Wales

SIDS: 'Arm parents with co-sleeping information' call

Baby in crib

There are calls for new parents to be given consistent advice on the safest ways to bed-share with their babies.

Guidance says health professionals should not discourage co-sleeping altogether but warn of higher risks if, for example, you smoke, have had alcohol or taken drugs.

But some parents claim they are advised not to co-sleep at all - so are not told the safest ways to do it.

The Welsh Government said parents are helped to create the best environment.

NHS Wales says bed-sharing can increase the risk of infant death, especially when combined with factors such as feeling very tired.

But mother-of-three Samantha Gadsden, a Caerphilly-based doula (a woman who supports another woman during pregnancy and birth), said advice on bed-sharing can vary depending on the health provider's personal opinion.

"It's biologically normal to co-sleep," she said.

Image copyright Samantha Gadsden
Image caption Samantha Gadsden shares a bed with her three children

"But you still get the 'oh my god you're going to kill your baby', from healthcare professionals and other parents which puts babies more at risk as women are falling asleep on sofas and armchairs trying to stay awake.

"It shouldn't be down to personal opinion, it should be down to the actual guidance."

Public Health Wales said it endorsed Welsh Government advice and did not recommend total discouragement of co-sleeping, but urged parents to avoid it when the risk factors are present.

Health professionals advise that babies should ideally be placed on their backs in their own crib with no loose blankets or soft toys.

Sometimes, they may notice a risk factor and discourage a parent from co-sleeping without flagging up their individual risk so as not to "point a finger".

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) agreed women should be informed of the pros and cons of co-sleeping, but added there were situations where it was inadvisable to sleep with the baby and midwives could advise parents about this.

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Media captionHere's how to put your baby to sleep

In the UK, more than 200 babies die suddenly and unexpectedly every year (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or SIDS, sometimes known as cot death), usually while asleep.

Unicef said about half of SIDS babies in the UK die while co-sleeping - but 90% of those had additional risk factors. It added sleeping in close contact helps babies settle and supports breastfeeding, which in turn protects them.

Studies have found SIDS risk is strongest when certain hazards are present such as smoking, alcohol and drugs, and sleeping on sofas - and is absent or very weak when these hazards are avoided.

'Scare-mongering'

Ms Gadsden added parents should be given all the information including the potential benefits of co-sleeping such as helping babies to regulate temperature and breathing - along with an explanation of how it can be risky.

She said discouraging co-sleeping when other risk factors are not present was "coercion and scare-mongering, and treating women like they are not intelligent", but said she had experienced this herself as had many of her clients.

Safer sleep charity The Lullaby Trust said when parents are told not to co-sleep, it means they often do not know the safest ways and they are reluctant to seek help from their health visitor for fear of being judged.

"We also know anecdotally that many health visitors find conversations around co-sleeping difficult to approach and favour the simpler method of just telling parents not to do it.

"Having had discussions with parents we know this approach doesn't work, they want all the information so they can make an informed choice."

There were 219 unexplained infant deaths in England and Wales in 2016, an increase compared with 2015 (195) driven by a rise in deaths among girls.

Unexplained infant deaths accounted for 8.3% of all infant deaths occurring in 2016, compared with 7.6% in 2015.

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