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.