Doctors raise concerns about the dangers of co-sleeping with infants

Co-sleeping can be a common practice amongst many families, however, local doctors are urging against this trend.

Co-sleeping is a practice where young children, usually infants, sleep closely with one of, or both parents, rather than in a separate bed. It’s a deadly trend that is present in Winnebago County, and area doctors are working to further educate local families about the potential dangers.

"It’s absolutely a silent killer," Mercyhealth Mom Baby Coordinator Kelly Sprayberry said. "It happens a lot more than we realize,"

According to the Winnebago County Coroner’s Office, three infants were killed during a co-sleeping incident in 2017. So far in 2018, one more child has died.

"One of the most recent ones we’ve had was only several weeks old, it hadn’t even hit its six months or year birthday," Winnebago County Coroner Bill Hintz said.

Hintz says the most common cause of death from co-sleeping in infants is either suffocation or strangulation.

"When we see an infant there aren’t usually a lot of marks. There aren’t many signs of trauma that we can see," Hintz said.

Commonly described by doctors as a silent killer, co-sleeping can happen to anyone, at any time, without any sort of warning.

"It’s absolutely silent, so there’s nothing, there’s no warning. You don’t get a warning when this happens," Sprayberry said.

Which is why Hintz says all parents who come to see their child show remorse and guilt, and agony knowing their child is no longer with them.

However, this trend is not something that popped up overnight. In fact, co-sleeping was actually something doctors say they used to teach to older generations, and even encourage, but not anymore. Sprayberry says after seeing all the dangers and the research that has come about over the years, the dangers of co-sleeping are evident and the deaths are not worth the risk.

"If you roll over on that baby, your baby isn’t going to cry. It would be as if an elephant was sitting on your chest. You cannot take a deep breath in," Sprayberry said.

Many may think co-sleeping only stems from the bed, however, the dangers go far past that. Death from co-sleeping can happen anywhere, from a parent falling asleep in a chair with their child, or on the couch, it can even happen if a mother falls asleep while breastfeeding her child.

"It’s most dangerous for infants between the ages of being a newborn, so fresh from the hospital, usually up to between four to six months when babies aren’t able to roll over on their own," Mercyhealth Pediatrician Jillian Kaskavage said.

Despite the warnings from doctors, the reality is, many families choose to co-sleep with their children.

Alexis Simmons is a mother from Rockford who has an 8-month-old daughter. Simmons says her family chooses to co-sleep and says it works for her family.

"Things change when you have the reality of a baby and you look into the research and realize it’s not as dangerous as they say," Simmons said.

Simmons says she advocates for safe co-sleeping and has done research to find the best ways to go about their night time routine. She says between the feeding schedule and the needs of her daughter at night, co-sleeping is what works best for them.

"I was falling asleep in bed, and I knew the way I was doing it wasn’t safe. So I said if I am going to do this anyways I need to do it safely," Simmons said.

She says her and her husband work to maintain a clean slate for their daughter to sleep on by having minimal blankets and pillows while sleeping at night.

"You don’t want bumpers, where they can get smashed up against it. You don’t want a pillow next to them, or any heavy blankets at all, just a thin blanket and not anywhere near their face, where they can get smothered by that," Simmons said.

Sprayberry says she has heard many stories like Simmons’ and can grasp why co-sleeping may be conducive to a new mothers sleep schedule.

"When you talk to parents who do the co-sleeping, it’s done out of love, they’re snuggling their baby, they love their baby dearly. So it has nothing to do with whether or not you care about your baby," Sprayberry said.

However, she continues to urge parents to stop co-sleeping and instead place their child in a crib or sleeping container next to their beds to help prevent a potential tragedy.

Doctors also say it’s not just parents who should be educated on the dangers of co-sleeping. Anyone who is near or around the baby should know these potential dangers and how it could affect the child’s well-being.

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