where people (who didn't know I was able to read what they were saying) said things like "I feel sorry for her kids; they're going to have to go through lots of therapy, being raised so deprived like that" and "Oh my, she really went too far- she cares more about frugality than the safety of her kids!"
And yes, the letters to the editor printed were about exactly that- accusing me of reckless behavior in the name of frugality, especially in terms of baby wearing in a homemade baby carrier and co-sleeping instead of using a crib. Don't I know that co-sleeping kills? Don't I know that babies can get really injured in a homemade baby carrier? Why am I advocating doing dangerous things?

In a way, I was really bothered by those accusations, that people really felt I cared more about a few bucks than about my kids safety. I mean, I wasn't too upset, because I knew that wasn't true- I certainly do care about my kids safety, health, and well being (if I didn't, why would I spend more money to have healthier foods?), I just don't necessarily buy into what the medical establishment says, like when they say co-sleeping is a terrible idea and I can very easily kill my kid by doing that.
Because I know things aren't as clear cut as "the books" and "the studies" make it out to be, I feel totally comfortable co-sleeping with my baby, confident enough in its safety to advocate it to others. But others don't always know this information, that there actually are studies proving the opposite, so I wrote a piece on safety vis a vis frugality, specifically focusing on the safety of co-sleeping and baby wearing, and I put a lot of research work into the article, and it was accepted very well... and I wanted to share it with you, so you too can benefit from this information.

So, here it is.

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In the past few weeks, a maelstrom broke out, inspired by an article I wrote on the bare basics that a baby truly needs, accusing me of putting frugality before the well-being of my children, and suggesting that others do the same. Specifically, the points which garnered the most criticism were my advocating co-sleeping as a safe sleeping option and using a homemade baby carrier made from T-shirt fabric. Is money everything? Am I willing to put my kids in harm's way just to save a few dollars?

Heavens no.

While living within your means is very important, safety and health are paramount. I would never advocate sacrificing your life or your child's life on the altar of frugality.

As mothers, we all want the absolute best for our children; none of us would knowingly put our kids in harm's way. However, I don't think there's any parent out there who can unequivocally state that her kids never, ever were in a situation less than ideal. We all have finite resources, whether emotional, monetary, or time, and therefore no one can give their child everything, but we do the best we can with the tools we have to provide the best possible life for our children.

But assuming we even had the resources to provide only the best for our family, is there even a way to know 100% what is actually best for our children? Despite people making claims that certain things are dangerous, there's no consensus on what is absolutely safest for a baby; often eliminating one risk increases risks of another. In life, we can't eliminate risk 100%, we just choose which risks we're more comfortable with taking, which we feel are less dangerous, but nothing is absolutely free of danger.
When people do things against the standard, they aren't saying “I don't care if my child is harmed”; usually they make their unorthodox decision because they feel that that is how their child will be safest, even if some other parents feel that a different choice is a better bet. For example, one parent might decide to put their family on a sugar free, chemical free, organic diet because they want to give them the healthiest diet possible to keep their body strong, while another parent might do the exact opposite because they feel that such a restrictive diet will harm their kid emotionally, making them feel deprived, and possibly get them socially ostracized, which the parent feels is more harmful to a developing child than eating foods and additives that the FDA deems safe. One parent might not give their kid independence until an older age, fearing that if she allows her child to do certain things at a young age she'll get hurt, while another parent might allow her kids some independence earlier, because she feels that if she is overprotective her child won't learn proper ways to handle life's challenges and might end up injured because of it.


(Note: What I didn't share there was that some people, like myself, homebirth because we feel it is much safer, and others birth in hospitals because they feel it is safer there. I figured that if this article was supposed to help calm the letter writers, talking about homebirth would only ignite the flames again...)

More than 50% of parents in the US co-sleep with their children at least part time or full time, according to the last national survey, despite hospitals and pediatricians warning of the dangers inherent in co-sleeping. Are these parents co-sleeping because of negligence, because they simply don't care enough about the safety of their children to do the right thing and not co-sleep? Or could it possibly be that the topic of co-sleeping isn't nearly as clear cut as people would like it to be?

