Friday, 6 May 2011

Co-sleeping child abuse?

I heard the Rotorua coroner speaking on the radio last night about babies who had died while sharing a bed with sleeping adults/siblings, a practice which he described as child abuse. The same story was in yesterday's Herald where it was reported that "He [the Rotorua coroner] said the parents' sleeping with their babies was a type of child abuse."

I understand that some arrangements where adults are sleeping with children can be dangerous and that the kinds of beds and bedding that New Zealanders tend to use may not support safe co-sleeping. However, I have found the coroner's approach to be quite troubling in the way that he does not acknowledge that co-sleeping can be safe. I can't figure out if he has taken this approach because for Pakeha New Zealanders co-sleeping is probably less common than in other cultures so he thinks it is easy to dismiss, or because a one-size-fits-all public health message is seen to be more helpful in this situation.

Obviously in some communities babies and parents co-sleeping is an important part of building attachment. I know that in Japan, where parents traditionally do not kiss and cuddle their children, co-sleeping and co-bathing have had a very important role in developing close bonds between family members so suggesting the co-sleeping not occur would mean a radical change in common childraising practice. I am sure that the role of co-sleeping is similar in other communities which is why I found the child abuse comment quite shocking.

"He said the Ministry of Education needed to graphically explain to parents the various ways babies could die from unsafe sleeping arrangements, and set out guidelines." My view is that this approach would be a more useful one, to talk about what might be dangerous but also what arrangements support safe co-sleeping. Friends I know who co-slept did so after much research and overhauling their bedroom including a new bed which was hard and low to the ground (not unlike a futon, which is what Japanese parents and children co-sleep on).

Would be interested in how others think this issue could be approached.


Lindsay Mitchell said...

I was going to blog about his comment because I find it disturbing. And like anti-abortion comments often do, hails from a man with, by definition, no practical experience of mothering. Both of my children slept beside me at various times. Particularly the second who was one of those babies who could be comforted and quieted instantly by bodily snuggling. She is still an affectionate snuggly child. And while I will never know, I remain convinced that to have deprived her of the ongoing closeness she craved would have changed her development somehow and for the worse. Clearly there are some circumstances and some parents who pose more of a risk but let's be honest about it. The last thing needed is mothers feeling guilty about having their babies sleep (safely) next to them.

Anonymous said...

My partner and I did quite a lot of research into Co-sleeping before our baby was born and decided that the benefits outweighed any risks. We looked at risk factors such as obesity, smoking and sleeping deeply and Co-sleeping has worked amazingly well for us. Neither of us could imagine raising a baby in any other way.

While we now have a cot attached to the bed our child still spends part of the night in our bed. Our experience with health professionals has been they are unwilling to give an informed risk assessment and instead give simplistic paternalistic advice.

katy said...

Thanks for these comments. I was so busy thinking about the racist undertones of what he was saying that I missed the obvious point that co-sleeping might be reasonably common across the population for the reasons shared. Overall not a helpful approach!

Alison said...

I was once in a class in which the lecturer asked what percentage of the mothers in the class (all of us were women) had co-slept with a baby at some point or other. As an estimate, I think of the 40 or more mothers in the class, at least 90% had. The Rotorua coroner isn't the only one with a bee in his or her bonnet about co-sleeping, but it's just not borne out by the evidence. Simplistic and paternalistic advice, but also just plain wrong, in the absence of risk factors.

Alison said...

And actually, you can hardly say calling something "child abuse" is advice can you? So overblown as to be completely absurd, especially since it's the only way some babies will sleep, and there are absolute problems that result from sleep deprivation.
Do you think the coroner would criticise parental sleeping practices if a parent died in an accident resulting from sleep deprivation?

Psycho Milt said...

Co-sleeping was common for this Pakeha's babies, who miraculously survived the "child abuse."

Someone should mention to Mr Wallace that babies have sometimes been found dead in their cots too. Or not - once he knows that he might want the govt to tell us not to let babies sleep at all.

Anonymous said...

What's absurd is that this is deemed by some child abuse, while the real, violent and obvious child abuse goes on unabated, with the CYFS doing all they can to shield and protect those responsible.

That's the real flipping abouse.

Anonymous said...

apologise re the typing errors, by the way. Child abuse, bah, my foot.

Anonymous said...

I think it is incredibly patronising to issue blanket advice against co-sleeping instead of providing clear information about how to co-sleep safely and trusting parents to make a safe choice.

I once heard a speaker say that one of the biggest dangers is often trying not to co-sleep as that can lead to dozing off with baby on an unsafe surface such as a sofa or only bringing baby to bed after mum is so exhausted as to not be easily roused.