Same recommendations for infant sleep, despite small study

In the seemingly endless debate about how infants should sleep, the University of Cape Town released a study that questions whether putting your baby in bed with you is a bad idea.

The study, which looked at changes in heart rate in 16 two-day-old infants when they slept while getting skin-to-skin contact on their mothers’ chests and when they slept in a crib. Babies cycled in and out of active sleep in what the researchers say is a more ideal pattern while they slept on their mothers. In short, they slept more soundly and felt less stress.

But not so fast. Dr. Kristine Powell, pediatrician with St.Vincent Physician Network, is unconvinced that this small study validates what many pediatricians and in fact the American Academy of Pediatrics says is an outright dangerous practice.

“They’re drawing a lot of conclusions from a very small study of only 16 babies,” Powell said. “We don’t have enough information to say that it’s safe to co-sleep, and we don’t know that this measure of babies’ heart rates is something to emphasize.”

Powell says that she will continue to endorse the AAP recommendations, which just this month were reissued with the same message: The safest way for babies to sleep is on their backs, in a crib with only a fitted sheet.

“There are a couple of different issues about co-sleeping,” Powell said. “One worry is that the baby could be in an unsafe position such that her airway is obstructed. Another issue is sharing a bed with a smoker. Just sharing a bed with a parent who is a smoker increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome.

“There’s also the risk of sharing a bed with someone who is over-tired or using prescription medications and doesn’t wake up easily. If they roll over on the baby, they’re unlikely to wake up.”

Bedding, too poses a risk. Infants can’t necessarily move out of the way if a sheet or blanket or pillow blocks their airway.

Although she doesn’t agree the study, Powell does support skin-to-skin contact: “I think skin-to-skin contact with mother for bonding is very good,” Powell said. “When the mom is awake and holding her baby close to her, that is fine.”

So the song remains the same: Snuggle often, but only when you’re awake.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Kristine Powell, call 317-415-8050. If you’d like to ask a question about safe sleep or any other kids’ health issue, call 317-338-KIDS or use this online form.

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