There are three different types of sleeping arrangements, all entitled co-sleeping, and its important to differentiate between the three: babies sleeping in a crib/bassinet in their parents' room (room sharing), babies sleeping in their parents' bed (bed-sharing), and babies sleeping on a couch with their parent (sofa cosleeping). From a safety standpoint, its important to point out that any form of co-sleeping decreases the risk of SIDS by half! Most babies who die from co-sleeping die from sofa-cosleeping, as this form of co-sleeping is incredibly dangerous and should never be done. The other forms of co-sleeping are not nearly as dangerous, and might even be safer than sleeping in a crib, provided you follow certain safety precautions.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently published a study showing that over the course of 19 years, there have been an average of 9,500 injuries and 100 deaths dealt with each year in emergency rooms related to cribs, bassinets, and playpens, with the majority of the injuries being caused by cribs. Cribs are not 100% safe and by putting your kids to sleep in a crib, you are increasing the risk of your child getting a crib related injury. (See below to see how to eliminate risks related to crib sleeping.) Nothing is risk free in life. Not even crib sleeping.

Dr James McKenna, Ph.D. world renowned expert on infant sleep, director of the Mother Baby Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame has discovered that when a mother bed-shares, not only are the risks of crib sleeping eliminated, there are also certain health benefits, both for the mother and for the baby, specifically related to bed sharing. For example, bed sharing increases the amount of night time feedings, and along with that, increases the amount of antibodies that the infant gets through the milk, making his immune system stronger and potentially reducing risk of illnesses. Since bed sharing makes the nursing relationship easier, mothers tend to nurse their children longer length of time, decreasing the mother's risk of breast cancer. Because of the babies' proximity to their mothers' smell, movement, and touch while co-sleeping, babies cry less, their breathing and body temperature is more regulated and they have reduced stress hormone levels.

Another thing to be aware of is that many times when parents co-sleep, it is unintentional co-sleeping, just falling asleep while holding the baby during a feeding, which is much more dangerous than making the decision to bed share. If a parent falls asleep while sitting up and feeding the baby, the baby can fall from the mothers' arms and get injured, and if the mother accidentally falls asleep when nursing her baby in bed when her bed hasn't been made safe for co-sleeping, she is also putting her child in danger. If there is a chance of you falling asleep during a feed, it is very important to feed the baby in your bed and make your bed a safe place for the baby to sleep, even if it isn't your intention to bed share.
Co-sleeping, if done correctly, can be a reasonable way to eliminate the need to spend money on a crib, without compromising on your child's safety.

Another thing about safety vis a vis frugality is that some people automatically assume that if something is purchased in a store, it is automatically safe, and less risky than using something homemade. Unfortunately, this isn't the case. For example, more than 2.1 million drop side cribs have been recalled after having been implicated in many baby injuries and deaths! Additionally, bag sling baby carriers sold in stores have been proven dangerous and causing babies to suffocate- using a homemade baby carrier from t-shirt fabric, exactly the same as store bought infant carriers like the Moby wrap- is much safer. Store bought does not mean safe. Caveat Emptor. When it comes to ensuring the safety of our loves ones, the best way to do this is not by spending the most money, but via education. Learning how to properly tie and wear a baby in a stretchy wrap will eliminate the risk of a baby falling out of such a carrier or getting otherwise injured, making it a perfectly safe way to transport your baby from place to place. Likewise, finding out how to make your bed safe for bed sharing minimizes potential harm.

More money spent doesn't mean something is more safe. Education about eliminating risks and then implementing what you learned does keep you from harm to an extent. But of course, at the end of the day, things can happen no matter what you do; we just have to hope and pray for the best.

 Rules for Safe Co-Sleeping

  • Only bed share if the baby is breastfed.
  • Never bed share if you are drunk, on drugs, smoke cigarettes, or are on medication that makes you drowsy.
  • Older children and pets should not be in bed with infants.
  • Don't bed share if you're very obese.
  • Keep stuffed animals, pillows, and fluffy blankets far away from the baby.
  • Only bed share on a firm bed- not on something squishy like a sofa bed or water bed.
  • Don't keep the room too hot.
  • Keep the bed firmly against the wall, making sure there are no cracks for the baby to fall into. Alternatively, use a bed rail to stop your baby from rolling off.


