Date Published: 11 May 2009

Co-Sleeping and Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy

Health News from New Zealand.

The Ministry will examine with care the Coroner's recommendations about strengthening messages about co-sleeping with babies and the risks in increasing deaths in babies.

There are key messages to parents about how to minimise the risk of sudden unexpected death of babies in the early months of life. These are :

* not smoking if you are pregnant and not allowing anyone to smoke around your baby
* breastfeeding your baby
* putting your baby to sleep on his/her back
* putting your baby to sleep in their own space when parents go to sleep, preferably in a cot or bassinet beside a parent's bed (or other safe sleeping place) until the baby is six months old.

The Ministry acknowledges the advice around co-sleeping and bedsharing is strongly debated, particularly as some argue that in many instances the risk of death is low and that the practice encourages bonding with baby and the initiation of breastfeeding. In addition some people may not have the option of a separate cot or bassinet.

However, co-sleeping is known to increase the risk of death in some circumstances. Unfortunately we are still unable to determine in advance which babies will die and consequently unable only to target those families. There is an analogy here with wearing seat belts while driving. Even though the risk to an individual of having a crash is low, we can't predict which drivers will be injured in crashes so the law requires all drivers to wear seat belts.

We know that sudden unexpected death in infancy is rare which means the numbers of babies affected is small, but to the best of our knowledge all families do face some risk however small and making use of sound health advice makes good sense, even when the risk is low.

The single best thing to do to reduce risk is not smoking during pregnancy. Pregnant women who smoke should quit smoking and ensure that the baby is not exposed to smoke after they are born.

Breastfeeding, sleeping baby on their back, and putting baby to sleep in their own bed (or other safe place) until they are at least six months in the same room as a parent also helps protect against sudden unexpected deaths.



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