Ask the Experts: CoSleeping & SIDS

by Judy Arnall
Attachment Parenting, Non-punitive Discipline Education, Homeschooling Mom

Question: My general practitioner, bless his heart, is trying to convince me that sleeping with my five-month-old son is dangerous and increases the risk of SIDS. Although I have no intention of changing our sleeping arrangement, I would like to have some references to give him the next time we meet. His reference comes from what he claims to be the most recent study, which, apparently, was sent to physicians by the surgeon general. I'm in Canada, which may or may not be relevant as I'm not sure where the study took place.

Answer: It's confusing when a new mom gets all kinds of information from different sources. It's somewhat of a parenting hazard. I'm going to disagree with your GP in that bed-sharing doesn't increase the risk of SIDS. In fact, studies have shown that bed-sharing helps to regulate babies' breathing cycle because they pick up and imitate their mothers' breathing cycle. The tragic incidence of SIDS can happen anywhere and anytime—not just while cosleeping. There is still no known cause, although some risk factors have been identified. Perhaps your GP is more concerned about suffocation, which is different from SIDS but indistinguishable in an autopsy. There have been many studies recently in Canada about suffocation from bed-sharers but not much news has focussed on the proportion of babies that have suffocated in cribs. I urge you to look at the logistics of the studies you come across. How many babies were studied? What proportion was in a crib versus bed-sharing? What kinds of surfaces were involved in the cosleeping environment? What were the circumstances of the parent's health at the time of death? Who sponsored the study? Many factors contribute to suffocation and there are many ways to reduce the risk. I have an article called "Co-sleeping" at the Attachment Parenting Canada website ( that lists risk factors and how to make cosleeping safer. Dr. James McKenna is a leading researcher in the field of bed-sharing and has quite a few studies quoted on the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at University of Notre Dame website: The more important point here is that no professional should tell you what to do. All they can do is give you information and their recommendations and leave the decision-making up to you. You know your situation and risk factors the best and are in the best position to decide what is right for you, your baby, and your family.


  1. Hi I'm a little late coming to this article but just wanted to mention that whilst I was pregnant and researching both arguments on vaccination in an attempt to have a more informed view I read that in Japan (where incidentally they vaccinate later than we do) and co-sleep SIDS is not an issue. Obviously there are many things to consider which have been mentioned in the article but from personal experience my own decision to co-sleep has been one of my best. We have been on and off co-sleeping since she was born (however more on between 11 months and 2 or so). My daughter at nearly 4 now will sleep in her own bed for some, or indeed all the night sometimes, and at other times I wake up to find her next to me with no idea when she came in. It's a real joy waking up next to her. Sadly whilst I was with her dad he disagreed with co-sleeping for the same reason the GP here quotes so I missed out on lots of sleep as my baby was born wanting to co-sleep (I did take to sleeping on the floor next to her so that I could get some sleep as he wouldn't allow us both to be in the family bed).
    My own lesson has been to follow your instincts, which today can be hard with experts on every corner but there is a quiet voice in you which will know what is right for you to do, it may not be right for everyone, or indeed anyone else but it's also your baby and no one elses.

  2. I just wanted to comment on where you said "Perhaps your GP is more concerned about suffocation, which is different from SIDS but indistinguishable in an autopsy." My daughter passed away from "SIDS" in Sept 2009. Our ME and many other experts and MD's in the SIDS community have told us that suffocation is 99.9% detectable upon autopsy which distinguishes it from SIDS. Accidental suffocation would be ruled as the cause of death if markers were found for it. No known cause of death typically gets the SIDS label. I wanted to comment on this b/c so many parents of SIDS babies do not have a support system, nor do they go on to seek additional info leading them to having a great deal of guilt that they did something wrong or could have prevented this tragedy. SIDS is not suffocation and there is a difference to be found during an autopsy.



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