Cribs and Safety
Trying to save money, you may be tempted to spend less money on a crib by cutting some corners that may compromise your child's safety. If you use a crib, make sure that you're following these crib sleeping safety rules. If you aren't able to find a crib that meets these specifications that you can afford, it is better to bed share with your baby than to use a crib that is dangerous.
  • Ensure that the crib model wasn't recalled.
  • Don't use drop side or broken or modified cribs.
  • Avoid cribs with cutouts, decorative knobs or corner posts that stick up more than 1/16th in.
  • Don't put bumpers, stuffed animals, pillows, or loose blankets in the crib.
  • Make sure crib slats are no more than 2 3/8 inches apart.
  • Make sure the mattress fits tightly into the crib- you shouldn't be able to stick two fingers between the side of the crib and the mattress.

Co-Sleeping and Safety Statistics
In Japan and New Zealand, where most mothers co-sleep while following the recommended safety rules, there is one of the lowest rates of SIDS in the world. Statistics from co-sleeping in the US are harder to compare as they don't accurately compare safe co-sleepers with crib sleepers- studies talking about risks co-sleeping for the most part lump sofa co-sleeping and bed sharing together, and lump risky co-sleeping (smokers, medicated, drunk, non safe sleep surfaces, etc...) together with bed sharing parents who take proper precaution.

Do you co-sleep? Why or why not? Do you think co-sleeping is dangerous, and after reading this article, do you still feel that way?
What non conventional things do you do that others think is dangerous, but you do because you think its safest?

Linking up to Frugal Friday, Freaky Friday, Fresh Bites Friday

7 comments:

  1. I co-sleep, not because I want the money, just because I feel it's safer. I fully support you.

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  2. If I were to have another kid I wouldn't bother buying a crib.I co-slept with my son, I felt much safer having him right next to me rather than across the hall in another room. I took crazy precautions, I flipped my pillow top upside down with my mattress on the floor, I didn't use a pillow and after feeding I would scoot down so my head was right next to his. In doing this I knew I would never cover his head with a blanket, as I would have to cover my own head at the same time. I'd like to think I'm a well adjusted adult, and my mom co-slept. My son is four, and he sleeps in his own bed.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I co-slept with my baby too, and it has nothing to do with cost. It was just the way it is in the community i live in... putting baby in cot / in a different room wasn't even considered. Co-sleeping is very common in asia. A study done in 1994 actually shows that SIDS rate is lower in Asian communities although co-sleeping is more common than in western countries.
    http://www.naturalchild.org/guest/tami_breazeale.html

    ReplyDelete
  4. I didn't even know what I did and still do sometimes with my baby is called co-sleeping. I just know that one of the lactation consultants at the hospital suggested learning to breastfeed laying down so that i could get some sleep when sleep deprivation was making me stressed about breast feeding on top of the sore nipples. Also for the first two weeks or so my husband and i "co-slept" because we were not financially prepared for this, our first baby and with only one bed in a tiny one bedroom apartment there wasn't much of a choice, plus i find honestly I'm more alert when she's next to me than when she sleeps in the bassinet that we bought.

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  5. I agree with everything in this article except this one line - Only bed share if the baby is breastfed.

    Now, I'm totally not for formula and I did extended breast feeding with my DD. But there are women who formula feed for numerous reasons. Why shouldn't their babies get the benefits of co-sleeping? Cosleeping doesn't just help with nursing but has many other benefits.

    Can you explain more why you chose to add that line in there? I'm not flaming you but am genuinely curious to know why.

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    Replies
    1. The research that I did about why its safer to co-sleep only showed the benefits outweighing the risks if the child was breastfed, not formula fed. Thats why I said that.

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  6. I absolutely agree. Co-sleeping is save and good for both, parent and baby. But if I have to be honest, we do co-sleeping with our baby (me or my husband or both of us) mostly during trips - but we travel a lot! We have a crib but it is in our room next to our bed and we use it only because sometimes we need privacy, I still breastfeed our 11 m.o. baby-girl because I know it is also good for her.

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