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One common question is, "Aren't you afraid you'll roll over on the baby?" My immediate answer is "Aren't you afraid you'll roll off your bed?" Parents who sleep with their babies develop a heightened sensitivity to their child's sleep patterns and nighttime needs. Awake or asleep, I am constantly aware of where my daughter is.
However, overlying, or rolling onto the baby and smothering it, does happen, although it is very rare. It is almost always the result of a parent who has been drinking, using sleep-altering medication, or sleeping with an infant on a full-wave waterbed. In one recent, tragic case, overlying was implicated in the death of a newborn who had not even been discharged from the hospital yet. The mother, who was taking pain medication following a cesarean delivery, had fallen asleep while breast feeding in bed.
Is the possibility of overlying reason not to bring the baby into bed with you? Definitely not! According to Katherine Dettwyler Ph.D., Associate Professor of Anthropology at Texas A&M University and Specialist in Infant Nutrition, "the average, typical parent sleeping on a good mattress will be very aware of their infant and not roll over on it. The baby probably has a greater chance of dying of SIDS from solitary sleeping than of dying from overlying while in bed with the parent. It is suspected that many supposedly accidental cases of overlying/smothering were not accidents at all." In fact, in the middle ages, overlying was a method of infanticide. It was considered an easy way to get rid of unwanted babies, and was unquestionably intentional! In SIDS, Dr. Sears' states that based on the current research and his experience as a pediatrician and a father, he is convinced that "the safest place for a baby to sleep is with its mother." This is qualified, however: the parents must take reasonable precautions for their child's safety. Just as there are crib safety guidelines to prevent accidents and infant death due to unsafe bedding, there are safety guidelines for the family bed. Don't be intimidated by the list; the guidelines are mostly parental common sense. Caution is most important when sleeping with babies who are not yet old enough to crawl.