Notre Dame ReSources: Bedsharing Controversy

by Dennis Brown

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) could better serve the public by providing information about how responsible caregivers can sleep with babies safely, according to James J. McKenna, professor of anthropology at the University of Notre Dame and guest editor of the current special issue of “Mothering Magazine” on safe sleep practices and mother-baby co-sleeping.p. In conjunction with the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association, the CPSC has declared September “Baby Safety Month” and has launched an education campaign about the “hidden” dangers of “placing babies in adult beds.”p. “They could be doing so much more, and reach so many additional families, if their campaign concentrated on safe sleep environments for infants,” said McKenna, who points out that approximately half of all American households with infants have the baby in an adult bed for some or most of the night. “They should alert parents to the dangers of adult beds, but also provide guidelines as to how responsible caregivers can sleep with babies safely.”p. Particularly troubling about the new campaign is its reference to mothers as one of the dangers, if she sleeps next to her infant. McKenna, director Notre Dame’s Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory, pioneered electrophysiological studies of mothers and infants co-sleeping. He has published studies showing that under safe bedsharing circumstances a baby’s chances of dying from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome may be reduced, especially if the mother breast feeds. His research suggests that infants left to sleep in isolation may be allowed to sleep too deeply for too long, given their neurological development.p. The September-October issue of “Mothering Magazine,” on newsstands now, presents essays by McKenna and seven other leading SIDS and infant sleep researchers who provide both safety information for mother-infant bedsharing, and scientific research refuting the idea that mothers co-sleeping with their infants represent inherent lethal threats to their infant’s safety.

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