Thinking about bed sharing? Read this first!

Mother kissing her newborn baby.

Bed sharing has always been dangerous. The first reported bed sharing death occurred nearly 3,000 years ago.

Two women came to King Solomon and stood before him. One woman said: “My Lord, this woman and I dwell in the same house, and I gave birth to a child while with her in the house. On the third day after I gave birth, she also gave birth. We live together; there is no outsider with us in the house; only the two of us were there. The son of this woman died during the night because she lay upon him. She arose during the night and took my son from my side while I was asleep, and lay him in her bosom, and her dead son she laid in my bosom. when I got up in the morning to nurse my son, behold, he was dead! But when I observed him (later on) in the morning, I realized that he was not my son to whom I had given birth!”

You may recognize this as the background to a story of King Solomon’s wisdom in suggesting that the two women split the baby.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Those who promote bed sharing “have never heard the guttural scream from a mother who was just told her baby was dead.”[/pullquote]

Bed sharing was a deadly problem in 950 BC and it’s a deadly problem in 2018. That’s why pediatricians and public health officials are in agreement that bed sharing with young infant should be avoided. Lactivists, however, who believe that bed sharing is critical to promoting breastfeeding, have been working very hard to conceal or minimize its risks.

They often cite Notre Dame anthropologist James McKenna who wrote the 2015 paper There is no such thing as infant sleep, there is no such thing as breastfeeding, there is only breastsleeping.

McKenna coined the term “breastsleeping” in an effort to:

help both resolve the bedsharing debate and to distinguish the significant differences (and associated advantages) of the breastfeeding–bedsharing dyad when compared with the nonbreastfeeding–bedsharing situations, when the combination of breastfeeding–bedsharing is practiced in the absence of all known hazardous factors. Breastfeeding is so physiologically and behaviourally entwined and func- tionally interdependent with forms of cosleeping that we propose the use of the term breastsleeping to acknowledge the following: (i) the critical role that immediate and sustained maternal contact plays in helping to establish optimal breastfeeding; (ii) the fact that normal, human (species wide) infant sleep can only be derived from studies of breastsleeping dyads … and (iii) that breastsleeping by mother–infant pairs comprises such vastly different behavioural and physiological characteristics compared with nonbreastfeeding mothers and infants …

That’s a fancy and long winded (and unverifiable) way of implying that promoting breastfeeding is more important than whether babies lie or die.

Is it?

I belong to a private Facebook group of medical professionals who were discussing this issue. The stories that nurses told were chilling. If you think bed sharing death is something that only happens to other people, people who smoke and drink and use drugs, think again.


Whenever I think about cosleeping it reminds me of a former patient of one of my coworkers. My friend and coworker had cared for a baby in NICU for 4 months. The first night the parents had the baby home, they decided to sleep with the baby in their bed. The baby ended up suffocating and dying that night, first night home after 4 months in NICU.

Or this:

This issue really hits home with me. For the last 2 years I have been living in xxxx, where they are proud of the fact that every maternity hospital is designated Baby Friendly. I know I have personally cared for 3 infants who died from SIDS after discharge due to co-sleeping. I have also helped futilely code a 2 month old brought into the ER in cardiac arrest. Mom admitted to co-sleeping and was EBF.

The baby was not considered high risk.

This infant would have been considered “low risk,” .., thus it would have been an acceptable risk to co-sleep. They obviously have never heard the guttural scream from a mother who was just told her baby was dead. There are not words to comfort her when she keeps asking how she is going to tell her husband who is deployed overseas.

The nurse goes on to say:

Mind you I am currently a nurse in a small 15 bed level II NICU. Formerly, I worked in a xxxx 90 bed high acuity level III NICU, which unofficially practiced Fed is Best. We would occasionally hear of some of our former graduates dying of SIDS, but nothing like the frequency I hear about in my current NICU. If one of the stated benefits of exclusive breastfeeding and a promoted benefit of Baby Friendly hospital designation is reduced SIDS rates, then why does there seem to be a real issue in a state where the only option is to deliver at a baby-friendly facility?

A third nurse writes:

I too have been involved with multiple SIDs cases. One was IN our BFHI hospital, suffocation while BF during the night–fresh section mom.

That’s not the only harm from breastfeeding promotion. As the second nurse comments:

Believe me, it has been an eye opening experience going from a feeding friendly hospital to a baby-friendly hospital. The amount of preventable infant harm I have seen is sickening. From severe dehydration to SIDS, there are so many things wrong with baby friendly practices.

The idea that co-sleeping must be closest too perfection because it’s natural is a perversion of evolutionary theory. Evolution does not lead to perfection. Many natural practices have high failure/death rates. Only the fittest survive and fitness changes as the environment changes.

Even if it were the case that women and babies co-slept in the past, they did so on bare ground in the cold. Humans haven’t slept on the bare ground in the cold since fire was mastered. The way we sleep has changed over time and now we sleep in ways that are harmful to babies: on soft surfaces and with soft bedding.

Moreover, there is nothing inherent in sleeping separately that prevents a mother from breastfeeding exclusively. Bed sharing just makes breastfeeding more convenient and therefore supposedly more likely. The underlying assumption is that breastfeeding is so critically important to infant health and that risking an infant’s death is a reasonable choice in order to promote breastfeeding. Except breastfeeding is not critically important and dead babies can’t breastfeed.

An individual mother may consider the small risk of death from bed sharing an acceptable choice. But she can’t make an informed choice if lactivists lie about the risks. Bed sharing is deadly in low risk situations as well as high risk situations. Mothers deserve to know.