(Flickr: Megan Myers)
A children’s advocacy group in Santa Clara County has launched a campaign to discourage parents from sleeping in bed with their infants. As the San Jose Mercury News reports, advocates say bed sharing is not just dangerous, but can be lethal. The Mercury News cites statistics showing 20 babies in Santa Clara County have died since 2005 due to “unsafe sleeping practices.” But critics argue that bed sharing can be safe, under the right circumstances.

Yesterday’s press conference from First Five Santa Clara County included the emotional story of Karma Sunshine King, the mother of an infant who died while sleeping in bed with her.

The 33-year-old Santa Clara mother said she crawled into her bed last November with her 3-month-old son, Cash, and when she woke up, “my son did not wake up with me.”

“That was the worst day of my life,” King said. “It changed me forever.”

King said she grew up in a Filipino family where bed sharing is the norm.

That’s until Cash died, and Dr. Michelle Jorden, a county medical examiner, came to her home and conducted a baby death re-enactment with her.

Jorden strongly argues against bed sharing because children can have blankets and pillows accidentally placed on their faces.

But critics say each case must be looked at in detail.

James McKenna, who heads theMother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Lab at the University of Notre Dame, called the statistics “a fraud.”

“There’s no proof here that all bed sharing is unsafe,” McKenna said. “It matters how you sleep with your baby.”

When told the circumstances of Cash’s death, he said other factors surrounding the bed sharing made a dangerous environment for Cash.

For example, King admitted to drinking at Santana Row in San Jose the night before Cash died. She also smoked, bottle fed her baby and kept her bed full of pillows and a fluffy comforter. All of those factors, McKenna said, have to be accounted for, because they can cause an infant’s death.

The two sides do agree on one piece of advice: Babies should be put to bed safely, on their backs without blankets and pillows to potentially suffocate them.

McKenna added he does not support bedsharing for all parents: Parents who are severely overweight, who smoke and who bottle feed should not sleep with their babies because their physiological responses are not as alert.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has for years recommended putting babies to sleep on their backs. In addition, the organization says babies, ideally, should sleep in the same room as their parents, but on a separate sleeping surface. Even Attachment Parenting International, an advocacy group promoting emotional bonds between parents and children, is careful to distinguish between room sharing and bed sharing for infants.

Lisa Alfieris is the editor of KQED’s State of Health blog.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor