I remember the days when each of my four kids was born. Penny breast-fed all of them. If she was tired, she might lie down, even doze a bit, but as soon as they went to sleep we would put them in the crib.
Back in our day, we never put kids to sleep on their back because we thought that if they vomited they’d choke on it and die. That was the medical teaching of the day.
Well, as anyone who has a child today knows, that was wrong. We should put babies to sleep on their back (thus the slogan “Back to Sleep”) to prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
It works. We’ve dropped the death rate from SIDS by more than 50 percent since we’ve been doing it.
The other thing we did in the 1980s was put kids on Australian sheepskins. So soft and cuddly and – so we thought – good for baby.
Wrong again. Babies should be put to sleep on a firm mattress, directly on a sheet. No bumper pads, pillows, fluffy toys or stuffed animals in the crib.
That setup might not look as cute, but when it comes to safety, cute doesn’t count.
When I started medical school, breast-feeding was considered to be for women too poor to bottle feed. It was considered something akin to giving birth to your child at home in the bedroom, rather than at a hospital.
Bottle-fed babies grew more quickly, were longer when you measured them and weighed more. Then the studies showed that breast-feeding has so many advantages: bonding with your baby, improved immunity and reduced instances of SIDS. Now, the recommendation is to breast-feed as much as you can for that first year of life.
All this brings me to a practice we must discontinue – the family bed. Back in the day, I mean hundreds of years ago, a newborn was always in the bed with the rest of the family. It was tradition. And back in the 1960s, the natural-birth movement said that the family bed, sleeping with your baby, was good for everyone.
Unfortunately, that idea was wrong. Study after study has shown that parents who sleep with a baby double the risk that the child will die of SIDS or suffocation. Disastrous stuff.
A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics shocked me – and might shock you – as it showed that sleeping with your baby is much more common than we thought.
Since 1993, 20,000 moms and dads have participated in the National Infant Sleep study. This study was partially responsible for the “Back to Sleep” movement that has knocked down SIDS. They found that today more than ever, moms and dads are sleeping with their kids. For example:
• In 1993, 13 percent of Hispanics shared beds with their kids – now it’s up to 21 percent.
• With African-Americans, the jump has been massive, going from 21 percent to nearly 40 percent.
• Among whites, the number of parents who report co-sleeping with their children has dropped to 9 percent.
African-Americans have the highest rates of SIDS and infant suffocation – probably due to this and the fact they have not embraced the “Back to Sleep” idea like other ethnic groups have.
This is not the only study to show that the family bed is bad. It’s just the nail in the coffin.
My spin: Protecting baby’s health is the most important thing you can do as a parent. Sleeping with your infant is bad. What’s traditional in your family might not be the best thing for your baby.
Dr. Zorba Paster is a family physician, university professor, author and broadcast journalist. He also hosts a radio program at 3 p.m. Saturdays on WBFO-FM 88.7.