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May Lessen the Chances of SIDS
The incidence of SIDS is lowest in cultures that traditionally share sleep. Researchers are just beginning to investigate the relationship between co-sleeping and SIDS. They believe that sensory exchanges in co-sleeping make it difficult for SIDS to occur. Co-sleeping gives increased protection through parental monitoring and interventions (reblanketing, repositioning, patting, etc.). Increased sensory stimuli make it more likely that the baby will arouse and the mother acts as a respiratory pacemaker reminding the baby to breathe. The baby stays in lighter stages of sleep (more REM sleep) and thus gets more blood oxygen, arousal responses, and sensitivity to breathing stimuli. Other possible effects include the fact that the baby usually sleeps in better positions (back or side vs. stomach). Body heat is shared during sleep and helps to regulate breathing. More nursing and touching may result in enhanced cardiorespiratory development. More sucking improves the amount of oxygen in the blood of premature infants. Touching acts as a respiratory stimulant. Prolactin may increase the mother's awareness of the baby. Shared sleep leads to more nursing which leads to more immunological protection. Dr. McKenna notes that babies are not meant by nature to sleep in quiet non-stimulatory environments. They are too neurologically immature. He maintains that Western babies are chronically under stimulated because of our independent, individualistic ideals.